How to Start a Magazine with Anja Charbonneau
This episode features Anja Charbonneau, a founder, editor-in-chief and creative director of Broccoli. We cover topics such as creative and art direction, how to start a successful magazine, the importance of professional relationships and the delicate art of providing feedback, her work routines and the way she leads Broccoli, challenges Anja encountered along the way, advice for young creatives, and much more.
Originally from British Columbia and currently based in Portland, Anja Charbonneau is the founder, editor-in-chief and creative director of Broccoli.
Founded in 2017, Broccoli is a platform that encourages the discovery and intelligent appreciation of cannabis through experimental and engaging explorations of art, culture, and fashion. Created by an all-women team and a wide network of contributors of all genders, Broccoli’s magazine, podcast and industry newsletter connect a global community ready to participate in a new era of weed.
"Ask yourself if you want to make your creative passion tied to your finances."
Before Broccoli, Anja was the creative director at Kinfolk, where she was leading the art direction of the quarterly lifestyle magazine, with over 75,000 copies of each issue being sold into over 100 countries, with additional projects including books, notecards, films, and influential social media presence.
- Introduction [00:00:00]
- Episode Introduction [00:01:03]
- Early Lessons Learned [00:04:26]
- Career Advice and Tips for Young Creatives [00:19:00]
- Work Routines of an Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director [00:22:12]
- Behind the Scenes of an Independent Publisher and Media Company [00:32:37]
- Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [01:10:39]
- What is Art Direction? [01:11:23]
- Challenges on Anja’s Professional Journey [01:26:19]
- How to Be a Better Creative Professional [01:38:01]
- Episode Outro [01:43:09]
Anja: Do your very best to create boundaries from your work and your personal life, because I think what happens in your personal life will inform your creative work so much more than what’s happening on the clock.
This is the Creative Voyage Podcast, a long-form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals level up. I’m your host, Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself, active in the fields of art direction, graphic design, and creative consulting. This podcast features insightful conversations with some of the world’s most inspiring creatives; reveals the stories that shaped their lives and careers, and offers actionable strategies to help you take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: Before we dive into the episode, I have a few quick notes. If you’re a longtime listener, you’ve probably noticed that we changed our theme music. We recently had our third podcast anniversary, so I thought it was time for a slight refresh. I hope you enjoy it. For the same occasion, we just dropped a new limited edition tote bag in collaboration with the remarkable M.A studio based in Mexico City. It’s a custom Baggu Duck Bag, which is by far, my favorite tote, including an adjustable strap and top carry handles, interior zip pocket, and a fantastic three-color screen-printed artwork.
Also, in case you’ve missed it, check out the second issue of our publication, The Creative Voyage Paper, which features adapted podcast episodes, publication exclusive, one lesson learned stories and tips for success. It’s beautifully printed and features BD Graft, Dino Kužnik, Erica Loewy, Eliot Lee Hazel, Jermaine Daley, Nadine Goepfert, Merijn Hos, Sarah Lipstate, and many others. Visit creative.voyage for more details.
Mario: In this episode, I talk to creative director, editor in chief and entrepreneur.
Anja: Hi, my name is Anja Charbonneau. I live in Portland, Oregon, and I’m the founder of Broccoli. We’re a women-led media company and we make a magazine called Broccoli. We make books, podcast, industry newsletter about cannabis and a bunch of other things.
Originally from British Columbia and currently based in Portland, Anja Charbonneau is the Founder, Editor in Chief, and Creative Director of Broccoli. Founded in 2017, Broccoli is a platform that encourages the discovery and intelligent appreciation of cannabis through experimental and engaging explorations of art, culture and fashion. Created by an all-women team and a wide network of contributors of all genders, Broccoli’s magazine, podcast and industry newsletter connected global community, ready to participate in a new era of weed.
Before Broccoli, Anja was a creative director at Kinfolk, where she was leading the art direction of the quarterly lifestyle magazine, with over 75,000 copies of each issues being sold into over 100 countries, with additional projects, including books, notecards films and influential social media presence.
A side note, in 2015, I started working with Kinfolk, so that’s how I first met Anja. We were co-workers for almost two years. Even though we worked in different offices in other parts of the business, our vision and direction significantly influenced my development in that domain. This interview was a fantastic opportunity to connect with her in this context, and make this episode that extra special for me.
Here, we will listen to the highlights of the conversation I had with Anya in August 2021. We cover topics such as creative and our direction, how to start a successful magazine, the importance of professional relationships, and the delicate art of providing feedback, our work routines and the way she leads Broccoli, challenges Anja encountered along the way, advice for young creatives, and much more.
Anja started her professional journey as a freelance photographer, focusing on fashion, portrait and lifestyle work, and creating dreamy and alluring visual stories. After a couple of years, that work brought her to an art director position at Kinfolk Magazine where, ultimately, she oversaw all aspects of art and creative direction for the brand. Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back at our beginnings, and those transitions can be a helpful exercise. I’ve started my conversation with Anja asking her about her early days as a creative and the lessons she learned during that time.
Anja: I think, I only in the last few years came to understand how I see myself creatively. I always have been a creative person. I’ve been told that I’m creative growing up. My perceived problem about my creativity was that I could never commit to one thing very well. I would be dedicated to something for a while, and then I would need to move on and do something else. When you’re growing up, you see other kids and teenagers, some people are so dedicated to one thing, and that’s how they become really wonderful and excellent at it. It’s practice and dedication.
I never could totally commit to anything. I did ballet as a kid, and I loved it, and I fantasized about being a ballerina, but couldn’t really do the work. Same with playing cello. I was super into it in college and high school, but not seriously enough to make it a career. It always gave me this insecurity like, “Oh, I’m not dedicated enough. I’m not trying hard enough.” Then, it wasn’t really until I started working at Kinfolk, as an art director, that I realized, “Oh, there’s actually a job where you get to do a lot of different creative things.” You can have influence on a vision and execution and a whole story around a creative idea, but you don’t necessarily need to be the one who does everything, who sees it through from start to finish all by yourself.
That revelation that, that was a thing, really helped me understand the way that my creativity makes sense, in a way that I didn’t understand it before.
Mario: I mean, how did that happen? Or even that opportunity, or realization with Kinfolk, how did it came to be?
Anja: Oh, well, I was working as a freelance photographer, again, 80% committed to the role. I saw the job posting for a new art director. I read the qualifications and what the job would be. I was like, “Oh, I do all of those things when I’m doing photography.” Because when you’re just doing stuff for fun, and for clients, but they’re very open-ended projects, you’re doing the location scouting, you’re doing the model casting, you’re helping with styling and the direction and the creative direction, and really planning from start to finish.
I realized like, “Oh, I’ve been doing the work of an art director, but I’m also the one clicking the button behind the shutter.” I knew that I would be able to use those same skills and just not be the one taking the photos. That felt very freeing. Now, I don’t even really like doing photo shoots at all because I find it too stressful.
The responsibility of being the one to capture the shot doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I really just like doing it for fun.
Mario: Yeah, that’s cool.
Anja: Yeah. It was the thing where, I don’t know if it was the age that I was, or just where I lived, but in high school, that’s when people who are my age, which is 38, when I was growing up, if no one tells you that something is a job, and you don’t see it around you, then you don’t know it exists. I had no idea that an art director was a thing, or a creative director. No clue.
The careers that were presented to me at that age in my late teens were like, “You could be a teacher, or a social worker.” The most exciting thing that came up on a school sponsored career planning course was interior designer. I was like, “What? Okay, I don’t know. That’s the only creative option. It just seems so strange to me.” I had a lack of role models and understanding of what careers were out there. I knew magazines existed, but I never thought about the jobs behind them, except for photography. For some reason, that was the only one that really made sense to me at that time.
Mario: I mean, when you go back, I guess, that transition from being a freelance photographer to actually having a full-time job, was that the first time that you realized that being creative is going to be your career? Or was it, even as you were working as a photographer as well? When was that transition where you’re like, “Okay, this is actually me?”
Anja: Right. I got to a point with freelance photography, where I realized that I wouldn’t be able to be a full-time professional in Portland. There’s very few clients locally, if you’re not doing EECOM shoots for Nike, which wasn’t what was interesting to me. I was starting to be a little more ambitious about reaching out to other magazines and the places that hire photographers that are outside of Portland, to see if I could get work. The timing with that goal coincided exactly with when I started working as an art director. I gave up on that quickly, because I suddenly had a job with a salary, so that was much more appealing.
Mario: In hindsight, when you go back, if you could give yourself at that time, a piece of advice, what would that be?
Anja: I guess, it’s hard. Because even if I had known that creative direction could be a career, I don’t think I would have had the opportunities until later. I can’t teleport myself from my small-town life, into an exciting creative job, even with the greatest advice. I think, the advice would just be like, you’ll get to where you need to go when the time is right. I’ve always felt I took a very scenic route to where I’ve gotten to. If I hadn’t taken that path, I wouldn’t have the experience and the random skills that I’ve picked up along the way that led me to be able to do this, like running random little businesses in my 20s, selling vintage clothing online, or whatever. That taught me how to ship things. Now, I know how to ship my magazines. All of those skills connected in a way that was unexpected. I think, the advice would just be, don’t worry. It’ll be okay. You’ll figure it out.
Mario: Do you think that you’ve made any beginner mistakes, or any things that you wish you could have played differently?
Anja: Oh, for sure. I don’t think I realized at the beginning of working in art direction, exactly how sensitive relationships are, especially when you’re communicating with people pretty much exclusively over email. I had to really develop my communication skills, and really understand that people’s hearts and egos were very often on the line when you’re communicating with them. Whether you’re hiring them for a job, or not hiring them for a job. I think, I underestimated how passionate people are about their work, and had to learn to manage that passion, in a professional way.
Not that I was being unprofessional, but I think now, I’m extra sensitive to people’s feelings. I’m just really careful with how I communicate with people. I think, I was a little bit more, I don’t know, not careless, but I did not really understand the depth of the responsibility that I had to manage people’s feelings as an art director.
Mario: Yeah. How did you came to that realization?
Anja: Oh, my gosh. Well, I’ll try to give you a neutral, but specific example. When I started working at Kinfolk, I mean, you’ve seen this, too, the magazine’s gone through so many evolutions of style as the company’s aesthetics changed, and whatever. When I started working there, we were in one of those periods of growth and change. There had been photographers who worked on the magazine every single issue up until that point.
