When did you start writing and creating? When did you begin sharing your work with others?
I’ve been thinking about my own earliest experiences in writing and publishing, and how it has informed my appreciation for the opportunities that writers have today to share their writing. I am so excited about three things regarding how you can reach your readers now:
- You can share your authentic voice without asking permission, or having it edited by others who don’t share your vision.
- You have access to those you admire and like-minded people, coupled with the ability to have meaningful conversations and connections around the themes you write about.
- You can distribute what you write with ease.
I grew up as the art kid. At age 5, my mom enrolled me in art classes in Mrs. Flannigan’s basement. Her walls featured these huge 20-foot-long murals, with art supplies spilling over on the shelves. Was it a dank, dark basement? Sure. Was it also absolutely magical? Yes!
In the years that followed, I explored illustration, painting, sculpture, photography, paper engineering, and so much else. Then, of course, came the writing. At first this was in service of the visual stories I was telling. But soon my life as a teenager was filled with writing poetry and prose.
Recently I announced a workshop I’m teaching on August 4th called Launch & Grow Your Email Newsletter on Substack. (Register here!) This had me considering my first newsletter, which I began publishing back in 1993 before the internet was a widely accepted medium for sharing what we create. It was in print. At the time, I called it a “zine,” and the primary focus was writing about alternative, indie, and Britpop music.
Here is a photo of me at the time, with the 2nd issue.
It’s funny, this is a selfie before there were selfies, which I took because I was clearly so proud of what I created. It looks so simplistic now, but it was a huge effort at the time. For me to create and share this required:
- Thousands of dollars in debt for printing costs.
- Long nights at Kinkos (a copy shop open all night) to get this printed, because I was working minimum wage jobs during the day, as well as attending college classes.
- Figuring out how to use desktop publishing software to layout the pages just as a magazine would.
- Learning how to create and edit images/photos on my computer years before I could afford Adobe Photoshop.
But that isn’t even the half of it. What else was there? The writing, marketing, distribution and more.
The publication was started by me and my friend. We were fueled by our love of music and this idea that we wanted to share and connect with more people around that. I’m on the right:
This whole venture started when I moved in with roommates during my 2nd year of college. One guy I knew already, but his friend was our other roommate who I didn’t really know. I quickly learned that he had a zine and one day I heard him talking on the phone to a record label. As a 19 year old, this blew me away. I asked him about it and he explained how the whole process worked.
I. Was. In.
Soon after, I tested the waters by calling the Arista Records publicity department. A band I really liked had a new album coming out in a few months, and I asked if I could get an early copy of it to review it. They said yes, and then something that nearly stopped my heart happened. The guy on the phone asked:
“Do you want to interview the band?”
This was unbelievable to me, that I would be able to have access to artists I admired so much. What followed was that the work on the zine eclipsed my schoolwork by a fairly wide margin, and I soon developed connections at every major record label. I could call someone at Elektra, Sony, Subpop, and have them pick up the phone. It was bonkers, having this kind of access in the early 90s.
I ended up with a mailbox full of free music each week — CDs, records, and tapes mailed to my friend and I, with the hopes that we would review them.
I also wrote feature articles and conducted interviews with bands. I secured interviews with Oasis, Weezer, Blur, They Might Be Giants, and so many others. I chatted with Noel Gallagher at the height of Oasis’s explosion, and with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer just as they were breaking. It was weird and incredible at the same time. Here is a photo I took of They Might Be Giants after I interviewed them in the record label offices:
In the process, I took on a lot of roles, and I will note that these are the same roles that you take on when you create your newsletter:
- Publisher – coordinating production, timing, etc.
- Editor – determining editorial direction and features
- Writer – conducting interviews and writing articles
- Designer – creating images and laying out the issue in QuarkXPress, a professional layout program at the time, which I was surprised to learn still exists!
- Publicity – calling and visiting record labels and record stores
- Finance – taking on debt, negotiating with printers
I say this to writing clients all the time, but there is a real literacy here. There is so much you are learning about each of these skills when you create your own newsletter. This takes time. Here I am laying out an issue on my bed:
This is my home office at the time, with the zine’s logo taped to the wall. I was so proud of the tech I had and how it helped me publish and distribute the writing I was doing:
That small beige thing on the left of my desk in the laptop I used to create the issues, I would print out samples on my dot matrix printer, and that phone was my lifeline to record labels, record stores, and interviews. It’s funny to remember how much that phone moved around the room with me, plugged into an extra-long cord.
As I mentioned, this publication put me in serious debt. Each of those phone calls was long distance and cost money. I would get this long multi-paged phone bill each month, with each call adding up to hundreds of dollars. Printing each issue would cost between around $500 on the low end, and I think $2,500 on the high end. At the time, I was waiting tables, and earning minimum wage. It took years and years for me to pay off the credit card debt from this zine.
Of course, I never regretted it.
This experience taught me so much about what it means to share your voice authentically through your writing and creative work. It had me amazed at the ability to connect with those you admire and like-minded people. And it had me appreciate the value of distribution — being able to disseminate your writing to those who may appreciate it most.
At the time, distribution was mostly via the post office (more $$$) and my bike. I would get this zine into record stores by biking it around for miles and miles, dropping off issues at each. Today, we click “publish” or “post” or “send” with ease via newsletters, blogs, or social media. Back then, this was how I distributed my writing:
(This is the model I had, but I can’t find a photo of my actual bike)
Now I work from a private studio. The tech is different, but the mission is the same. I love writers and readers, and I think amazing things happen when you share your writing and it connects with those who will appreciate it most.
I’ve sent my own weekly email newsletter for the past 18 years, sharing ideas that inspire me. I’ve helped thousands of writers do the same. Please consider joining me for my workshop on August 4th: