{ A few minutes with Anne Trubek }

March 7, 2015 § 2 Comments

Now that you know how I feel about Belt Magazine, you’ll understand my excitement when a mutual acquaintance offered to e-introduce me to Anne Trubek, Belt’s founder and publisher. I tried playing it cool, but probably still used more exclamation points than appropriate.

Anne and I talked in January, but I’ve kept this blog on the backburner while I adjusted to fulltime-freelancing. (Yup, it’s official! You saw that coming though, right?)

Anne was as cool as other interviews made her sound. Since I’m already down with the Belt philosophy, I really wanted to learn how it’s run as a publication.

A lot of our conversation came back to money. Investors are great. Enthusiasm is great. Having sustainable funding to keep it running . . . definitely more painful, but a nice challenge in its own way. Here’s a wee bit of wisdom from Ms. Trubek, edited for brevity and clarity.

PS – If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I also recommend my article, “8 Lessons Learned from New Journalism Business Models.” Whether it’s the Texas Tribune or Belt Magazine, it seems like everyone’s figuring out how to make stable money to support meaningful journalism.

How did Belt get its financial start?

Belt came from profits from our first book and Kickstarter, and that was it. It was underfunded when we started and continued to be underfunded. An investor came on early, which was enormously enabling. If I were to do it again, I’d do it differently. But I am impulsive and I said, yeah, let’s just do it.

What would you do differently now?

Have more money. It really comes down to money. Paying writers is a big monetary commitment. I wish I had also found more funding before launching.

So nobody is full-time staff at Belt, right? It seems like many of your contributors are out there living and working in these cities, and are maybe not primarily journalists by trade.

One of the things I see that’s meaningful is that people send us things—that would not have even been written—because Belt exists. They’re not necessarily writers. A great example is this piece this we ran in December, “Love’s Anger,” about shootings in the context of the Rust Belt specifically. The author’s not someone who’s written about this for a general audience before.

You received 80 submissions in three weeks for your first book, the Cleveland Anthology. How did you solicit them?

My website/blog and Twitter. I put out a tweet and some people retweeted it. And some local places picked it up and said they’re looking for essays here. And a lot of people have stories to tell. It’s almost something people don’t realize they’re missing until something comes forward.

Why do online only?

I’ve never been interested in a print magazine. It’s a lot of work.

What’s your publication schedule like?

3-5 pieces a week. We plan on three a week. Contributors are mostly people coming to us, and that’s mainly because we have been working on the fly for so long. As we go forward, we’ll be doing more columns and regular features, and reaching out to more writers.

What have been your favorite pieces?

I’m very proud of anything on our, “Top 10 posts from 2014.” We ran a great piece called “Moundsville” that I loved in terms of the first-person essay and as part of what we do.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a publication like Belt?

Money…[laughs]

There’s a low barrier to entry for an online magazine. Lots of experimentation and creativity can flourish without a lot of overhead. We’re at a point in the publication where we have to shift from saying, “How fun is this?” to, “How do we sustain this?” The first 12-14 months were pure fun and excitement. Have fun, and don’t get yourself in a situation where you can promise more than you can deliver.

Hosting events in conjunction with your publication seems to be a trend, especially for indie outfits. You’ve done a “Belt University” series. What’s next?

We do a huge array of different events. We’re actually no longer doing Belt University because we want to do more revenue-generating events around the whole region. We’re planning book launch parties, party parties and themed events.

Thanks so much, Anne! I appreciate you sharing your advice, and look forward to what Belt does down the line.

{ Also }

Watching
A few documentaries and lots of music at the True/False Film Festival

Drinking
Throat Coat tea by the gallon

Scrolling
Through this Pin board of children’s book illustration inspiration

 

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