When I showed up, and the direction I was getting was we want to try something new. We’re not hiring the same artists as before. Those artists took that very personally, because they felt super invested in what the magazine had become up until that point. Fair enough, I would have probably felt exactly the same way. They were not happy, and they thought it was because of me. If they thought I came in and said like, “You suck. You’re not good enough,” which was not the case at all. It was just like, we’re just trying to do a bit of a different look and change it up a bit.
I could not have predicted that. If I was coming into it now I could have, because now I have the experience of both doing these changes and navigating complex, quite emotional conversations with people about their art. The years of experience I’ve had now with that negotiation and communication would have helped me out a lot in the beginning, but I was new. I definitely stepped on a couple toes, accidentally.
Mario: Now that you’ve learned some of those new skills, what are some of those little tactics, or some advice when it comes to managing that?
Anja: Well, I’ve definitely found that, let’s say, you’re commissioning a photoshoot with someone. For me, it’s almost always remote. I’m never on set, because we don’t shoot a lot of stuff locally. I like to give with Broccoli artists a lot of creative freedom, because we do so many different things in the magazine, and I want them to have fun with what they’re doing. If I’ve given any direction, it’s usually fairly minimal, which is so different than Kinfolk.
Sometimes, I’ll still get something that’s totally not what I wanted. I have to, in that moment, be like, “Is it really worth making this person feel bad? Or can I just make it work? Can I find a way to just make this work?” Usually, the answer is yeah, of course, you can find a way to make it work. They probably feel proud of what they made and excited. It would be really not helpful to me, or them, or our relationship, or our future of our relationship to be like, “You messed up,” or like, “This isn’t really what I wanted.”
Because in the end, when you really step back and look at the work months later, years later, nobody knows that it wasn’t exactly what the idea, or concept was. It’s not like I’m trying to please a client. It’s just me making the call of whether or not something can be in the magazine or not. In the end, those relationships are so much more important than, “Oh, you made it blue, instead of pink, or green, or whatever.”
There’s rarely something that is so big that I can’t make it work. I will say that that is also a credit to the flexibility of the art direction that we use in the magazine that I also would not have flown at Kinfolk. We just had such rigid sets of – and you know, because you worked there as well and did same job as me, basically. The parameters were very strict and very rigid and very defined. They did evolve and change over time, but in those moments, if something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. I wasn’t the last word on that either. Someone else is making that decision.
It’s nice to have the flexibility to be like, “I will just let it go, publish it, move on, and everyone is happy.” It’s so much better that way. Because then, we can work together in the future and we won’t have these weird feelings about each other. I mean, really. Yeah. Turns out, this is going to be a conversation about feelings.
Mario: Yeah. I think, it also comes down to what you want to, in some way, optimize for and how you define quality for a project. I think that’s one thing. Then, if you want to optimize, of course, for quality, but also for quality of relationships, for example, maybe more than the quality of a photo.
Anja: Yeah, exactly. If I don’t get – I need eight photos to fill the four pages that I’ve got, I don’t get eight good photos, I get three good photos, we’ll just make it shorter. That’s fine. I’m not going to be like, “Go reshoot it.” Or, “Sorry, we can only use three.” I mean, I’ll have to tell them that, but it’ll be in a really kind way, not in a you messed up way.
Mario: Yeah. I guess, there’s also this fine balance of also giving, I guess, useful feedback, or useful critique. Because often, even when we’re working with a client, sometimes when they give you feedback, and maybe they don’t like something, or push back, often, it’s like, “Oh, we’re very invested in you. It’s painful.” You’re like, “But you don’t understand, or you don’t see what we see.”
Often, also, in hindsight, after that process, that pushback can help the work itself. It actually becomes better than it was with the original vision. I’m curious, how do you then balance that? Or, you don’t just want to be like, “Here, make this.” Comes back, sure, it’s great. Isn’t there also some of that balance where an artist expects almost some feedback? Maybe that’s the best word.
Anja: Oh, for sure. Yeah. I mean, so I’m working with primarily three different types of art. There’s graphic design, illustration, and photography. Then, I don’t really touch the words as much, or I give feedback behind the scenes to my editor, and then she takes it with the writer directly.
Luckily, with illustration and graphic design, you have a lot more flexibility to give feedback along the way, because things can be changed, and things can be shifted based on whatever need is there. It’s much easier just to get a progress report of what’s happening and how things are looking, where you can shape it in one direction, or another from there.
With photography, it’s so much harder, because you have to give all the direction upfront. Unless you’re there as the shoot is happening, you don’t get to give feedback, until it’s too late. Then, of course, when you’re working editorially, our budgets, they’re not amazing. They’re very editorial style, but I try to pay people fairly. If I ever needed something reshot, I mean, we would totally pay again, and have to really invest in it a different way.
I think, I would find in terms of giving feedback to a photographer, if I got a shoot back, and it wasn’t totally what I expected, I would probably just run with it. When we work together again, to be more specific, or to learn from what I got last time. Then, if I need to mention any of those things for another project, then I’ll probably do it then. I found that it’s almost not worth it when it’s already something finished and just can’t be done.
Starting as a professional in the creative industry can be daunting. There are so many potential paths to take from different disciplines, to ways of practicing them. Here, Anja shares her thoughts on the importance of intentionally approaching those decisions.
Anja: I guess, I would try to advise them to think about if we were talking about career advice, like where to point their ambitions. If you want to work for a commercial agency, versus a more creative branding agency, versus private company doing everything in-house. I think, those environments are all so different and can be demanding in different ways. Sometimes if you’re on the much more commercial side, you might be doing work that you don’t actually like, clients that you have no control over. You’re not the one choosing who you work with. There might not be as much creativity and flexibility in the day-to-day, or even you being able to contribute your ideas as there would be with a private company, or a smaller agency, or working even freelance.
I think, in general, it’s also the question of, do you want to do freelance? Or do you need to have that salary to feel okay about your life? Those are tough choices. I think, a lot of people who are in creative fields go back and forth and try both and maybe can only do one for a while and switch back and forth every couple of years. I know people who do that often, just depends on where you’re at with what your life demands of you otherwise. Then, don’t let it take over your life. That’s advice to me, too. Don’t let your work take over your life.
Mario: Has that happened many times?
Anja: Oh, absolutely. I think, anyone who runs their own business, it takes over constantly. It has to. I don’t know if there’s any other way, unless you’re super rich, and can just hire a lot of different roles at once to take on the appropriate workload that you end up taking on all by yourself. There’s no other way to do it, other than to do everything and to work super hard. You have to be so careful because people burn out so easily.
I’ve definitely had periods where I’m like, I’ve gone too far. I think, we’re finally at a stage four years in with Broccoli, where we have enough support. I’m actually trying to hire a project manager right now, which is going to be a huge help for me, where I can actually have work-life boundaries. That’s only in the last year that I’ve really been able to safely define those, without not accomplishing anything.
I actually close my computer at a specific time of the day. Then I try not to look at my email the rest of the day. I certainly don’t reply, unless it’s an urgency, which almost never is. I don’t work on the weekends. I try really hard to keep those things now. Those are really new. Those are only within the last year, those have been possible. Because yeah, when you run a business you just have to do everything. Your hand is in every single project, and there’s no way around it.
Mario: It’s true.
Anja: It feels really, really good to be at a place where we can have enough people on the team where I’m not the one doing everything. I’m so grateful that I’m at this point.
Mario: Yeah. Congratulations.
Anja: Not easy. Somehow, we made it this far.
At this point in our conversation, I was curious to hear about Anja’s work routines and rituals, and how she manages her schedule as the Founder, Creative Director, Editor-In-Chief of Broccoli.
Anja: Well, my day is pretty boring. It’s a lot of emailing. Well, I mean, I’ve been working at home for so long, and we’ve got 11 people on the team. We’re pretty much all remote. There’s one other woman that I work with on a regular basis in Portland. We get together to hang out and not really work. We’ll talk about work, but we don’t work in the same space together. I’m working in a really little, small, teeny converted shack outside my house. It’s my little micro-office these days.
I start my day, I try to not look at – well, I do have to check the social media stuff, because I post early. I need to make sure that the post went up okay, and everything’s fine. Have my breakfast, eventually get on my computer, start with this, whatever is the most pressing stuff in my inbox, depending on whether or not we have a deadline going on.
We have an increasing number of projects that come out on a frequent basis. We do a podcast once a month. We have an industry newsletter coming out twice a week, which is something that I really need to stay on top of. I’m not writing it, but I’m part of the production of it overall. That’s new for us, having something that’s really frequent and digital, and you can’t ignore it, because it needs to happen twice a week, every week. It’ll just depend on whatever project is the most pressing at the moment that I’ll focus on.
Then, my most proudest achievement is the last year is that I’ve been riding the exercise bike almost every day, at least every weekday. I take a break at 10 am, and I do that. 10 or 11. Have lunch, or have shower, have lunch, and then I get back into it. It’s really just a lot of emailing. I try to take calls mostly in the afternoon because that’s usually when my brain is most active and fresh feeling. Yeah, I would be lying if I said that anything, except for it’s a lot of emailing.
I’m so used to it though, because I worked remotely for so many years, even a couple years before starting Broccoli. It doesn’t feel weird to me, but it’s always really nice when I have a chance to have a call, or have a strategy meeting, or something like that with someone else on the team, too, because we get to actually connect a little more directly that way.
I’ve never been able to keep within my work day schedule, except for somehow this biking thing has broken through. I’ve tried being a person who’s like, I only checked my email at this time and this time. It just doesn’t work for me. I think, it might be partially because of the remote nature and the different time zones of everyone that I work with. If someone’s got a question, and their working hours are limited and they’re on a different schedule than you, if I don’t answer that question, then they can’t do that work until whenever I happen to get back to them.
Yeah. I’ve never been able to have a really set schedule, or a productivity hack for my day. I’m all over the place. I think, unfortunately, that’s just in my nature for how I work, for better or worse.
Mario: Then, how long are your days? You said, you an exercise, break lunch, then you probably work for a few more hours, or –
Anja: I usually work from about 8 to 5, sometimes 9 to 5. Pretty classic, actually, work hours. Then, I try to just cut it off from there, because I think that’s an appropriate amount of hours to be working, and maybe even a little too many.
