Me with my “first” issue, after I cried
Yesterday at the Northshire Bookstore Dr. Seuss Pajama Party I was chatting with a friend about my “one year” magazine anniversary, and she said she was confused. Wasn’t Mamatoga Magazine two years old? Yes and no, I told her. Yes in the fact that the first issue of Mamatoga Magazine was produced two years ago in March of 2012, no because I consider my “first” issue of Mamatoga Magazine the one I produced independently. I realized there is a little confusion surrounding the whole thing, so I felt it was a good time to tell a little story.
When I first started Mamatoga (the website) in 2011 it was the only one of its kind in Saratoga Springs, and it took off almost immediately. Within a week it was on the cover of a local newspaper, and I couldn’t believe the success it had just within it’s first month. I had been a full time stay at home mom for years, ever since my oldest son was born, and running a website was definitely not something that I was familiar with. Writing I could do, but websites were a whole new ballgame. But I loved it. I loved meeting new people, I loved connecting with other moms, I loved it all.
As the momentum kept going, I got the offer to put the website I had started in my living room into a print magazine, and I was thrilled. The first parenting magazine our area had seen would have my brand name on it, I couldn’t be more excited. Coupled with the fact that I was nine months pregnant, it was a daunting task to take on, but I didn’t want to let the opportunity go so I dug my heels in and got to work. Sean was working full time down in Albany, I was hugely pregnant and I had a three year old at home with me. It was a lot, but it was also a lot of fun and a great learning experience.
The day before Jack was born I was still super busy getting stuff ready for the first issue of Mamatoga Magazine. Calls were made back and forth discussing stories and the editorial budget, lots and lots of emails were sent, it was a busy day. I was also keeping myself busy to keep myself calm. The next morning I would be having my third child, and I was nervous. Three kids sounded like so many, and as excited as I was I was also full of anxiety.
Sean called like he always did, and I answered it expecting to fill him in on all the new magazine stuff I had gotten done that day, but he was the one that needed to talk. “I don’t want you to get upset,” he started, “but I was let go. I’m coming back up now, I’m not joking.” He sounded calm and collected, and as much as I wanted to think he was playing a really cruel joke on me I knew he wouldn’t be that mean. He was laid off. The day before my scheduled c-section, which his entire office knew about. As I dissolved into a pathetic mess of tears and near hyperventilation worrying about health insurance and bills and “OMFG who loses their job the day before their child is born?!?!” Sean tried his best to assure me that everything would be fine, he got a severance package, it would all work out and that I needed to remain positive and focus on the new baby we would have in less than 24 hours.
Jack turned out to be the best distraction in the world, and the extremely distressing idea of Sean not having a job faded into a background of new baby glow. But, as I basked in the sleepless night beauty of having a newborn, I also finished up work on the magazine. Looking back on it I’m not sure exactly how I managed to pull it all off, but I did, and I couldn’t wait to see the first issue in print.
Lying in bed one morning not too long after Jack was born, I was checking my email and spotted a note from someone wishing me congratulations on the magazine, they had just seen it online. What? This person had seen my magazine and I hadn’t? That couldn’t be right. I hadn’t even seen a proof, a rough draft, an anything, and it was shared with the public already? There must be a mistake, I thought. I frantically pinged emails out asking what the deal was and where could I find this issue and I almost wish I hadn’t, because once I saw it my heart sank. It was a cover shot I had never seen before, stories I didn’t even know would be included, and it just wasn’t me. It wasn’t Mamatoga. Not by a long shot. To add insult to injury, as I scrolled through the list of names on the masthead I wasn’t where I was supposed to be as “co-creator”. Did they leave my name off entirely? No, there I was. Last on the list under writers, alongside a list of people most of whom I had never met and knew nothing about. In the magazine that had my brand name splashed across the top.
Overall though, the issue was well received, and we managed to work through some of those kinks and produce an issue that was slightly more my style (with the addition of me on the cover as well). I took the first issue as a wake up call to be more assertive, to stand up for what I wanted to see in something that carried my brand name. For someone who had never run her own business and spent her previous work life as an editorial assistant, it was an odd and sometimes uncomfortable place to be in, but I went with it.
I also used that newfound gumption to ask for a slight raise. Putting the magazine together turned out to be way more work than I thought, and with Sean now unemployed for the time being I was in panic mode. We had pulled back and conserved as much as we could, but with a family of five and a growing business I needed to be practical. Could I actually turn this into something that I could support my family with? It was a dream of mine to be a writer, and I absolutely loved what I did, would it be possible to also make some money off of it? So one day I went into the office of the magazine publisher and asked for a raise, I felt like I had a personal level connection with them at this point, and I explained about Sean losing his job, I laid it all out there. They said no.
I was deflated, but agreed to continue producing the magazine for the original price, mainly because I felt like my choice was to either suck it up and do it for less than I wanted or give up on the magazine, something I really believed in at this point. So, we carried on, and the website grew, and it looked as if it might actually turn into something that I could sustain us with if I just worked hard enough. We produced a holiday issue and I was well under way working on the spring issue, sourcing ideas and stories, contacting people to do features on and writing articles.
