Interview with an Independent Publisher: Cathy Olmedillas of Anorak Magazine

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The term Independent Publisher is barely vast enough to cover the amount of work and different thinking caps you need to put on to be one. In the day of the ‘Print is dead’ generation publishers are increasingly taking more and more control of their end product ensuring that it’s not just a magazine you’re picking up but rather an experience and escape from the real world – not to mention the digital world. No other publication embodies this more than the perfectly put together children’s magazine Anorak.

Since it’s inaugural issue in 2006 it has been able to capture the hearts of children before they are consumed by technology and set free the square eyes of adults after they’ve lost their sense of childish abandon. It’s a magazine that’s had incredible success and after 29 issues (and not to mention numerous other projects) it’s still going strong. I spoke to Founder and Editor Cathy Olmedillas about her start with Anorak Magazine ahead of the release of their BIG BOOK OF ANORAK, an annual 224 page compendium of stories, activities and educational pieces that ran in the early (and now sold out) editions of Anorak.

Cathy Portrait

Firstly, can you explain your role within Anorak and how you came to start the magazine?

I am the founder of the Anorak Press, makers of Anorak Magazine. My role is multi-disciplinary as I write, edit, commission, art direct, sell, invoice, do the book-keeping and the marketing of it! I launched Anorak back in 2006; I had become a mum a few years before and when my son came of reading age I looked around the kids magazine market and was dismayed by how hyper commercial it was. Kids magazines were either Pink or Blue and mostly tied in to a brand or a product.  Having worked in the magazine world for ten years before that, I decided to launch a magazine for kids that was more like a lifestyle magazine and which would encapsulate everything about a child’s world, from jumping in puddles to reading books.

And what was your experience with formal education, did you study design at University or was this something you fell into?

I studied English Literature and American Civilization at Uni, so nothing to do with design. I was a real bookworm as a kid and have been keeping diaries since the age of 8 years old so I guess I was pre-disposed to doing something with words. I loved school, especially literature and history but if you had told me when I was 8 that I would end up becoming a Publisher/Editor I would have never believed you!

I only realized that I could do this when I took the decision to actually do it. Best decision ever!

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How did you find yourself working at magazines like The Face and Sleazenation after your time at University?

Mmmh.. After a long road of let’s call it ‘self-discovery’!! I was studying in France, got bored, dropped out and decided to move to London. A couple of years later, I had a friend who knew people at Wagadon (the indie publishing house that owned The Face and Arena). He told me about a position there so I applied and got the job!

I’m exactly the same when it comes to realising what is actually possible; I find just getting physically started is often the hardest part. Had your time in the magazine world given you the skills to go into publishing or was it really a learn on the spot process? 

Yes agreed! But I have since learnt that too much thinking can just kill an idea. The best way to see whether it is a good idea is just to get it done. You can always tweak and tailor whilst making it happen!

I had some contacts in the distribution and advertising industries and had some skills that were relevant so that definitely helped. But running a magazine that is your own is a very different experience because it’s your money, your vision and your effort. You never switch off and you are not working with someone else’s budgets! So it’s much more exhilarating and also much scarier! So I would say experience counted for 30% and learning on the spot 70%. Seven years later, I am still learning!

What has been the most vital thing you’ve had to learn on the job?

The most vital thing I have had to learn on the job is assessing print runs correctly. If you are in love with printing like I am, you can get a bit carried away with printing more than you need! Most of what I have learnt on the spot is related to running a business: some of the decisions I made in the past were run with my heart rather than with my head! But no regrets, they were fun times – just not very sensible!

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I know this is a huge question but could you take us through the important stages of the process of putting together an issue of Anorak. From the idea and stories to the artwork and finally sending off to print?

It’s a fluid and constant process, as inspiration strikes whenever and wherever! I always carry notebooks everywhere with me so I can capture an idea there and then.

But the production process goes this way: I pick the theme of an issue roughly a year in advance. Once that’s done, I write a quick synopsis of what I will be exploring in that issue. I then use that synopsis to brief an illustrator to do the cover. About three months before we go to print, I will write the main feature, the stories and pick the illustrators to bring them to life. Regular features such as READ STUFF (books reviewed by kids) for example are being written and edited all year around, as soon as I get a review from a kid.

One month before going to print, our designer and main illustrator Grace Easton will do the layout of the regular features and gather artwork from the commissioned illustrators and we start making it ready for print. We use a local printer who thankfully only takes a week to print all our copies.

Lastly, what has been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt through out your time in Independent Publishing?

What I have learnt is that sometimes you can create something just like that with a healthy dose of naivety, passion, grit and a lot of goodwill. And that becomes infectious. I am super grateful about the loyalty and support we get, it’s completely amazing! The other surprising thing is that every time I get an issue or a book back from the printers is how much I blooming love it. Still, after seven years!

One more surprising thing! When you love what you do, it’s amazing how you can spend 20 hours a day doing it and not feel for one minute that it is work!

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September 25, 2013 / By