Mario: When it comes to, I guess, the type of work that you do, you said, it is a lot of emailing. I also assume some things are more practical and production related. Other things are more creative. Some are probably more leadership based. What’s the ratio of your roles in that regard?
Anja: If we’re at the start of a project, there’s a lot more creative ideation going on with me and my designer and the editors. That part is always really exciting, and that’s probably the most fun part of the whole thing is, well, that and then when it’s finished, and it comes out. The middle is, no one really loves that part. Yeah, the start of a cycle, there’s a lot more creative work. I love those stages, because I get to spend more time exploring ideas, and letting my mind wander a bit more. Really strategizing about the story we’re trying to tell. That’s really fun.
Once we get into production then it – with editorial, like if it’s a print project, we have it pretty dialed in. I don’t need to do a lot of hand holding, because my team knows all of their stuff so well, and we’ve done it so many times that we’ve got a really good flow and a really good system going for producing the magazine. That’s great. It almost feels like, I’m doing the magazine work in the back of my head, in my sleep.
I don’t know how it gets done, but somehow it does. I’m still doing all of the creative direction and commissioning shoots and stuff like that for the magazine. That’s been my part of my job the whole time. Then my editor works with the writers directly. We talk about what stories we want to commission, and then she works with them directly. We give feedback on the drafts, me and the other editor. There’s three of us who are technically editors; me, Stephanie Madewell and Ellen Freeman, who you had on your show a while back.
We all have our little jobs. Ellen does a lot of writing. She’ll write a few articles each time and writes all of the heads and decks, titles and descriptions. She contributes a lot to what the Broccoli voice is when the reader is reading it on the page. That’s so fun. She’s a genius. I always love seeing what she comes up with. She’s very good at puns. We have an article about why weed people love puns so much. The next issue, which I think is a very deeply Ellen piece.
Mario: Oh, that’s cool.
Anja: Yup. While we’re working on the production, I’m also working behind the scenes on the calendar of how everything needs to happen for production with our printers, what will that mean for our launches, and when the magazine comes out? Then, that ties into the more logistical side of things if like, “Okay. Well, how many copies are we saving for our subscribers, versus our shop, versus things we give away to contributors, or events?” The strategy of the distribution of the magazine is a whole thing on its own, too. I do have help with that. Calan Ma’lyn, she works with us on a lot of the order processing and dealing with our retailers and all that stuff. That’s amazing to have help with as well. That’s a huge one.
I can’t believe, every time I hire someone, which is maybe once a year, if even, to help with a main part of the company, then I’d stop doing that part of the work. Then, I look at my workload, and I’m like, “How was I doing that before? How was that possible?” It blows my mind every time. It’s crazy.
Yeah, the production logistics are quite a lot to juggle in your brain. Then we’ve got production logistics for our podcast. I’m the producer, so I’m doing all the scheduling of getting things recorded. Me and the two hosts, Lauren Yoshiko and Mennlay Aggrey, we come up with the ideas for the show together, and then I do a lot of the back and forth to make it happen.
I’m hiring a podcast editor right now, too, because I’ve been doing the editing. It’s, as you know, very time consuming. I’m excited to have someone else take that on. Very similar to the magazine with our newsletter, we’re doing a twice weekly, Cannabis Industry Newsletter that Lauren, our podcast host, is writing. We go back and forth with that with Stephanie, our other editors as well. That’s on a weekly basis. We have a good rhythm that we turn them out on specific days and we know how much time you need to edit. That’s nice.
Then, we’re making other merch now too. We’re doing other products. We just made some cute socks, and some blankets a while ago. People just love merch and the margins are better on merch, too, so we got to turn it out. I’m guilty of being the one who dropped the ball on commissioning the art for the socks, or whatever. I do also have help. We have help from another designer who’s only working on the merch with us. It’s like a divide and conquer. I’m trying to divide even more, so that fewer things are on my plate.
Because, I think, I’m realizing more and more how important it is for me to have time to be able to start the projects and get them in motion. Then, delegate from there. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on all at once, always.
Mario: Do you have any work rituals that you do, day-to-day things, which are going to just help you to ground yourself, or prompt yourself, or just make your work life nicer?
Anja: I think, just taking breaks is the nicest thing I can do for myself with work. That’s really with the harder – the boundary is I always stop to go and do my little bike ride. I don’t check my email while I’m on the bike. I try to have a real lunch, where I’m not on my computer, try to read during my lunch break if I can, or if I’m – I like to watch TV while I ride the bike. That’s the only way it works for me. I can’t listen to music, or do a class. It just doesn’t connect with my brain.
I watch TV, so maybe keep a show on while making lunch and taking time for myself. I’m trying to work an afternoon break in, like around 3:30, 4:00. Because I think that’s the time where I get into a slump. I also run the risk of getting stressed in the mid-afternoon. At one point in my life, I was taking 20-minute breaks to just lie on the floor and do my version of meditating, whatever that is. I don’t know what that means to other people. To just close my eyes, try to relax, focus on my breathing and just try to take a break.
Sometimes, all that runs through your head is work thoughts, but you try to actively push them away, and just be calm and think about nothing. Even if you don’t necessarily succeed, I think, it’s still really refreshing. That’s something that I’d have liked doing in the past and I’m trying to work back in. I think, I just need to set an alarm, or something on my phone. Go lie on the floor at 3:30.
Mario: 3:30 until 4:00, lying on the floor.
Anja: Yeah, the floor time. I think, that would be really good for me. That would be a nice little addition. I don’t have anything else that I really do on a regular basis.
Since its founding four years ago, Broccoli has grown steadily, reaching the expanding global weed community. What started as a free magazine, evolved into an uninspiring media company, spanning to Broccoli Talk Podcast, to Broccoli Report Newsletter, and book publishing, with titles such as, A Weed is a Flower and Snail World: Life in the Slimelight.
Being a successful independent publisher is not an easy task. I wanted to get a behind the scenes look into Broccoli. I’ve asked Anja to share her experience of starting the magazine and to unpack what it takes to successfully run an initiative of that sort, including mindsets, strategies, and finances.
Anja: I think, one of the most important things in terms of just advice is people should really ask themselves whether or not they want to make their creative passion tied to their finances, because it really does change your relationship with that thing. There’s so much pressure to monetize your talents and you could do it and make a business. There’s so much encouragement for that. I have done it and benefited from it. At the same time, I don’t think it’s always the right choice. I think people should be really careful.
People do ask me often about the main advice I have for starting a magazine. It’s like, “Are you sure you want to run a publishing business?” Because if you just want to make a magazine, you can do that for pretty cheap with your creative community and you can make it happen. You can call in a lot of favors. Printing will still be expensive, but you can spend all your money there. As long as you’re not getting into debt. Then, you did it. You made a magazine, but you don’t have to keep making it over and over again.
I think, that’s a really crucial question, anyone considering publishing should ask themselves. Because running the business is not going to photoshoots every day. It is worrying about money and figuring out distribution and all of that hard stuff that we touched on already. When I started Broccoli, I had some savings. I was in a moment in my life where everything was going crazy.
My dad had just passed away. He was about to pass away. I quit my job and had recently gotten divorced. All of these big life changes were happening. I was fortunate enough to have saved up some money and didn’t know what I wanted to do for work. It was just like, sometimes you make those decisions when chaos invites more chaos in a way. When everything is crazy, you’re more likely to be like, “Why not do try this thing?”
Starting Broccoli, I did have some money. I spent about $40,000 at the start. That was the amount I had to invest in it. I did not have any more to invest, and have a little bit extra to live off of, but I knew that would get us at least into maybe, we would do three issues. I think, it was always an experiment at the start, because we were taking the approach of relying on advertisers for all of our income. We were really fortunate to be able to get advertisers for the first issue before it even existed. That was amazing.
Not enough to cover all the costs, but enough to make it happen, working with the little bit of money that I had. Then it was enough to not quite breakeven, but not get too uncomfortably into credit card debt for the next one.
Then, by the time we were hitting the third issue, the fourth issue, our advertising revenue was enough to at least break even, and so the cycle could continue. That was really important to me. I was definitely raised with a deep fear of debt. My parents, they were like, “Do not get a credit card.” No, they were like, “If you get a credit card, here’s what you’re getting yourself into.” They were very strict about that. We didn’t spend much money. I never even really knew if we even had any money, because they were very strict about it. Very scarcity mentality, whether or not it was the reality, I still don’t have a complete picture on that.
I’ve always really been scared of being in debt. I didn’t go to college, so I don’t have student loans. I’ve just been really careful. I never wanted this to ruin my life. I never wanted it to be something that would destroy me financially for years and years to come. I had to be comfortable from the start, thinking that this might not work, but it’ll be really cool if we do it at all. That’s why it was also – one of the reasons why I was free in the beginning is because, well, it was experimental. We had ad revenue to cover the costs of making it.
Because we wanted to make this new, weird thing accessible to people in a new, weird emerging industry, it was like, “Why don’t we just give it away?” That was super effective and super fun for a while, until probably about the fourth issue is where we put a cover price on it. We were charging for shipping, but then we just charged the same amount that we had been charging for shipping. The cost actually, was technically the same for the customer, but the mentality shifted, so now we have free shipping, but you pay for the magazine.
We have increased the cost once, or maybe even twice, because every year, it’s more expensive to make the magazine. Not anything that’s in my control, but postage, and printing fees. Right now, because of the pandemic, and because of weird tariffs and all this international trade stuff that’s happening, it costs more money to ship the magazines here, like way more than it did a year ago, two years ago.
Even just running the business is more and more expensive every month, practically. The costs increase, and you have to make sure that you’re making that money up somewhere else. At first, it was all advertising revenue. Now, it’s a balance between advertisers, or subscribers, and then just single orders from our shop. Whether that’s a magazine, a back issue, merch, like a scrunchie, we’ve made scrunchies. They’re equally weighted at this point, which is really cool, and makes me feel we’ve diversified our revenue streams. That’s what a business should do.
It makes sense, of course, because then you’re not relying so heavily on one thing. I knew that was coming, because with the pandemic, everyone just froze their budgets. Whether or not they had that money or not, they were not comfortable spending it. Fair enough, same. I had to really take a hard look at everything we were doing and say like, “Okay, what things are making us money? Which ones aren’t? What can we be careful about?”
