Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reality Bites - Re-cap of A Realistic Approach to Creativity in Magazines Panel

On Monday October 5th, as part of Read Alberta Magazines Month (RAMM), we invited panellists to Mount Royal University to speak on the subject of creativity and its role in the business of publishing. The discussion was passionate, insightful, but perhaps most importantly, a fierce reality check for those who think they can cut it in the magazine industry without burning that midnight oil.

The panellists were Veronica Cowan, art director at Where Calgary; Kathe Lemon, editor of Avenue Calgary; and Jack Newton, publisher of Where Canadian Rockies, speaking to a room made up mainly of aspiring designers with a sprinkling of writers-to-be. The panel was moderated by AMPA Executive Director and freelance writer and editor, Colleen Seto.

The Creative Process
Editor Kathe Lemon spoke of creativity as a process, rather than the popular notion that creativity is chaos. She said that this shift in perception is a necessary one, because at a monthly magazine, one must be creative consistently, day after day, month after month. But creativity shouldn't simply be limited to extravagant ideas, it has a practical application in a workplace where "nothing ever goes as planned." Things go wrong all the time. So, be creative in your problem-solving.

Art director Veronica Cowan suggested immersing yourself in all kinds of art. For herself, she looks at sculptures, paintings, and anything that can inform her design. But, she emphasizes that knowing how to use design software like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator is important as well.

It's okay to take chances with art, but be able to back your vision up to the editor. Cowan said that showing the editor two versions of an ad (ex: version A is what the editor wants, version B is what the art director envisions) can help inform decision-making. Lemon, on the other hand, disagreed, noting that compromise between all parties is necessary, and that time constraints often mean that mocking up multiple versions of something is not possible.

Don't Be Boring
Publisher Jack Newton said that one of the most important skills a person can have, is the skill to "not be boring." True story. Being boring is the death of the growth of anybody in a creative industry.

Writer/editor Colleen Seto said that being flexible is key to getting work again. Meet your deadlines. Comply with re-writes. Communicate. Offer creative story ideas. Do all these things and more, and you'll be able to find work.

For those looking to get started, either as a writer or designer, remember this: Know the magazine you're pitching to, inside and out. Who is the magazine's audience? Read back issues to see if your topic's been covered already. You're not only selling your idea, but you're selling yourself--what makes you the best person to write or design this story? All panellists agreed that demonstrating you've done your research is key to making your first inroad.

The panel recommended that students participate in an internship with a magazine. All of Where Calgary's editorial staff were former interns. Many interns have also been hired on-staff at Avenue Calgary. That said, interns need to do a number of things: a) apply at the magazine(s) they wish to work for directly, b) demonstrate they are the right candidate, c) show they are critical thinkers, and d) be keen, keen, keen.

AMPA provides publishers with subsidies so that they are able to offer a valuable work experience to students or recent graduates. Find out more about internships.

Most students and newbies are most concerned with how to "get started" in the industry, failing to realize that longevity and staying in the industry is the true test of success.

While it might not have been the most glamorous, praise-laden diatribe on the industry, I thought the panel's honesty was most valuable. Magazines require hard work, so if you entered the industry on the premise of an easy ride, you'd do best to reevaluate--stat.

Don't miss more exciting panels and events during October. Check out AMPA's events page for details.