Local lit mag The Lifted Brow has a new look flagship publication

Published:  March 30, 2015
Katia Pase

Since emerging from sweaty Brisbane in 2007, The Lifted Brow has championed a few different incarnations during its climb to the top of the pop culture, art, fiction, and non-fiction literary-publishing ladder.

At the end of 2014, the Brow team travelled to San Francisco to hang out with McSweeney’s and redesign the Brow’s flagship print publication, which was, at that point, an evanescent newsprint tabloid. The redesign has reintroduced the artefact-ness of the object, sitting alongside the Brow’s digital projects and live events programs, and lending weight to the content from the likes of art writer Eileen Myles, comic artist Sam Wallman, music journo Adam Curley, and experimental non-fiction writer Oscar Schwartz, whose piece ‘Humans Pretending to be Computers Pretending to be Humans’ is an issue highlight.

We caught up with The Lifted Brow’s publisher and captain Sam Cooney about the research and process behind the redesign, and his thoughts on magazine publishing in 2015.

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desktop: Why the move from a bi-monthly broadsheet, to a quarterly magazine? Why did you decide to amplify the production values?

Sam Cooney: SO MANY REASONS TO TELL YOU. All of which chop and change, depending on the time of day/outside air temperature/my mood. But, mainly:

— We’d become sick and tired of mucking around in the doldrums where literary magazines/journals tend to reside. For the majority of literary magazines/journals, especially in Australia, success is measured purely in survival. This is brutal! And depressing. To spend so much time on commissioning and reading and editing and designing and etc, and then to be okay with a few hundred or a few thousand people reading the work, and to be content or even triumphant that for one more issue you haven’t perished — this is some kind of madness. We know that we publish writing and ideas and artwork that will resonate with folks if they could only discover us, and it’s not their fault if they don’t know about us! Well, it’s maybe a little bit their fault. But it’s mostly our fault! What’s the point of moaning and groaning, when you can slowly and diligently work towards building your readership. We want everyone’s eyeballs, and will do whatever it takes to grab at those eyeballs. Australian eyeballs, and also non-Australian eyeballs. We are now stocked in about 1000 places in Australia, and will soon be stocked in cities around the world.

— Financial sustainability is another reason. For the first few years of the Brow’s life, contributors’ fees and printing costs and distro costs and all the costs of making a magazine were paid through events, fundraising, and out of the pocket of the founding editor. Then for a couple of years we scored bits and pieces of government funding, which simply meant we could pay contributors more, and not have to personally shell out to keep the publication afloat. But relying heavily on money from the government and from constant fundraising suckssssss. It hollows you out! Also, we have never been able to pay Brow staff, from myself all the way down to our interns, apart from the occasional drib or drab here and there, as part of particular projects, which is a ridiculous situation, because the people who work on the Brow and who help make the Brow what it is deserve CEO salaries, the lot of them. Therefore: we have upped our production values and upped our print run and upped our distro network and upped everything in order to settle a couple of rungs higher on the magazine publishing ladder, in order to make more revenue so that we can become financially sustainable. We want to be attractive to advertisers (ones that fit within our shtick) and to patrons and to institutional partnerships and etc.

— We’d been publishing the print magazine in newsprint tabloid for maybe four or more years, and it was time to reinvigorate! We’d done as much as we could with that newsprint format, and so it was time to give our designer and our editors and everyone a new challenge. We needed stimulation; we’re not automatons.

— Many other reasons too, but I’ve said enough!

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What did the redesign process involve? 

— Had big team meetings involving all folks at the Brow (including skyping-in those who live interstate and overseas), in which we discussed and decided upon, as democratically as possible, the big decisions, including size, format, content, layout, and all of that stuff.

— Purchased every single magazine we loved, especially when we were in San Francisco and had access to many more titles, and pawed through them all with our exceptional designer Rosie and the editorial team. (Some favourites, from memory included  ADULT magazine, The BelieverApartamentoBoat and Harper’s.)

— We were never going to get too tricksy with the design, because we never want design to get in the way of the flow of the words of the excellent writing we’re lucky enough to publish, and our comics and visual artists are so incredible that you often don’t need to do much other than plonk their work into the design file.

What were the most valuable takeaways from your time at McSweeney’s?  

— That even one of the best teams/innovative enterprises/interesting publishing organisations in the world can have chaos as an integral part of their approach, and be okay.

— That given the above, there is absolutely no replacement for time. Excellent creative workers (designers, editors, writers, artists, etc) can make miracles happen if pressured, but when given time and space — long deadlines and prepared work schedules and room to breathe and think — people create better stuff, and more consistently. McSweeney’s held chaos dear, but the chaos existed within long schedules that allowed chaos in and then out again.

— That they make the best looking books and magazines in the world; we’ll keep copying them!

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In 2015, what are the biggest challenges facing publishers like the Brow? How are you solving these?

— Money, money (hey money money, hey money money). Right now, money is the root of any of our problems! If we had money, we could pay our staff, which would de-stress their lives 1000% because they wouldn’t have to bust their humps so hard for money-paying jobs and then try and find time to do Brow stuff too, and we could pay our contributors much more, and we could say yes to/create more side projects, and we could just do everything better.

We are trying to become a bigger magazine and organisation so that we can make money. It sucks that money is so important, but it is!

What excites you most about publishing in 2015? 

— The renewed interest in print magazines! At our core has always been a stubborn belief that the print Brow needs to always be out flagship project.

— That we can reach a global audience just by trying hard and doing a good job. The writers and artists we publish deserve and would revel in a global readership, and to be able to begin offering it is thrilling.

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All photos courtesy of The Lifted Brow


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