I also applied for the ideal loan, through the SBA, Small Business Association. The ideal is an emergency disaster circumstance loan, different from the PPP, which was for paycheck protection. Nobody’s on payroll, so there’s no paychecks here, so it wasn’t relevant. Yes, I got a loan, which was my safety net, just in case. Because we were still relying quite a lot on our advertisers. I was predicting that they weren’t going to be spending their budgets on us. I needed that backup plan. My backup plan, I didn’t think they would approve me. I don’t think they even looked at my – Because the federal government does not like cannabis. I don’t think they did their research, but now I have a loan from them. I’ve been slowly using a little bit of that here and there, but we haven’t needed to use all of it yet, so that’s really nice. Yeah, so I’m just really careful.
Mario: That’s good.
Anja: I’m really careful. If we don’t have the money, we don’t do it. We’re working on a one-off magazine about mushrooms. Not just psychedelic mushroom, but all mushrooms. We’re just about to send it to the printers. We started working on it in 2019, and then I ran out of money. We commissioned maybe three articles. Then we’ve been sitting on those three articles for two years, before we could actually pick the project back up again. Yeah, I just didn’t have the money, and I wasn’t about to put it on a credit card.
It’s remarkable how much money it costs to just produce a magazine. I don’t think people know. They really don’t. If you want to pay people, if you want to pay your contributors and your team fairly, normal fair wages, it’s expensive. It’s hard to do that on a consistent basis. Unless, you’ve got, yeah, multiple streams of revenue coming in. It’s not easy.
Mario: It’s from advertisers, from single copies, or subscriptions, merch. Is there anything else, which is in the mix?
Anja: Well, our industry newsletter has a paid option. If you’re a free subscriber, you get our Monday newsletter. It’s just a roundup of the news that’s happening in hemp and cannabis. Then our Fridays, they’re the ones that paid subscribers would get as an extra. If you’re a paid subscriber, you get a little bonus; essays, interviews, deeper insights into the industry, that Lauren writes. That’s sustaining itself right there.
The money we’re making there pays Lauren, pays our other editor, Stephanie. Broccoli gets a little cut. That’s its own little micro project that does its own little thing. I try to look at the projects. I consider them as part of the whole of the little Broccoli universe, financially speaking, and then also, on their own. Is this project sustainable? Is it making money? How is it being supported, if it’s not something that you can pay for?
With our podcast, we have advertisers. We make sure that we are getting enough ads to cover our podcast host fees for a year. Then we know we can keep making the show next year, because it’s sustaining itself. Now that we’re hiring a podcast editor, that needs to make a little bit more money than it used to, because we need to pay the editor. Yeah, I try to look at them on their own, but then, within the bigger picture.
It’s harder for me to track stuff like, well, with something like merch, we always make money, because the margins are good. As long as you sell them eventually, then it’s fine. We’ve never put anything out that just doesn’t sell. The magazine itself, though, I actually just learned this term recently. I don’t know a lot of business slang, because I’m learning it all by myself, so I don’t have a corporate background or whatever. I learned this term ‘loss leader’. Have you heard of this?
Mario: No, actually.
Anja: A loss leader is your product, or your offering that doesn’t really make you money, but it’s the one that gets people in the door. The magazine for us is our loss leader. We don’t really make money on the magazine. If someone buys a copy of the magazine, if you broke down the costs, everywhere from editing, to content, to freight fees to get it here, to shipping fees, to mail it to the mailers, to the fees that we pay the fulfillment warehouse, everything. If I’m lucky, there might be a dollar left. I don’t think there is, though. Or at least, every year that gets smaller as those shipping fees keep going up.
We don’t make money on that. If we’re lucky, we make money through the advertising. That pays for the team, usually, and the content, but it doesn’t always cover things, like shipping. It all seems to work out. That’s the thing that it’s our main product. It is the main thing we make. It’s the core of who we are. We’re not making money off of it. It has provided a foundation to make all these other things that allow us to create new stuff and stuff that people are more comfortable spending more money on.
It’s so funny in magazines, because people just seem to have a number in their head of what they’re comfortable paying for a magazine. If you’re the person who might be buys a magazine at the airport, whenever you’re flying, that’s how you do it. You probably spend around $7 on a magazine. That’s the only time you do it. If you’re a design nerd, you’re probably going to spend $20 here and there on the expensive ones. Maybe splurge up to 50 bucks, if you have to buy one from another country, which you usually do, because a lot of them are made in the US. That’s me. I’m the person who spends $20 to $50 a few times a year on a magazine that I’m really curious about.
I actually don’t subscribe to any magazines, which is maybe shameful to say. Unless there was a magazine that changed up what they did every time, I would be like, “I don’t need to see the same thing over and over again, I guess,” which is another challenge we’ve had, where we don’t use the same design formats every time, because I think, it would be boring. We try to mix it up a lot.
One cool thing that, even if the magazine isn’t the big moneymaker, it has given us both skills and infrastructure to make other kinds of publications, which is what we’re really super excited about right now. We made our first art book last fall with two of our contributors we’ve worked with before, Aleia Murawski and Sam Copeland. They make these incredible miniature dioramas with cool interiors and weird little scenes. They’ve been doing these dioramas for a while, and then ended up – I forget. I can’t remember the story, but they ended up getting snails, pet snails, and realized that these dioramas were all perfect for snails.
A little bedroom, like a snail’s bedroom, a snail on the airplane, a snail on a cab. They have this amazing collection of images of snails in this whole little universe, their own little world. They’re so funny. We had featured their work in the magazine before. I wanted to make a book. I wanted to do a photography book with an artist. They had this huge body of work already. We’d work together a couple different times. They’re really fun to work with.
I was just like, “Hey, do you guys want to make a book? Can we publish a book for you?” We did, and it was amazing. It’s called Snail World, and Broccoli is the publisher. It’s just full of their art. It’s so delightful. It’s so cute. The novelty is huge. It just makes you happy. It’s that experience looking through it. They’re very funny and playful, but also very poignant. Sometimes they’re very lonely and sad feeling. There’s a full range of emotion in this, that you can project onto these snails. We did a book and that went really well.
Then, that empowered us to work on this mushroom magazine called Mushroom People. That’ll be out in the fall this year. We’re sending it to the printer within the next couple days, which is super exciting. Then, we also have a photography book coming out, that is all of our cannabis and floral art. That’s been our calling card since the first issue, which featured Amy Merrick’s beautiful ikebana arrangements with hemp plants.
Since then, because I just love flowers so much, we just keep mashing them together, like weed and flowers, weed and flowers. I’m very sensitive to overusing a concept. At the same time, it brings me so much joy that we’ve just done it over and over again. I was like, “I guess, this is just our thing at this point.” We collected up all of the photography series that we’ve done in the magazine with that theme before, then I commissioned a bunch of new work from new artists. We’ve made a hardcover book of all of that work. I have samples of it now, but it’s on the way. That’ll be out before the mushroom stuff.
We just want to keep doing more publishing like this, because it’s just such a beautiful reflection of all of our skills. We have the infrastructure, so we can just do it, as long as we have the money to pay for the printing and the shipping, then we can make it happen. It’s so satisfying, because then, we have these other things. People are also a whole lot more willing to pay more money for something like a hardcover book, because that’s the norm. It’s normal to buy a book for $30, right? It’s so much more built into people’s personal ideas of cost and what things are worth.
Mario: Yeah, those price archetypes that we have on the market. Of course, there’s certain out-liers who can break through those, but usually, it is what it is.
Mario: For a majority of people. Then of course, if you want to make a living out of it, you have to look at, I guess, the average.
Anja: Yeah. It’s cool, because with the publishing, we’re really trying not only to make something that is exciting for us, and exciting for the readers, but something that actually benefits the artists that we’re working with in a more tangible way. I don’t know if you’ve worked with a publisher before on any of the Kinfolk books, but they have a lot of control usually. Publishers have a lot of control. You get paid in advance, but you may never see royalties.
Unlike in the art book publishing world, it’s really hard to get paid much to make a book, or even as a writer, if you get a book deal. When you do the math, at the end of the day, you’re probably making $3 an hour on the work you’re doing. It’s really not that lucrative. It’s really hard to make a career out of being an author, or someone who makes books. It’s a nice opportunity for us to try to go in the backdoor through this system to be like, “Hey, artists. We can actually make you some money, and you can make the book that you want.”
There’s an interesting pattern happening right now of the normal publishers are partnering up with these really popular Instagram artists who maybe make work that’s feel good, very positive. Then they want the books to all be guides to self-help, and these little positivity journals and stuff. It’s like, why couldn’t it just be the art? If a publisher had approached Aleia and Sam to make the snail book, it would have been like, A Guided Journal to Being as Chill as a Snail. They wouldn’t have wanted to do just the photos.
I think, the photos speak for themselves and you can let your mind wander more. I don’t know. A lot of books don’t give readers the credit they deserve, that they don’t need their hands held so much. I don’t know. We’re trying to just make it possible to do fun projects, where the artist has more creative control, and they get paid better than they would through an actual publishing deal. We’ll see how that goes.
Mario: I mean, you just started, I guess with that, but with this few examples, how are you achieving that? Is it with the traditional publishers? Are they just taking such a big cut that nothing is left, and that you’re trying to break up that part? Or is there something else that they – are you doing, I guess, in an old way, which doesn’t serve the creators?
Anja: Right. As far as my experiences go with this, the publisher will offer the artist or the author an advance on their book. Usually, that’s broken into a few payments. Let’s say, you get $50,000 for your book. That would be first, huge, because most people wouldn’t get that. I spoke with an art book publisher once and I don’t think they would have even been willing to give us $10,000 to produce 20 photoshoots. That’s obviously not enough.
You’re required with that $50,000 to produce all of the work. If it’s a cookbook, you need to be hiring your recipe testers, finding all your ingredients, hiring the photographer, or the stylist. That’s not your $50,000. That’s your budget. You’re also not usually working doing other work during that time, because you’re focused only on making this book. It’s not only supposed to be your salary, but it’s also supposed to be everybody else’s salary.
Half the time, book publishers don’t really give you an editor to work with on a close basis/ Your editor isn’t really your editor the way you want it to be. Everyone I know who’s made a book, and usually, the books I’m talking about are a 50-50 mix of photography and writing, whether it’s essays or profiles, that stuff, or even personal reflections, they usually hire another editor on the side to help with writing the book and shaping the content.
