The second issue of Berm, Letters and Figures, came out Monday October 31, 2022. Building on the lessons learned from the first issue, we went up in size to be more standard with the kinds of magazines that influenced us, we pushed our design skills, and we applied for more grants.

Something that has provided a lot of motivation moving into the next issue is that shortly after releasing Letters and Figures, we sold out of our first issue! This was huge for us because it meant that we were able to sell 100 copies of the magazine within the first year.

So, how did we do for the second issue?

Goals & Achievements

A lot of the goals for our second issue came from the Lessons Learned section of our last issue. We wanted to improve the paper size, paper weight, and the process transparency to our contributors.

For our first issue, we found that some of the dates and timelines were ambiguous to certain collaborators, which made it difficult to find when a draft was due or when the magazine would be released. To resolve this for Letters and Figures, we created a public Notion page that contained all of the deadlines and dates, even if they were internal to our own process - like sending the final draft to the printer and when contributor payments would be sent out. This aspect turned out to be very helpful in communicating with contributors, and for our third issue we’ve already received compliments on the clarity and transparency surrounding dates and times, which makes us feel like we’re on the right path.

Another really big goal coming out of the first issue was to find a sustainable way to continue to make the magazine without having to pay out of pocket. This meant applying for more grants and pushing ourselves to be more open about the need for ongoing support from readers to sustain the production of the magazine. Letters and Figures was slow to start, because we were not sure how we would pay for it. We did not have the assurance of ongoing support or grants, and while we knew that we could dig in and self-fund the issue this model could not sustain us for much longer. The great news is we just received two grants for 2023! So this will be a much smaller concern for this year’s issues. However, we need to keep that up and continue to apply for grants and push funding further.

Between the first and second issue, Berm had the opportunity to table at the Portland Zine Symposium, which is an annual event here in town. This was huge for us! It was the first time we were able to sell the magazine directly to people and practice talking actively about what it was. It was so nice to see people pick the magazine up and flip through it, then decide that they wanted to pick up a copy. After the second issue was released, we had the opportunity to table again at PNCA here in Portland, which just affirmed this observation. It was so much fun.

Lessons Learned & Budget

One of the biggest things that caused a lot of internal stress during the production of Letters and Figures was the need to start with funding. Due to the schedule we had laid out at the beginning of the year, we were due to complete the second issue six months after the first issue was released. In the very first version of the schedule, there was a quarterly rolling basis – which we highlighted in our last reflection post as being unsustainable – but even with the six months of production schedule, funding became the barrier to begin. We felt that it would be irresponsible to start production and pitching to collaborators without securing funding for the issue. This was largely due to inexperience with the grant process and deadlines. We spent a lot of time waiting to hear back from grants to start the next phase of the project and this shrunk the schedule and deadlines.

We learned that the best way to avoid this for future issues was to push our release dates to line up better with when grants would be awarded and distributed. This has already gone into effect for the third and fourth issue. Another way we addressed this for the next issue is by being fully transparent about the deadlines and internal project dates. This not only built in accountability and awareness, but has made the contributors feel more involved and aware of the operation schedule.

Ultimately, we ended up paying for Letters and Figures with mostly our own money. Some of the sales from our first issue were used to produce the magazine, along with ongoing donation support via our patreon, but more than 60% of the budget was paid out of pocket by the editors. While we hoped that grants would allow us to raise our rates, self funding meant we went to a lower tier of budget which is based on the first issues model of $2,000.

For scheduling reasons, we ended up having an interview be the larger written piece for Letters and Figures, which saved us that fee. In addition, one of the 2-page spreads was also designed in house, which we did not pay ourselves for. For the next two issues we have raised our rates to reflect a cost of living increase; these new rates are available to see now on our transparency page.

Outside of a stressful schedule, starting period, and funding, we also were reminded that research is important to the process. This is intuitive, of course it is, but it’s hard to remember when you’re in the thick of the project. Going back to the basics – taking a look at what inspired you in the first place, how other people tackle formatting interviews, and how color is handled in the flow of a magazine – can do a world of good to unblock creative decisions in the design period.

Speaking of design: for this issue we suddenly had a lot more space to fill! Because we went up in size, more words were needed to make a page feel full. This became a bit of a challenge when starting to layout the magazine because we had to rethink the way title pages worked, or how to properly columnize a piece of writing to make it fit inside of a larger surface area. Ultimately, there was a balance between the amount of pieces we had and the space we needed to fill that resulted in larger font sizes and wider margins that we would have liked, in hindsight. But it was a learning experience and something we are going to try to account for in future issues.

In Closing

Letters and Figures was a big step for us. We increased the size, we took on a new theme, we met a lot of new people in the community, and we ended the year with the gift of selling out our first issue. In 2023, we secured funding for both our third and fourth issue thanks to grants from the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust,  and Literary Arts, which has already taken a lot of stress off of the next year of production! It feels great to have themes and collaborators that we are excited about highlighting this year.

As always, thank you to our readers and ongoing supporters! If you would like to help make  Berm a sustainable project, the best way to support the magazine is to sign up as an ongoing supporter through our Patreon. At just $5 per month, you will help us raise our rates paid to contributors, buy materials for shipping and distribution, and allow us to experiment with our printing (and we have a lotof cool ideas for printing).