Ironically enough, it was around the same time that Sean had lost his job the year before that I was informed via phone call that I was also being laid off. No explanation, just that we weren’t going to move forward with the magazine anymore. I was confused, to say the least. According to my publisher the magazine was successful and we had seemingly gotten through the whole raise thing with no issues, especially since I agreed to continue work at the original price. It didn’t make sense. I was completely gutted. I loved the magazine, doing the editorial and helping design the layout was so exciting for me, I had found what I really wanted to do, and it was icing on the cake that I was doing it for a brand I had created. It seemed out of my reach to accomplish it on my own, I knew absolutely nothing about printing, I mean NOTHING. The magazines would appear in the publisher’s office and I would take some boxes, that was about it. Sure I knew how to do the rest as far as finding stories, writing, that sort of thing, but printing was also SUPER expensive. It was over. Just like that.
But, then, it wasn’t over. Because man, I was angry. I have to admit, I was pissed off that it got pulled out from under me and I used that to spur me into action. Within an hour of that phone call I sourced print quotes, I contacted my top website advertisers to tell them about the situation, and I contacted my graphic designer friend Jake to see if he was on board. By that afternoon I was in business. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I knew I WAS going to do it. I worked too damn hard on this to let it go like that. I also felt I HAD to do it. With me being the sole breadwinner at the time we needed to keep the magazine income going. By that afternoon I also found out that my previous publisher had already made their plans, and they announced they were going to continue doing the parenting magazine, just with another name. It was an absolute shock to learn they had been working with another business to produce a parenting magazine for months, all while I was still under the impression that my spring issue with them was a go. To say I was surprised was an understatement.
The overall sentiment people told me? Well, I can’t share that with you here, but the second most popular sentiment was “It’s all business, don’t take it personally”. And I knew that, I understood that. But to me, this business IS personal. I write about my family and my experiences as a mother, sometimes they are difficult stories to share, and I share them with readers that I consider friends. They share things with me, and as stories with the website and the magazine, it’s more than “just business”. I know it probably shouldn’t be, but that’s they way I feel about it. I am passionate about it, it means everything to me, and it absolutely crushed me, utterly and totally.
Making that first issue a year ago on my own was like having a month long anxiety attack. What I had previously helped to create with a full team of like ten people I now was trying to pull off all on my own with zero safety net. I sold all of the advertising spots myself, I came up with and sourced all of the stories myself, writing most of them. I recruited an old babysitter to take the photographs, my friends helped out with stories, and I basically worked my butt off 24-7 putting together a magazine in four weeks that previously would have taken at least double that time with ten times the help. Jake and I sat down at my kitchen table the weekend before files were due putting it all together. The power went out at my house due to a storm so we moved to my mom’s house, working from 8am till midnight, stopping only for meals and coffee runs because it was the only two days we both had free to work together.
When I held that first issue in my hand, I cried. In my “professional” life, I had never created something like that. Like I said, my previous job was as an editorial assistant, I helped two dozen other people put together medical school textbooks. I was the smallest cog in a big corporation and I myself created nothing besides spreadsheets. But now, I had somehow pulled this off, it was all my work on the website in living color, and now I got to share it with everyone. I was also gripped by an almost paralyzing fear. Would everyone like it? It was a departure from the stuff I did with my previous publisher, maybe it wouldn’t be what people wanted? No. I shook off any doubt, there wasn’t time or money or room for it at that point anyway. I loaded the boxes of the magazines into my car (making multiple trips) myself, and I hauled them all over the county myself. My mom and I would pull up to a business and I would run in, and we would repeat that times a hundred. It felt like my old days as a girl scout dropping off cookies.
That first issue also was viewed over 10,000 times online in the first month, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I thought, well, that would be enough. I did it once, and being able to do that was enough of an accomplishment. That feeling lasted about ten seconds before I decided to keep going. And it hasn’t been easy. At all. The whole “no safety net” thing has been a challenge, and I’ve had to shoot cover shots days before files were due to the printer because other shots didn’t work out, I’ve had stories fall through, not to mention the time commitment of making it all work while also being a mom to three kids and keeping up with the website. I call on friends to let me borrow their kids (and themselves AND their kitchens) for cover shots, I ask them to let me photograph them for style sections, and I ask them to give me some cool stories, I have really amazing friends. And, given the unexpected opportunity to stay at home while I work on the site and the magazine, Sean took on the role of stay at home dad with flying colors and has been an incredible support.
But I love doing it, so much, and that is why I wanted to share my feelings about it, to share the story behind it, because I’m just a working mom, like so many of you. I work my butt off to make it all happen, to get dinner on the table and pay for ballet and make time for everyone and that means a lot of late nights and sometimes a lot of disappointments. I take this business very seriously, but I want you all to know that at the heart of it, being able to share this experience of parenting is what makes it all worth it on a personal level.
It also means so much to me to have so many of you love the magazine and website, and I’ve had so many people help me make this possible, from helping contribute time and stories, helping to distribute the magazine, and also to the businesses that believe in me when I said I was going to take it on my own with very little magazine publishing experience. I really feel like Saratoga Springs is a unique community, one that helps support and embrace little start up businesses like my own, and I love giving back that support in turn as well whenever I can.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my long, emotional pregnant lady ramblings, and as always I appreciate so much the spot you guys have given me in this community. It means so incredibly much to me to have readers at all, especially such cool ones that I get to meet on a regular basis. Starting a business is scary, and so is going out on your own, but creating something to share is so incredibly rewarding. I’m going to drive down and pick up the Spring Issue in just a little bit, and I want to thank all of you for being in it, all of you for reading it, and all of you for being so supportive. xoxo