Then, when you get it to a good place, you show it to your real editor, and then they give you minimal feedback, and whatever. You really need to hire a full team with that advance. There’s not going to be much left for you in the end, and probably, not enough to pay for your bills for the six to 12, to however many months that takes to make a book.
What we’re doing is, we’re not really working with people who need to create an entire book’s worth of content from scratch, Aleia and Sam had a huge body of work already, so they didn’t need to spend a lot of time making new work. It was like, “Here’s all our files. Let’s make it make sense with all of this.” Immediately, that takes out a lot of the production costs. On our side, it’s just design, some editorial direction, whether there’s more copy we need to commission, or interviews, or something like that that need to be done. Then, printing and stuff like that.
We can make a book pretty cost effectively, because we have great printer, we have great distribution. We also have connections to so many retailers who sell books and other printed goods. We can get it into the world quite easily. Then, once we meet our costs, then we just split all of the profits 50-50 with the artist. If you do revenue, it’s 70-30, with us getting 70. Then, the actual profit is 50-50, once the costs are taken out of the equation. It’s actually really fair, and way more lucrative than it probably would have been the traditional route.
I know people will have a – the dream is like, “And then I’ll get royalties and translation licensing fees.” That does not happen to most people. Very, very tiny percentage of people actually get that deal. I actually learned recently, the New York Times bestseller lists and how they split it into all the different categories, depending on what category your book launches in. Most bestsellers haven’t sold more than 5,000 copies. Isn’t that crazy?
Mario: That is crazy. Yeah.
Anja: I’ve sold more than 5,000 copies of these magazines. It’s way more. It’s astounding to think how we measure the concept of success is measured in secret by these parameters that we often have no transparency for, and have no clue what’s going on behind the scenes. If your book makes it on to one of those lists, everyone’s like, “Oh, my God. You’re so successful. Congratulations.” It’s really fascinating to learn that stuff.
We did the whole Barnes & Noble distribution thing for a year. Total disaster. I knew it would be. I knew we wouldn’t make any money, but I did not know how much money we would have to spend on it.
Mario: What happened? Why doesn’t that work?
Anja: With a magazine, you’re either making money through your advertisers, your readers, or yeah, advertisers or the cover price of the magazine, right? When you’re working with a distributor, you’re only getting maybe, if you’re lucky, half of that cover price. If you’re working with a big distributor to get into something like Barnes & Noble, or Target, or these big stores, there are so many other fees that you don’t really know about, until you’re in it. Of course, it’s all in the contract. You are responsible for any of fees regarding transportation, or whatever.
How it works is, you tell them like, “Hey, we’re putting out issue five of Broccoli. Here’s the info.” They say, “Cool, we got orders.” Then they farm it out to all of their potential sales points. They get orders for, let’s say, 5,000 copies. You have to make 5,000 extra copies in your magazine just to go into Barnes & Noble. You have no idea if any of those are going to sell. You won’t know for over 200 days after the data that comes off the shelf.
Let’s say, the magazine sits on the shelf until July. That’s when the sales period ends. By then, you’re already ordering your next issue for fall. You have to order that extra 4,000 copies again, for Barnes & Noble before you know what sold. You’re not going to know what sold until the next year, because they are such a massive operation, that the process of pulling a title from the shelf, tallying sales across hundreds of stores, can you imagine being the one like, “Hey, Missouri store. We’re still waiting for your sales tallies.” It must be the worst job.
Meanwhile, you’re paying for not only the print costs for all those extra copies, but you have to pay the freight costs to ship the magazine to their transfer warehouses. Then, at their transfer warehouses, you have to pay fees to have that shipment split apart into multiple different shipments that get on multiple different trucks to go to all the different distribution centers for their stores. There’s all these costs. You have to pay fees for the Canadian equivalent of Barnes & Noble is this Chapters Indigo, or Indigo Chapter. I don’t know what they’re calling themselves these days. We had to pay a $1,000 to just – it was a required marketing fee. Do you want to know what that marketing fee got me? I got to be on a front-facing plastic shelf on the bottom row, next to the floor, I don’t know, in some stores.
We got a picture to prove it. That was a $1,000. Was not worth it. The fact of the matter is, too, if you go into a Barnes & Noble, there’s hundreds of magazines. How many people are really in there looking for Broccoli? Not that many. Some people. Most of this 5,000 copies are getting destroyed, because they don’t give them back to you. Because it’s not cost-effective. They just rip the covers off. That’s how they prove that they are not still selling them on the shelf. It’s just a really wild system.
I knew. I had read advice on the Internet from other indie magazine publishers that like, “Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.” I wanted to see if it could be at least worth it in terms of marketing, like the marketing of saying, “We’re in Barnes and Noble.” The marketing of some random person walking into a Barnes & Noble and being like, “What’s this weird magazine? This looks interesting.” Have it in these smaller towns, where maybe we’re not in some cute indie boutique, but they definitely have a Barnes & Noble.
I did have a really sweet example of our issue five, the woman on the cover is a musician named Vox. I think, that was our first issue that we did in Barnes & Noble. I got the list of all the stores we were in. I was like, “Wow, we’re in Fargo, North Dakota. Weird. Who’s going to buy Broccoli from Fargo, North Dakota? I don’t think we’ve ever shipped the magazine to North Dakota.” Then I got an email from Vox. She was like, “Oh, my God. My sister lives in Fargo. She just saw the magazine and she just bought it in Barnes & Noble.” I was like, “Oh, damn. there you go.”
Mario: I guess, it was worth it.
Anja: Or, my mom can go to chapters in my little hometown and buy it. Not anymore. We’re not doing it anymore. It was an interesting experiment. It was a lesson learned, let’s say that.
Mario: I think, while we are still on the topic of publishing and magazines, I think, we talked about many important things already. Let’s say that somebody wants to start a magazine today, besides being like, “Okay, are you sure you want to make a magazine and go into debt?” They are like, “Yes, yes. I’m so sure.” What advice would you give to them?
Anja: I think, the next most important step is deciding how often you want your magazine to come out. Everyone wants to default to quarterly. I think, that’s Kinfolk’s fault, quite honestly, because they’re so popular. People really look to them as what a successful indie magazine can become. Everyone’s like, Quarterly, of course. That’s seasonal. It makes so much sense.” I don’t think people know how relentless that schedule is. When we would send a magazine to print, my editor would instantly go on vacation the next day for a week. Then she would be back and it would be back on. It’s like, you don’t really get time off.
If you are the person running the business, you really need more time to run the business. I could not have kept up with the four times a year schedule. We’re doing three times a year for Broccoli, which is not a normal amount. Biannual didn’t feel often enough, before I knew would be too hard on my capabilities. I think, we would have run out of money as well.
Plus, I think from a reader perspective, does your reader really want to buy your magazine four times a year? That’s a lot. That’s a lot to ask from someone. Yeah. I would think, how often can you handle putting out the magazine, both financially and personally from a workload perspective? Because you don’t want to burn up so fast. You don’t want your money to all go away instantly. It breaks my heart when I see other indie mag publishers who are in debt and have to do Go Fund Me’s and Kickstarters to pay their debts, because they owe so much to their printers.
I would also say, print in Shenzhen. Don’t print in the US. Don’t print in Europe. It’s too expensive. Print where all the printers are. The only reason that Broccoli can be $12 is because we print in Shenzhen, and their prices are incredible, and their quality is incredible. I think, there’s a real made in China stigma that I really find appalling, because there are things that are made in China that are being made the best in the world.
Our printer is not huge. I mean, they’re big enough to be a big printer, but they’re not a massive company. They have a woman CEO. They have all kinds of good eco standard certifications. They’re just as good, and maybe better than any of the other printers out there in the world. Yet, they can charge a fraction of the price, because they work at such a large volume. Their minimums are the same as any minimum you’d find in a US printer, or European printer. Don’t bother if you’re not going to print a 1,000 copies.
They even encourage you They’re like, “Are you sure you can’t do 2,000? Because it’ll be way cheaper.” Yeah, print in Shenzhen. If anyone needs it, I will happily pass along that website address to anyone who needs to know, because that’s how you’re going to be able to do it. I just saw another new magazine printing with the hemlock up in BC. They’re amazing, but they’re the most expensive, I think, that I got a quote from. I couldn’t afford it. It’s tricky. Choose your vendors wisely, I suppose, is a good piece of advice there.
Oh, and I got this piece of advice, too. You have to really pay attention to how much your magazine is going to weigh. Because that’s going to determine how much it costs to ship it. In the US, you can’t send a magazine with ads media mail, because it has ads, and that’s a federal restriction. You have to use more expensive classes of mailing. It helps you determine how much you’ve been charged for your magazine. You don’t want to charge $20 and then $8 on shipping. No one’s going to buy it.
Really being super strategic about your vendors, how they influence your costs. It’s all boring spreadsheet stuff that’s so vital.
Mario: Then, I think, discovers this part of being stubborn. Then, you’re actually deciding to launch a magazine. Then, I think, something which is maybe or probably more challenging is actually, I guess, launching a successful magazine, or having a success. Having an audience and having a positive trajectory. It really seems that with Broccoli, you’ve managed to achieve that. I’m curious, how did you get to that? How much was the strategy behind it?
Anja: Yeah. I think, it’s a fascinating thing, because you could be the most genius strategist in the whole world, but if the moment isn’t right, your product won’t succeed. I knew that the acceptance and interest and curiosity about the world of weed was increasing pretty rapidly, and there wasn’t a cool magazine. There are a lot of older school magazines that are either really focused for growers, or industry people, or just all run by dudes that are really tasteless and don’t have great reputations.
I was like, “Oh, there’s obviously a need here for something fun and beautiful and smart.” Not that the other ones aren’t smart, but just a different perspective. The gap in the market was absolutely there. We managed to execute well. We made it really easy for people to get the magazine from the start. Instantly, we were able to have way more readers than someone coming out of the gate with maybe a $20 cover price. Because you could literally go and get the magazine for free for a while, for almost two years.
I don’t necessarily recommend giving your magazine away for free, because that wasn’t long-term sustainable as a business. It gave us a bit of a leg up on finding our community and our audience by really broadly, just getting it out there any way we could. Then, this is the part you can’t control, is that people were really into it, and they were ready for it. That’s the X factor that you can’t guarantee that that’s going to happen. If I launched the magazine today, it would probably be too saturated. It’d be a much harder road.
