Interview: Amy Schroeder, Editor of Venus Zine
By Jocelyn Geboy in Miscellaneous on Nov 16, 2006 11:22PM
Amy Schroeder is Editor-in-Chief of Venus Zine. She recently let go of the responsibilities of being both editor and publisher of the magazine she started 11 years ago when it was known as a fanzine. A "highly respected veteran of the women's indie entertainment scene," Amy worked hard to turn her black and white magazine into a glossy mag that now gets international distribution and has its own website.
We met Amy in person last year when we pretended we could be potential Lexus owners, but we were definitely more interested in Amy and her magazine that day. When we heard that Anne Brindle and Marci Sepulveda had created Venus Media LLC and would now be publishing the magazine, we were thrilled. This means that Amy can really focus on the creative side and not be worried about how her magazine gets out every three months.
We wanted an update on Amy, so we did this interview.
Chicagoist: You started in college. What spurred you to start a magazine? What did it look like initially? Were there start-up costs? How did you pay for it?
Schroeder: Three things triggered me to start Venus when I was 19: creative energy, caffeine, and naiveté. I didn’t know what I was getting into, so I just rolled with it. The first issue took me one night to produce. It was a straight-up fanzine — nothing fancy — just 10 pages stapled together. It was more of a diary about my experience as a small fish in a sea of 40,000 students at a campus surrounded by cornfields. Initially, I didn’t really have grand plans for it; instead, I focused on accomplishing small goals over the years. In the early days, my goals were modest: get writers; get photographers; figure out how to score free access to copy machines; sell the zine in more than just one store. Down the road, my goals progressed: focus on women in the arts; get multiple distributors; go full color; get international distribution.
Find out more about Amy and Venus after the jump ....
C: How did you get interviews? How/when did it start taking off?
AS: While going to college and working on Venus Zine, I was working for my college newspaper, edited the music reviews section of a San Francisco–based magazine called SOMA, and freelancing about music for other publications like Paper and Raygun. I learned a lot about the music industry and publishing from working for the other publications, and the more I learned, the better Venus Zine became. I figured out pretty early on that alternative music publications were targeted to a male readership and also didn’t have as much coverage of female artists as male artists, so without putting it into formal terms — like “I’m developing a niche market” — that’s exactly what I was doing.
C: When did you realize "I've got something here?" When did you make it your full-time job?
AS: After college, in 1999, I moved to New York and worked as a copy editor at the now-defunct hip-hop magazine called Blaze. Then I moved to the Bay Area to work as the managing editor for SOMA and then as a copy editor for the SF Bay Guardian. In 2001, I moved to Chicago to work as an editor for a newspaper wire service. I did the double-day thing: After work, I went home and worked on Venus. It got to the point where one of my main goals in life was to quit my day job to do Venus full-time, so that’s what I did in 2003. It was the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. It was good because it forced me to channel all of my energy into Venus, but it was difficult because I didn’t have a traditional business plan with investors and all that jazz. It was a very grassroots experience. I’m not religious, but God bless all of the people who helped me with the process.
C: Who have been some of your favorite interview subjects?
AS: Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and Marcia Anne Gillespie, who is Ms. magazine’s former editor. I also enjoyed interviewing non-celebrity women about why they love their jobs for our spring 2005 issue. I love my job, but if I could do anything besides Venus it would be to interview old people. They’ve lived the longest so they tend to have the best stories.
C: What's the best part of your job?
AS: Meeting the readers. I spend most of my time as a desk jockey, so I always get a kick out of working at events and parties to talk to readers about what they like and don’t like. That and working with so many creative people. Our writers never run out of good story pitches.
C: The hardest/most challenging part?
AS: If you’d asked me the same question a year ago, I would have had a different answer. Up until I sold Venus on July 25, 2006, the hardest part was balancing my two caps: editor and publisher. As the magazine grew, keeping up with everything was incredibly challenging. Now that we have two new publishers, I’m better able to focus on improving our editorial content for the magazine and venuszine.com.
C: How did you get hooked up with the women from Venus Media?
AS: About a year and a half ago, when I decided to look for a new publisher, I enlisted the help of a New York attorney who specializes in working with creative and DIY small businesses. She’s friends with Anne Brindle, one of the publishers. My attorney told Anne and Marci that I was interested in selling the business, so we met up at a Greek restaurant and talked shop. We continued to talk shop for several months. Meanwhile, I met with a few other candidates and decided that Anne and Marci would be the best new moms for the business. They’re smart, creative, energetic business ladies who love the magazine.
C: Do you think things will be any different for you now? Do you see your day-to-day activities being any different?
AS: Some things are different, and some things are the same. The editorial content is the same — actually, it’s better. Now that Anne and Marci have alleviated a lot of my business duties, I have more time to work on developing new story concepts, recruiting new talent, training interns, sponsoring more events, and making plans for venuszine.com’s overhaul. I love going to work because something new and exciting happens every day. Though Venus Zine has been around since 1995, it’s like working for a startup company now. It’s like we’re in Venus Zine 2.0.
C: What advice/encouragement would you give to people starting their own magazines?
AS: Realize that success doesn’t happen overnight. Magazine publishing — especially independent publishing — is a challenging business to get into. It’s up there with starting a restaurant. Three key ingredients: research all aspects of your niche market, know (and respect) your reader, and balance innovation with traditional business sense. Also, be prepared for things to not go according to plan.
C: How has the internet changed your work? Do you think there's any room for print magazines anymore?
AS: We’re investing more of our time into venuszine.com and our Web traffic has tripled in the last year-and-a-half. I love that you can publish stories instantly on the Web instead of waiting the required 10 business days that our printer requires.
The Internet is a new and exciting medium, but I also have a strong appreciation for magazine publishing. I’ve been working in some sort of publishing since I was 12 — starting with a different fanzine — so I consider it my primary trade.
Whereas newspapers are dying out and young audiences aren’t so interested in them, I think magazines will have a longer shelf life. I think all ages of people enjoy reading magazines. Venus Zine has always been community-oriented, so we’re about more than just the magazine. Right now we’re thinking of ways to grow the Venus Zine family to include books, events, etc.
C: What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten?
AS: A year ago, I thought I’d soon retire from Venus Zine to try something new. But I’m having so much fun right now that I don’t want to miss a second of the growth experience. I’ll probably stay connected to Venus Zine in the years to come, whether or not it’s as the editor-in-chief. I’m thinking about writing a book about my experience, and I also enjoy speaking in college classes about magazine-making. Five or 10 years from now I hope I have more time to focus on my writing. I got started in the business with the goal of being a writer, but I had to put those aspirations on the back burner to grow a business. Now that I’ve grown the business, I want to get back to my roots.
C: Who are you reading right now?
AS: When I’m not attacking my e-mail, I’m in the midst of several books: Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006, Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, and the galley for How Sassy Changed My Life, which is co-written by Marisa Meltzer, one of Venus Zine’s regular contributors.
C: A random question — do you have any pets?
AS: Nope, but I’d like to get a dog. I’m not allowed to have them in my apartment building, so I’m of the philosophy that when a dog finds me, I’ll take her in and come up with a good story to win over my landlord.
Chicagoist local snapshot:
Favorite restaurant: Penny’s Noodles
Favorite "tourist" spot: The Signature Room
Thing that is most underrated about Chicago: The fact that this is a good place to start a creative business.
Images provided by Amy Schroeder — Amy, Venus cover #3, Venus Cover #30.