#TerritoryFriends pt. 2: Was Our Creative Risk Worth It?

“You might lose all the time you want to gain,” a team member told me earlier this year.

We were planning New Territory’s first editorial fellows program. Designed to get more Midwesterners involved with making magazines, our hopes were twofold: 1) that we could send out an issue on time and 2) that having more eyes editing would give me, as publisher, time to strengthen New Territory’s partnerships, sales and sponsorships.

Adding new people to an established operation feels like preparing for a journey through a dark forest, not knowing if you’ll encounter delight or danger.

Adding new people to a small independent startup that’s already strapped for time and money? Still feels like standing at the edge of that forest. Without food. Or protection. Or a map.

But really, that’s been the case since we started The New Territory. We have taken one creative risk after another, and so far it’s paid off. And while money and time are absolutes, people and relationships are more fluid. These human resources can multiply in number and depth when given the right amount trust, flexibility and patience. Often, lots of patience.

I think of my friend Chris, who seems to live by this Georgia O’Keeffe quote: “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” 

So when we doubled our team, no, I didn’t gain time for publishing. Not for the 12 weeks we ran the fellowship. Simply orienting everyone to the group culture and magazine-making process took more than a month. We knew that would be the case. We also knew this magazine needs to exist long-term, and we needed a larger team and experience in running it.

If it was worth the risk remained to be seen.

 

When The New Territory Takes Risks on Others

Fellowships are on my mind because we just launched our second one. But any relationship has this pattern of risk and reward. Our team would never recognize our shared purpose with everyone who makes this Midwest autobiography without getting a little vulnerable.

Working with a contributor we don’t know? That’s risky. What if a writer flakes? We deal with heartache and delay other decisions to get back on track. What if someone turns in work that’s unusable? We make more time to edit, often at the expense of personal hours. Dealing with these things suck, but they’re part of the job. The thing that stings most is thinking we’ve made a bad judgment call, regretting the risk we took. 

But what if we only stuck with contributors who have worked with us before? Well, you would be reading the same book every few months instead of an eclectic collection of a hundred different Midwestern writers. Taking risks on new voices is how The New Territory churns in fresh stories and perspectives on what it means to live in the Midwest.

You can see examples of risk and reward everywhere. Georgia O’Keeffe, for example, was not always eminent. As this NPR story describes, “When Stieglitz and O’Keeffe met in 1916, he was 52 and famous—an internationally acclaimed photographer, with an avant-garde gallery in Manhattan. She, on the other hand, was 28 and unknown.” The man who would become her mentor and husband took a chance on exhibiting her work. I’d say the risk paid off for both of them.

 

When Fellows, Writers and Artists Take Risks on The New Territory

Our first fellows trusted us with their time and energy. Managing a fellowship was a new experiment for us. They were guinea pigs, and we couldn’t pay a dime for their work.

True to life, it wasn’t a perfect experience, but I’m happy of the community we built and lessons we learned. I hope they’re happy, too.

Writers and artists risk their own reputations when submitting to us. Kate Strum, for example, was one of the first creative writers to submit a piece to The New Territory. That was a huge risk for Kate; we hadn’t even published our first issue, so she had no way of knowing we would give it the proper care. We also had no reputation. Many creative writers submit their fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction only to well-known journals because it’s those impressive bio lines that build credentials in the writing world.

Only later did I learn that Kate had a particular vision for where she wanted “Personal Geology” to be placed and read, and her careful love for Oklahoma aligned with the dream we have for the Lower Midwest.

5 copies of The New Territory Issue 01

Read the short story Kate risked her reputation on.

 

Learning to Accept Help

Kate then offered hours of her time social capital not only getting Issue 01 sold in Oklahoma stores, but also making sure The New Territory got off the runway and lasted beyond Issue 01.

I have to admit, accepting unpaid work felt incredibly uncomfortable.

  • That’s in part because of pride; we founded the magazine on the idea that good work deserves to get paid, so volunteer work felt like hypocrisy.
  • There’s a supposed element of safety in a transactional relationship. Traditional knowledge says that money establishes expectations: work will get done, and time we invest in orienting someone to the team will pay off. In contrast, volunteer relationships thrive on vulnerability, and as a new, fragile publication we were careful not to risk too much.
  • Finally, we were figuring out a lot of things as we went, so we didn’t even know what kind of help we needed. We were not certain the project would last beyond the first issue. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

I still feel a uncomfortable about not being able to pay our team, but I’ve accepted the current reality. I’m less proud and less interested in counting value only with dollar signs.

Here’s the truth:

  • Good work does deserve to get paid. But money is probably the most abstract—and definitely the most scarce—currency we can offer. We pay in the opportunity to work on a high-quality project, we pay in ownership of a tangible object, and we pay in honest, creative friendship. We only ask as much as people are willing and able to give.
  • Money is no guarantee for good work. Strong relationships are a better bet.
  • And as far as time goes? The next minute isn’t promised to you. Might as well have fun with the process.

Some of these thoughts have been refined through listening to the audiobook of Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. It’s fantastic. You should listen to it. I sat parked in my car hitting rewind on the CD player to copy this quote:

I think the real risk is the choice to disconnect. To be afraid of each other.

We make countless choices every day, whether to ask or to turn away from each other.

Asking for help require authenticity and vulnerability. Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words:

  1. I deserve to ask.

  2. You are welcome to say no.

 

Was Our Risk Worth It?

That depends on how you see the world.

Neither of our hopes for the fellows program were realized in the 12-week time span.

Issue 07—the issue all the fellows worked on over the summer—wasn’t complete until December 3.

And so far, no direct financial gains emerged from better business ventures, largely because (as predicted) I never actually gained time to implement them.

But here’s what the fellowship did give us:

  • several new friends, from all over the Lower Midwest, who learned together and produced something beautiful
  • two optimistic, objective-oriented new core-team editors, Katie Young Foster and Sara Maillacheruvu, who eased our transition out of the “founding” stage and into the next level
  • fellows’ unplanned-for and totally fun marketing help, which inevitably led to more fans and sales
  • enough experience to articulate what exactly we need from new editors, and where we have greater needs for different skills than editing (this we’re taking into the second fellowships)
  • a vision for how to achieve financial sustainability, having seen the potential of a robust editorial team

Yes, we are optimists. No, risks don’t always work out so great. And sure, a little voice is saying, “but really, you are strapped for time and you do need to hedge against risk.”

But I can look back and say we’re a better team and a better magazine because of the time we invested in people. I can look ahead and know how great it will feel if things go awesome.

The New territory (1)

If this sounds like your kind of team, reach out to me at tina [at] newterritorymag.com or apply to one of our new fellowships. The deadline to apply is January 5. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get notified.

 

Tina Casagrand
Tina Casagrand
Tina Casagrand is the publisher of The New Territory magazine, a student of the indie print magazine business, and 8th generation Missourian hell-bent on finding and sharing new possibilities for meaningful life in the Midwest. You can email her at tina[at]newterritorymag.com or tweet to @gasconader.

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