There’s so many interests out there in the world. Yeah, there might be enough of a community of people who could get behind a magazine of any subject. A cool surf magazine just came out, called Emocean, but ocean, like the ocean. I’ve also seen one come out for women who love horses, like horse girls. It’s called Calling All Horse Girls. Both of those magazines have sold out their first issues. They’re working on their second, or they’ve already released their second, and there’s a good demand for it.
That makes me really excited to see. I love seeing people finding that most communities through print. You never know if the community that likes something is also going to want to buy a magazine and experience their interest through print. If you can launch one, and pay it back, and not lose a lot of money, then by all means, keep going, right? If it can be proven both in interest, and then the interest is backed up in your bank account in a way that makes you feel safe to do it again, then yeah, just keep rolling with it. I think that we’ve tried to expand our offerings really thoughtfully.
Whether it’s events or other products, or whatever, I guess, the rollout is really largely based on what we can afford to do. We’re pretty thoughtful about what we put out in the world. Everything ties together really naturally. Whenever we add something new, it makes sense within the world of what we’re doing. I think, that’s important for growth, too. You don’t want to do something totally disparate and random. It needs to be like, you have to listen to your community and see the other things that tie into their interests and where they intersect with the theme of what you’re doing, and be creative with how you make decisions on what new things to make.
Because, you’d probably be making really cool – Imagine putting on a really cool surfboard for that surfing magazine. That would be amazing. I’m sure people would love that. There’s a lot of potential within the category that you’re in. It’s just all about being playful and having fun within it.
Mario: I think, what you said is so crucial. You can do everything right, but then maybe just the timing isn’t there. It’s maybe not going to be a disaster, but it’s also maybe not going to be a success, and a proper – let’s say, also, business behind it. Probably the same goes with being too early. Maybe if you try to launch a weed magazine five years prior, maybe it would be actually too early.
Anja: Yeah. I mean, from our advertising perspective, it would have been too early, because there wouldn’t have been brands. The concept of a weed brand is still only a couple years old. That’s who advertises in our magazine, it’s people who have a product, and they have a whole brand and marketing ideas all around it that’s so new in this industry. Actually, I think that part would probably be much easier in other industries, where there’s all established companies, and people willing to spend money on it.
Yeah. I mean, even because we’re talking about a controlled substance, there are people who have unsubscribed, because they’re moving to a state where it’s not legal, and they’re worried. That’s really fascinating. Yeah, the timing, it was just really magic, lucky timing. We were really fortunate to have a lot of support early on and support that’s continued. We and I care a lot about nurturing those relationships. A community is a buzzword in business. Every business wants to be a community. Sometimes it’s totally weird and does not make sense at all.
I don’t think you can force community on people. I think, it has to happen in a natural way. If a community is building around what you’re doing, that is a special, magic thing. You cannot put out a water bottle company and be like, “We’re all about community,” from the very start. Because how can you be? You don’t know if you have a community yet. You have to let them show up and tell you who they are and listen to them, and be nice to them and care about them.
Mario: I think, the best you can do is serve a community, almost find them and maybe grow with them. Yeah, artificial, I guess, ambition to commoditize every single thing doesn’t work.
Anja: I know. It’s funny, too, because the very initial concepts for Broccoli were much weirder and more conceptually driven from an abstract sense, than what we ended up putting out. Because once I started talking to people who were already working in the industry and talking about what was really important to them, or even just people who liked weed, how they connect with it, what’s important, what they’d like to learn about, it just quickly became clear that if we put out some abstract art magazine, it would be too snobby for everybody. It would not be the thing that they wanted, which was these honest reflections and thoughts and insights on something they care about.
I think, that accessibility point was really crucial to us building a community, because the magazine doesn’t leave people out intentionally. We try really hard to be inclusive of a lot of different perspectives and present it in a way that’s easy to understand, whether you’re new to weed, or someone who’s been into it for their whole lives, or anywhere on the world, too. We don’t assume that you know what the Emerald triangle in California is, which is a really popular historical place to grow weed.
In America, that is what you think of, of where weed gets grown. If you live in Copenhagen, for example, you might not have heard of the Emerald Triangle before. We try to always make those things clear and make them easy to understand, but also, still smart and intelligent. You can be clear and interesting at the same time. I think, a lot of – not a lot of publications, but just a lot of people in general, forget about that mix. They maybe make things too weird when they could be serving more people. Maybe that’s better for books. Where you are, just art for art’s sake.
Mario: Yeah. You do one-off things, and then you can move along.
Hey, friends. We’re in the middle of this episode, so it’s time for a short break. If you’d like to spot guest, I’m confident you’re going to enjoy the Creative Voyage Monthly Edit. Every month, we ask a new creative professional to curate 10 brief recommendations, including books, articles, products, videos, and podcasts, which serve to inform and inspire. We deliver them exclusively to your inbox. It’s a newsletter curated by creatives for creatives. To sign up, visit creative.voyage/newsletter. Thanks, everyone. Let’s get back to the show.
As mentioned in the intro, I had a pleasure of working alongside Anja, while we were both at Kinfolk. Even though we worked on different parts of the business, she was enormously influential on my development as an art director. It was not formalized, but I saw Anja as a mentor. Here, we discuss the different ways of approaching our direction, and talk about the difference between the creative director and an art director.
Anja: I guess, in my experience, and let’s be honest, I’ve only worked for one company where I had this title other than my own, where I can have any title I want, based on the day. The art director has a little less control than the creative director. The creative director is usually the boss, and the person who is giving direction to the art director, if both of those jobs exist at once simultaneously. From a more skills-based perspective, I think they’re the same job. That’s the secret.
Mario: How would you describe, or define art direction, from your experience?
Anja: I would say that it is the job of establishing the look and feel of what something is going to be, from a really high-level, conceptual perspective, all the way down sometimes to the nitty-gritty details. It’s yeah, establishing the tone and the look and the feel. Depending on the work you’re doing, the creative director could also have more input on, if we’re talking about a magazine, for example, more input on the tone of the writing and the writing you want in the magazine. Maybe you’re touching more of that, more of the full picture, versus an art director who would be more focused on visual, look, the design, that stuff.
I remember, my trauma at work when I started at Kinfolk was that they really wanted me to be a graphic designer as well. The art director, in their minds, should be both an art director and a graphic designer. Believe me, I can barely use InDesign. I know how to replace a photo and change some text. If the formatting gets messed up, I’m lost. I had to fight for my job in a way that made it like I can do this job, but the graphic designer should be a different person. I don’t think I should have to learn to be a graphic designer just to be an art director, basically, is what it came down to.
I still stand by that. I don’t think they need to be the same job. Sometimes when I work with our designer, JJ, Jennifer Wright, she loves as much direction as I can give. I will give her a whole collection. We started using Google Docs with photos, and then notes below it and just random ideas, piece together that way, because it’s actually way faster than trying to make a PDF. I’ll just throw a bunch of ideas at her, and then she’ll run with it.
If I don’t have any, or if I’m lacking in inspiration at the moment, her job is so much harder. We need to work in tandem in that way. I think, it would be a lot of pressure for someone to both have to come up with all of the ideas and then make them.
Mario: Yeah. I agree with your point. I think for me, my experience is different, my core skill set and background is graphic design. Then, I think, similar with you and photography at the beginning, and when you saw the posting for the job at Kinfolk, you were like, “I’m actually doing a lot of these things as a photographer, but I’m also pressing the button.” Then, I had a similar experience with graphic design, because yes, you do a lot with temporal, or layout.
When you’re working on a branding project for a client, then you do both the strategy, or the creative direction for it. You do the, let’s say, the logo type and all the different visual elements for the brand. Then you also probably commission photography, you help with, I don’t know, directing the website, maybe you commissioned illustration. You’re already doing all these different things. For me, it was always at the beginning, almost this – I didn’t have an understanding that exactly what you said, that it can be just a job where you’re directing people and connecting the dots.
Anja: Right. Totally. Yeah. I bet, JJ has experience similar to yours, too, because she has worked as an art director and with clients. Yeah, they’re not giving you much. They really are looking to you, the designer, to be the art director and be the creative vision for large projects, including entire brands.
Then, I feel sometimes, a designer in that sense, doesn’t get the full credit that they deserve, because they are giving the whole vision, or at least 95% of it sometimes. Yeah. I think, if someone was trying to decide if they, let’s say, you’re doing design, or you’re doing photography, and it’s like, do you want to be the person doing the work? Or do you want to be the person explaining the work to someone else and making sure it gets done?
I think, the art director job is almost a little more, you need to enjoy managing people more. Although, when you’re working directly with clients, you’re dealing with that anyway. If you’re working in a bigger team, where that’s not the main work relationship flow – I went from being the person who had all the creative control, including hitting the shutter, making the photo, editing the photo, all that stuff, to the person who was telling someone how it should look and explaining what it should be. Yeah, it’s a lot more logistical than it is “creative” through the whole process, except that it’s all based on your creativity. It is creative, but there’s more practical work to be done.
As the art director, you need to be aware of more pieces of the puzzle than each person doing the work needs to know about. The photographer doesn’t necessarily need to know how the images are going to flow with the copy on the page. Unless, you need to specifically ask for a certain size of a photo, their focus is making a beautiful image within the direction and just bringing an idea to life.
Then, the we work is not done, until that awesome photo becomes even more cool in collaboration with your designer and your writers, of all the rest of the vision. It is a little bit more bigger picture, I guess, because there’s more factors to consider and more elements that go into it. Then, everyone making stuff is focused on their one realm of expertise, where they can really just put all their attention there, which I think is smart. If you like a little bit everything, you might like being an art director.
Mario: How would you describe, I guess, your growth or development as an art director? I’m sure, it developed over time.
Anja: Well, okay. With my first experience, art directing was just doing my own shoots for little boutiques and small fashion designers here in Portland, and other stuff just for fun. That was full creative control, pretty flexible clients. Really easy. I didn’t make a single PDF that whole time. I didn’t know how. That was not part of my job at that point. Then, when I started working at Kinfolk, it was like, “Oh, there’s a structure to being an art director.” You have to give guidance in a certain way. Because the aesthetics of everything we did were so crucial, we had templates for art direction, PDFs. We had layouts that we used for the art direction guidance.
That was really interesting to be like, “Oh, it needs to be really polished and really clear and really defined.” I could make you a 10-page super clear art direction PDF for a photoshoot with a specific concept. I can give you direction on how it’s going to fit into a magazine flow, what it should look like, the colors, the vibe, the models, the clothes, the location, all of that you do in a super defined way. That’s the most intense version of doing something like that. Then, you go back and forth.
