Lancaster County is home to two obvious local interests in Pennsylvania: farming and tourism. But within the antique community where the Amish tow their buggies and out-of-towners crawl through historic landmarks, there exists an underground crowd of writers, artists, thinkers and students from two nearby colleges and universities who, against the grain, create an undercurrent of cultural creativity not unlike the experimentalism hailed in many of America's more well-known urban enclaves. Back in 1997, the locale seemed ripe to create an independent arts publication that would be written and supported by the local literati. But as with any print launch built on the haunches of free-spiritedness, the publication suffered its share of woes not unlike what is being touted as the bane of publishing today. The magazine makes a great case study into the do's and don'ts of first-time publishing.
But long before publishers grappled with waning ad sales and before the founder of the magazine finally called it quits, I signed on to the new, relatively adventurous arts publication as a contributing writer, and later a full-time staff writer. Called Inside, an ironic twist for its outsider readers, the magazine was the brain child of another restless writer named Melissa Hunt, a former reporter for The Washington Post who had inherited just enough capital to carve-out her communications niche following college graduation. Billed as "an independent source for news, arts and commentary," my first meeting with Melissa suggested that the magazine would be fiery. She had already assembled an enthusiastic sales team, as well as inherited quite a few diligent creatives to complete her prescription for pontification.
In months following the magazine's launch, publishing was expectedly bumpy, but not impossible to withstand. A former columnist, Steven Boltz, describes the experience as a practice in professionalism. "The biggest obstacle was marketing the thing," he says. "You'd think this would be easy since the town was small enough, but just because you get the magazine into a good spot, doesn't mean people will pick it up." Boltz says that contrary to more mainstream publishing credos, many of Inside's writers wrote to make statements more than to sustain much-needed money. "I, for one, became known as a really obnoxious reviewer. It's a thin line you walk between creating just enough controversy to get people to read and keep them and totally alienating them," he admits.