Indie Publishing
Field Notes

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You are running a barber shop

As I was walking past one of Melbourne’s oldest barber shops the other day, a four-year-old blog post by my Twitter buddy Trent Walton popped back into my mind. In it, Trent talks about his local barber shop to remind us of the value of making things personal. Even though we internet folks stare at screens all day, we can still make an effort to get to know the people on the other side, to show them that we’re empathetic human beings that appreciate other people’s work and opinions. It also means opening ourselves up to criticism (and praise!) and allowing our identity to be linked to our words and our work.

Most magazine makers I talk to hesitate to add a personal touch to their own publication. “The magazine isn’t about me. It’s about [topic].” I felt the same way. It took me a few issues of Offscreen to be OK with printing a photo of my own mug next to my editor’s note. It took me longer to turn the About page of Offscreen’s website from a sterile descriptive paragraph into a personal pitch for my magazine, telling readers who I am and why I decided to start Offscreen. I originally intended my blog to be a place for complementary content to the magazine, but it was the first behind-the-scene post that got a lot of shares and encouraged me to write more about my own process. All the signals and feedback I received couldn’t be clearer: my readers wanted to know more about the backstory – the why and how of the magazine.

With an increasingly automated and software-driven lifestyle, giving a publication a human touch seemed like a welcome change. From heavily photoshopped magazine covers to scripted, hyperbolic TV shows – if today’s media feels out of touch with reality, it’s because it is. It’s virtually impossible to tell what’s authentic and what’s not. Add to that the fact that in our local communities, the old mom-and-pop shops are disappearing, replaced by faceless mega-chains that turn individuals into marketing personas. Everything around us tells us that being human means being ‘unprofessional’.

And so every time I’m asked what advice I have for fledgling indie publishers, I essentially rehash Trent’s blog post: give your readers a face they can relate to and a person they can talk to. Give them a reason to support not just a brand or a label, but the hard-working individual(s) behind it. Be proud of not being a corporation, but a creative indie project trying to build something sustainable. Instead of polished PR messages, give them the whole story – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, importantly, give them credit for enabling you to do what you do. In short, make it personal.

Photo by Club Barber Shop