Then with Broccoli, just stopped. I was like, “You know what? I don’t think we need to make it so hard.” Especially, when the look of the magazine and the types of photography we include, are not as slim as it was at the time. The boundaries are so much bigger. The parameters of what something can look like to be in Broccoli are ill-defined, because they mostly just exist in my brain. If it’s something that I think it looks cool, then I’m like, “It works.”
I’m working with artists whose style I really love. I’ll give them a really simple concept. We honestly, usually just go from there and they shoot it, and they give me the photos. For example, we did a shoot in our third issue. I try to keep the concepts pretty simple, because that’s catchy and fun. We did a shoot on the third issue that was, I wanted it to be a bunch of different accessories, shot with really cool nail art and watches or clocks that said 4:20. So dumb and fun and basic.
I had a photographer pitch me a story. I think, she might have even pitched me a nail art story, or something. The timing was perfect, because I was like, “Oh, my God. This is exactly a concept that I want to do.” I was like, “Yes, this nail artist is incredible. Let’s use them.” I think, they knew each other already. Or she may have pitched them. I don’t even remember at this point. We had a specific nail artist. The photographer was onboard. I was like, “Just include some watches and stuff that say 4:20.” We had a shot where someone was touching their phone, and it was 4:20, and there’s watches and there’s little clocks.
Or, she did one nail thing work, the nails said 4:20. I thought that was really funny. She sent me a bunch of stuff like, “Oh, here’s the colors I want to use. Here’s the model I want to use. Here’s this and that, and this and that.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s all good. I don’t have any feedback for you. This is great.” Sometimes people will ask me like, “Oh, do you need me to give you a mood board?” I’m like, “No, I think we’re good. I love your style. We agree on the concept.” Unless, I have something more specific, like, I just let them run with it. It usually goes great.
I think, that you can go really hardcore. Or you can be loosey-goosey, like I’ve been lately. Both can work really well. It depends on how much time you want to put into making these directional documents and guidance in the beginning, and how much you trust the artist you’re working with. Only work with people that you really trust, because they won’t let you down. If they get one thing wrong, that’s fine. Usually, the rest of it is awesome.
Mario: Yeah. What do you think are some of the most important, I guess, attributes of being an art director?
Anja: Just clear communication. Be clear about what you expect from someone, the format of the work that you need it to come back in. Really technical stuff. Well, I think one of the most common complaints for any artist is that their clients never tell them how much they’re going to pay them for the work. It’s like, you have to do all this work just to find out how much you’re going to get paid. I never do that. I always reach out to people, even if I’ve never met them before and it’s a total cold email to a new photographer or something. I’m like, “Hey, I have an idea. Here’s two lines about what the concept is.” Or like, “Hi, I’m from this magazine. I’d like to hire you to do a shoot. Here’s a very brief – I can tell you more if you’re interested.” It would be, “I’d need six photos, low res by this deadline, high res by this deadline. That high res is flexible. The deadline is flexible. It’ll be $500. I can offer you $500. What do you think about all of that? Let me know.”
Then, if it’s an artist that I’ve worked with before already, and we’ve already established a good relationship, those emails get longer, because I just try to give them all the information right away, because I’m pretty sure they’re going to say yes to the job. I have a few illustrators that I’ve worked with several times, and they just always deliver such awesome work, that’s perfect.
I will go to town on the weird idea. I’ll really give them all the information about my random idea, even though email gets pretty long. I still include all of that practical stuff at the end. Because I know that they’ll say yes. If I’m tight on the deadline, or whatever, I just want to make it easy for them. I don’t want to have to go back and forth a lot. If we’ve already established a good thing, then I’m just like, “Here’s the info dump. You can say yes or no. You can start working on it instantly, if you want. We don’t have to email for a week, before you can actually start, because you don’t have all the information.”
I think, that’s really important. Just being a really good communicator, really respectful of people’s time, and to try to be really understanding of how long it takes to do the work that they’re doing. Because the worst thing is when you don’t give someone enough time, and then they’re stressed, that’s not good for anybody. Not good for creativity. It’s not good for the relationship. It’s not good for their work-life balance.
I’m not trying to stress anybody out. I try to be pretty cautious and thoughtful about the assignments that I’m giving. I also try to pay people more over time, too. I’ve noticed, this is another thing I learned while working at Kinfolk is that – and I’ve seen this. This is true throughout all of the work that I’ve done in publishing, people are super excited to give you a hot discount when you first start working together, because they’re like, “Oh, I’d love to have my work in this publication. It would be cool for me. The idea is fun. It sounds fun.”
Then, once you’re on your third, fourth, fifth shoot together, it’s not that it’s less fun, or they’re less interested, but it’s about showing the respect for your growing relationship. You know they’re not making money on these shoots, especially when we’re talking about these floral shoots that we do. Flowers are expensive. They’re really expensive. Or, maybe there are a bunch of people involved, and you know that maybe if they’re splitting it evenly, they’re each getting a 100 bucks, that’s not a good day rate. That’s a terrible day rate.
I try to think about what the longer-term picture is of our relationship, and how I can make it fruitful for both of us and not have them feel like, I’m just always going to offer them the same opening rate. I can’t go up forever. One time, I was working with a photographer at Kinfolk, and we would do these really complex shoots with them. Then, they got more and more expensive over time, appropriately so. After a while, I was like, “I can’t spend a quarter of my budget on one shoot. I just can’t. Even though I know this is what it costs to work with this person.” I stopped commissioning them.
Then after a couple issues, they were like, “Why aren’t you commissioning me anymore?” I was honest, I was like, “I can’t afford it. I don’t think I can afford you anymore.” They were like, “No, I still want to do the work. Just tell me what you can afford, and I’ll tell you if I’m comfortable with it.” There’s a back and forth. I think, at that point, I probably should have been like, “Hey, I don’t know if we can keep doing the same rate. How can we pair these shoots back to make it possible for you?” Because they were really complicated. That we could have done something simpler, that probably would have been just as good for new ideas.
Yeah. I mean, when people are working for editorial, the rates are always bad. The nicest thing you can do for an artist is to try to make those rates better, and you’ve got to keep feeding them over time. It’s important.
Throughout our professional and personal lives, we are often met by obstacles and challenges. How we respond during those phases is a determining factor that influences our long-term satisfaction. Those situations are often opportunities for growth, learning, and even radical change. I’ve asked Anja about the hurdles she has faced on her journey so far, and if she was experiencing any professional challenges at the time of our conversation.
Anja: I have a big challenge that I’m really excited to be solving. As we have diversified all these little projects. There’s so many projects within the Broccoli little universe now. I’m spending a lot of my time assigning little to-dos for people, and checking in on status of projects and sending reminders and scheduling meetings. I’m doing a lot of administrative work. We’re trying to make a cute Nalgene water bottle. It’s super easy. We’ve got the template. All I have to do is commissioned the art, and then three weeks later, we’ll have water bottles, but I cannot find time to commission the art. I’m missing out on making revenue off of cute water bottles, because I’m too busy telling my team, “Oh, when should we have this call?” Or like, “Hey, is this ready yet?”
I’m hiring a project manager to be the boss of the calendar. That’s going to be huge for me. That’s going to be a big change. I’m really excited, because project managing is a really special skill. You have to be really on it and really detail-oriented and friendly. You don’t want to be making people mad when you’re sending those reminders. It can be a hard job. I think, it’s maybe a bit of a thankless job, depending on the environment you’re working in. It wouldn’t be like that here, because we’re nice.
In some agency worlds, I know that it often is a very thankless job to be the project manager. I’m going to make sure that they’re well appreciated and taken care of. Yeah, that’s my biggest challenge right now is that I don’t have time to do the important creative work that makes all of the things happen. I’m trying to keep delegating myself out of those roles.
Mario: It sounds like you’re working on a solution, which is good.
Anja: Yeah, thank God, because I need it really badly. Now, I have a new problem, which is that so many people have applied for the job that I’m overwhelmed by the application. It’s really lovely, because it’s like, “Oh, that many people want to work with us. That’s so cool.”
Mario: That’s great. It is also a challenge, I guess, hiring for a position like that, because you just have to – I mean, of course it has to be a fit. Then, you just have to give it a try. Because how will you show a portfolio of project management?
Anja: Yeah. Like, show me your best spreadsheet. We’ll see. I need to figure out exactly how I’m approaching the interviews. Yeah, it’s a really, really important job. When you have so many different things going on at once, it’s a lot to juggle, and you really have to be sharp all the time when you’re running the business, doing creative work, keeping the calendar going, making sure everybody is on top of it.
To be fair, they’re amazing. It’s not like, I’m reminding people to do things that they haven’t done, but I’m just like, “Oh, this is coming up. Do you need anything?” More like that. Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting. It’s also going to be the first time that I’m hiring someone really through a formal applications process, because weirdly, the right people have just shown up in my atmosphere, just when I needed that thing.
The last person we hired is Calan. She works on operations. She manages, making sure the subscribers get their magazines, making sure all the orders get filled, customers service and that borders into community work as well. I knew that she wanted to work with me, because she told me several times, she had volunteered in that event we did. I had met her in person before. We had a really good connection.
When I got that loan from the Small Business Association, because of the pandemic, I was like, “Okay. I now have a little bit of money that if I want to use it to hire somebody, I could.” Everyone is part-time. It’s all independent contractor work. We’re not big enough to have people on salary, which maybe someday that would be really cool. Calan is really creative. She has done a lot of graphic design. She has done some creative direction and worked in a bunch of different capacities.
When I reached out, I was like, “Hi, I have a job that I would like to offer you. It is not necessarily the job that you might want, or that you really deserve, creatively speaking, but this is the job that I have. This is the one I need help with the most. The most pressing of right now is these practical things.” She was like, “I’m into it.” It’s funny, because I think, she’s told me that it’s actually really nice to have a part-time, reliable, monthly thing that she can do that isn’t creative. Because now, she gets to spend her time being creative on her own stuff, like her and her fiancé make music, and they get to funnel a lot of that energy into that. I feel that’s cool.
It can be really nice to give yourself a break, creatively speaking. Maybe you’ve discovered that you actually just do like doing repetitive work that isn’t “creative,” but it pays some of your bills, and it gives you time to use your creative brain elsewhere.
