How I Became An Unintentional Publisher

Prolific Output by Jann Alexander © 2013
Publishing is the easy part. Managing it all is quite another.

My career in publishing was unintentional, and its potential for success (if you define success in financial terms) is limited. But in terms of fulfillment, being a publisher lets me do what I love to do: write, paint, photograph, read, design, learn, share, repeat.

My first exposure to the publishing world was in high school, as a newspaper editor and early adopter of press type.* But my post-college publishing world grew exponentially once I abandoned an advertising career for an editorial design career, and I never looked back: Magazine design was infinitely more engaging and collaborative, with so much to learn merely from reading—a passion from early childhood—the fascinating articles I’d be illustrating in the magazine. From there, it was a short leap to suggesting headlines or related features and graphics. Yes, I was a magazine designer, but in my mind, I was so much more. I brought visual avenues to the stories that made them more accessible to readers.

I became hooked on publishing then and there. But the 1980s and 1990s were times when publishing meant printing on giant presses in quantity on paper, selling advertising, and having beaucoup bucks to do so in a competitive era when magazines were losing ground, not gaining. Even with all of the best luck and the brightest minds in the business, real publishing success was no slam dunk.

Personal blogging changed the game, though of course, the internet and Apple preceded it to make blogging possible. While major players like AOL and Yahoo were working the potential early on, small publishers weren’t invited. The platforms for easy, inexpensive access didn’t yet exist. Still, I could dream. And I did.

Want to become a publisher? It’s easy.
Just be careful what you wish for.

Along came blogging, finally, offering anyone who had something to say a chance to publish it; and for anyone who could take it to the next level, a chance to design and craft the look and style, with photos, graphics, videos. I took the plunge, gladly, nearly a decade ago, and began to share photographs I was making about a vanishing city scene in Austin with my own commentary. It was the most user-friendly way to share my photographs, and hopefully, encourage a wider audience to collect them. Suddenly, I wasn’t just a photographer anymore:  I was also the artist, the writer and the designer. I was (drum roll): A PUBLISHER.

Art Meets Tech
All Aggregated.

I never thought of myself as a publisher, though, until recently. That’s because in the last few years, one blog became a few blogs; one website became a few websites; writing about one topic developed into writing about other related topics (lured by access to WordPress and its many free resources); and then along came Twitter and social sharing. How could I resist? My access to so many ideas was never so easy. Developing new concepts, as online opportunities multiplied like rabbits, was so alluring. It was hard to keep track of my many personnas, much less fulfill the promise of them all. But then a solution appeared: Flipboard. Then  Suddenly I could become (big word alert): AN AGGREGATOR.

I could follow clever publishers on Twitter and read and share their opinions, stories, visuals, tips and tricks. I could aggregate them all into daily or weekly online pubs on topics I cared about. I could include my own blogs and tweets. My publishing empire grew!

In the past, when someone asked about what job was, I’ve said, I’m an artist + photographer + designer + writer; or I’ve said, I’m a creative professional; or I’ve said, I create websites, and write blogs, and make photographs, and paint, and just generally be creative. Pretty long-winded answer, isn’t it? Not terribly succinct, is it? Often I was met with puzzled looks, as though no one could really understand what I do, or how to continue a conversation about it. But once I realized that what I really do is publish, and it’s what I really live for, I adopted a very clear one-word title for myself (as grandiose as it may sound): Jann Alexander, Publisher.

Your publishing empire’s scattered all over the virtual universe. Now what? Tweet: Your publishing empire's scattered all over the virtual universe. Now what?  #socialmedia #blogs

And since my publishing empire seemed scattered all over the virtual universe, which of course, it is, I created a dashboard for what I publish. Of course, if you have a gravatar, it’s all right there, or it can be, if you take the time to set it up. (It’s actually very easy to do.) But it’s not a universal go-to, and I don’t own it. So if for no other reason than to distill my online identity in one location that I owned, I called it (again, quite simply): I think of it as the Portal to My World.

There are many creatives who are doing just what I’m doing (perhaps you’re one of them): writing, photographing, designing, curating by tweeting and sharing. Perhaps even struggling, as I am, to stay on top of it all, and mostly, to define where it all lives—after all, we have so many more choices than the mere journal of thoughts our 19th-century predecessors used. Today, many of us are publishers, on many stages. And despite all of the effort, it feels pretty good to call myself a publisher; in fact, it feels as though I’ve finally defined myself.

How do you feel about what you create? Would you call yourself a publisher?

* Press Type: An ancient short-lived form of typesetting that involved pressing alphabet letters in various typefaces (not yet called fonts) from a sticky-backed translucent sheet onto cold-press illustration board to “set headlines” for offset reproduction. 


If you’re interested in what I’m creating and curating, just take a look at my virtual dashboard, or this list:

For more about managing your publishing empire, The Daily Post recently offered some terrific ideas on this topic in Beyond the Blog: Developing Your Online Presence as a Writer.

11 thoughts on “How I Became An Unintentional Publisher

Add yours

  1. Jann, you nailed it! And yes, it isn’t always easy to define yourself as a creative who has a variety of skills we use in our field. One word…I like that you chose “publisher”. I’m wondering…Am I a publisher? I surely do not write as much as you do but yet….hmmmm.
    Great post!


  2. I discovered that Twitter will block a tweet if a) you have a link in it and b) you don’t have many Twitter followers. So my attempt to use Twitter to build an audience is not looking so good right now. I still have much to learn….


    1. Matthew, that’s discouraging but not insurmountable. What’s your twitter handle? I’d like to follow you and share what you have to say. Following others whose point of view interests you (find them by searching hashtags or the followers of folks with your POV), and interacting with them, is a huge bennie of Twitter.


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