Mario: When you look back, I mean, you went through a few transitions. Was there any particular challenge in your past that sticks out?
Anja: I guess, I could talk about the decision of leaving Kinfolk, because that was the most major change and a challenging moment, because I was making the choice to leave a stable, well-paying job, in an industry that I never could have dreamed I’d be working in. On paper. that’s absolutely a dream job, to taking the risk of starting my own company. When I got my job at Kinfolk, I was like, “I’m never going to be freelance again. I hate it.” The validation of getting a paycheck, and the security felt so good that I was like, “I’ll never do freelance again.”
Then I started a company and I was like, “Why do they –” It was the total opposite of what I said I would do. We had gone through a couple different, pretty big changes with Kinfolk, from when I started working there. There was a point where half the company moved to Copenhagen, so it started being headquartered there. I had to work remotely for the first time. I adjusted really well to that. It worked just fine, for whatever reason. I think, because the team I was working with, they were still the same people, largely. There were new people, but there was enough of an overlap, where our systems, and the comfort was still there. Even though we were nine hours off, there was an adjustment period, but we still had already established good communication styles. We were able to maintain that.
Not too long after that, we did our second magazine redesign. I think, they just did a third, which is cool. That was really fun to work on, because I really got to be so much more hands on, on full creative direction of what content should be in the magazine and what should it look like, and what’s the more mature version of this going to look like? Because you start a magazine and your tastes evolve is the person in charge of it. Of course, it’s going to change over time, if you want to keep being interested in your own magazine. That was super fun.
Then, there were moments where there were bigger changes of structural changes within the company. I had gone through a couple of big structural changes there before. There was another one coming. I just knew that I didn’t want to do it again. I couldn’t go through another massive shift and relearning process, where there would have been a lot of new people involved, and me being so far, literally all the way across the country. How can you be the creative director at a company, when the entire rest of the team who was going to be a lot of new people, how can you do that from across the country? It just didn’t seem it made sense.
I don’t love change. Nobody does, really, I think. I do okay with it. I manage, and I come out well on the other end. I can cope with it, but I don’t necessarily enjoy it. I was at a point in my life where there was too much else going on in my personal life to take on a huge thing at work. It was just too much. I had the opportunity, and I took – it was like, that was my time. I think, even from a creative perspective, I think I had given all I had. I don’t think that I could have made that magazine any more interesting than it had become in the few years that I worked there. Not because of me, but because of the whole team and how we changed it and shaped it.
I felt, I was happy with where had landed. I felt really proud of it. I feel really excited when I see it now. I see what the team has been doing since then, of John Burns is at the helm, and he’s doing incredible work. Sometimes, I see covers that come out now and I was like, “Wow, I never would have been allowed to have that cover, but I’m so happy that this is what’s happening.” It makes me so happy for the trajectory and the evolution of what the magazine’s become. I’m really happy and grateful that I got to be part of that, and got to fight some of those fights to have weirder pictures and more color and whatever. Now, I get to see what someone else is doing with that vision. It makes me really proud of John. I think he’s done such cool work. That’s really exciting.
Yeah. The challenge of deciding to leave something stable, and I had just gotten a raise, and I had just had my first couple few months of working with an art direction assistant. She was there on the same timezone as everyone else, helping logistically to make the shoots happen. I’d never had help before. Oh, my God. It was not easy to leave that behind, because it’s been four years of not having that. Now finally, I’m starting to get that again.
Yeah, it was a tough call. When there’s so much transition in your life, you’re just more open to more change. It was a hard call. I think, I tried to go into starting Broccoli, thinking that it’s okay if it’s not a long-term thing. It’s okay, if this is an experiment. Try to have fun with it. Don’t blow all your money, but try to have fun. Don’t get in debt, and see what happens.
Mario: Before you left Kinfolk, did you already have the idea of Broccoli? Or did it happen afterwards?
Anja: It was a loose idea. I wasn’t strategizing the whole time like, “Someday, I’ll make my own magazine.” Actually, I was like, “I’ll never make my own magazine. It’s too hard.” Because we were such a small, close team, and we were fortunate enough to be pretty aware of most of the business side of things. Not all of it. A lot of it was not our business. The founders were fairly open with us about the logistics of running the company. I did get to learn a lot. I saw how hard it was. It gave me so much respect for the act of publishing and how difficult it is, or just how nuanced and complex it is.
I never thought I would want to do it. It was just too good of an opportunity to not take. The opening was there. All I had to do was just to make it happen. Then, I was lucky enough to be able to work with two colleagues who one of them, well, they both used to work at Kinfolk, too. We already knew each other. We had a really strong working foundation as we went into it. We already had a lot of trust established, and we already had a lot of respect for the separate roles that we all did. That made it really easy, too. Because I got to kick things off with a really strong base with people I trust and admire. That was really key.
We’d come to the last topic I’ve discussed with Anja. As with previous guests, I’ve asked her to leave us with the final pieces of advice, based on what she learned so far on her professional journey.
Anja: To start, I think, you should do your very best to create boundaries from your work and your personal life. Because I think, what happens in your personal life will inform your creative work so much more than what’s happening on the clock. Got to give yourself time downtime. You can’t let work take over. Even if it’s creative work. Don’t get fooled.
Second, I think, find inspiration in weird places. Don’t spend all your time looking for inspiration on your computer, where you’re looking at websites and blogs and Pinterest, or whatever, whatever resources you have. Go to the bookstore, go for a walk, go look at some old junk. Or, you know what? Actually, if you can’t do that, when we couldn’t do that in a pandemic, I find a lot of inspiration from old stuff, like weird old books and old design. I think, it’s a good way to try to avoid accidentally copying other people, or getting too caught up in trends, which can happen whether or not you mean to, of course.
Our brains are all melding together through what we see and experience. When I was doing inspiration gathering for Broccoli, I would literally just Google magazine design, layout 1961 into Google image searches and just see what came up. Then, I just would go through every year. That’s my cheat. This is my cheat sheet for a Google image search, is just if you have a vibe in mind, go to the beginning of that era, and just include that year. 1941.
Or even with mushroom people. I’m like, “Mushrooms, 1941. Mushrooms, 1942. Mushrooms, 1943.” It’s actually surprisingly useful, because you get to see things that you were not going to see otherwise. Random, weird old stuff. It can spark new ideas, it can surprise you. You know that you’re not being influenced by a trend. I think that’s really fun. It’s like treasure hunting. You can do that digitally, or you can go to the thrift store and look at all old books, whatever. I think that’s really fun, too.
Then, I think, I guess the third piece of advice is have a creative hobby that you don’t monetize. Maybe you don’t even tell anybody about it. Or if you do, maybe it’s someone who also is just doing it for fun. Make space and time for the pleasure of creating without the pressure of making money, or doing it for clicks, or likes. Because I think, it’s really a good exercise for the brain. It can remind you that there’s just fun stuff, too. It can just be for fun, even if you’re working creatively.
It can also help your creative work, because it’s a weird form of practice to do this other creative things totally separate from your work. I have a friend who’s been writing. My best friend, she has been writing a novel, basically, since high school. She’s been coming up with these characters and concept since high school. She works on it almost every day. She’s done that yearly. Do you know that, the yearly writing project NaNoWriMo? It’s a November writing – November National Novel Writing Month, I think is what it stands for.
The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. That’s 1,600 something words a day, It’s not easy to do. Two Novembers ago, she was like, “Why don’t you do it with me? Why don’t you just try?” I’m like, “Well, I don’t have an idea. I don’t have a concept, but I like to read and I like to read fiction.” I ended up writing 20,000 words of a fake novel, that will never be a real thing. I’ve told a couple people about it, but I don’t know if I would love to read it. It’s fun practice. It forced my brain to imagine all these different fantasy scenarios, and all these different ideas and fake people and fake timelines and scenarios and environments and descriptions of things. It was so creatively satisfying and fun to invent this little world and to really focus on it.
Then, when you’re not writing, you’re thinking about it. You’re like, “What would this person – What would this character do if they –” I don’t know. It helped give my brain a break from thinking about work. If my brain was in charge, which it usually is, I’m thinking about work most of the time. I really want that to get dialed back, and I would really love to have more free thinking and imagination time. That was an accidental way. I accidentally found it by tricking myself into thinking about another creative thing, that, yeah, I do some writing for work. It does influence a little bit my writing skills, I guess, but it is not part of my job in any way. I would never, I don’t think, ever try to publish this book.
Yeah. If you can find a creative outlet that is totally separate from money and attention, then you will benefit from doing that thing.
Hey, everyone. That’s it for this episode. I hope you find it useful. If you like this podcast, tell a friend. I want to thank Anja for coming onto the show. I love her work, everything that she has been developing with Broccoli, and I’m grateful for all the insights she shared. Links to ideas projects, and some other things mentioned during the conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast.
If you love printed matter, check out the second issue of our publication. The Creative Voyage Paper, which features adapted podcast episodes, publication exclusive oneness and learn stories, and many tips for leveling up. Visit creative.voyage to get your copy. At the same place, you’ll find a new limited edition tote bag, made for the recent third anniversary of the podcast in collaboration with the remarkable MA Studio. Lastly, if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe.
Until next time, my friends. Take care.
On Passion, Patience & Photography with Myesha Evon GardnerMyesha’s approach to photography, including influences, gear, experimentation, shooting analog and working in the darkroom, her mindsets about growth and finances, lessons she learned from her father, who is a musician, the importance of patience and passion, risk-taking, her most essential rituals, and more.
How to Be an Interior Stylist with Colin KingColin’s work/life balance, the source of his motivation, how he approaches interior styling, work routines, his thoughts on professional growth and relevancy, the power of asking for help and of helping others, his challenges along the journey, including encounters with addiction and his path to sobriety, and more.
On Courage, Embracing Change and Lifelong Learning with Astrid StavroLife-long learning and continually being a student, Astrid’s work routines, advice for young designers, her experience as a Pentagram partner, what makes for a good piece of graphic design, how to orient ourselves during times of change, and more.
On Knowing Ourselves, Growth and Long Term Goals with Chidy WayneThe importance of knowing ourselves, Chidy’s work routines, managing finances as a freelancer, the importance and challenges of personal growth in the face of modern distractions, advice for young creatives, his views on the craft of illustration, including style and trends, and more.