Caroline Royce // Northerly
Minneapolis-based designer and photographer Caroline Royce fully embraces life in the upper midwest, aka “The North.” She’s equally happy in a set of snowshoes as she is paddling a canoe. Her self-published magazine, Northerly, shares her passion for the northern lifestyle and joins the ranks of the most captivation, emotional, Instagram-worthy photography magazines.
Residents of the North celebrate their seasons. And with four distinct seasonal changes — construction season notwithstanding — come distinct outdoor activities, indoor endeavors, and reminders of the passing of time. No wonder it’s a region known for its strong, good-looking, above-average people.
This backdrop of changing leaves, winter storms, spring blooms, and summer lakes is where designer and photographer Caroline Royce was raised and calls home. Her magazine, Northerly, is a self-professed “love letter to the place I’m from” and what the Minneapolis Star Tribune has called, “an Instagram feed come to life.”
A Meditation on the North
Royce started Northerly after becoming a mother, enduring a very long hiatus from work and succumbing to naïve ambition. What began as a fun side exercise laying out some spreads of photos from her recent trip to Canada quickly became real. “I was telling people, ‘Hey, guess what? I’m starting a magazine,’” she recalled. “I’m gonna make it and I’m gonna sell it and it’s gonna be a real thing. And that’s all I knew.”
Influenced by her collection of coffee table books about cabin living and her love for lakes, old barns and the outdoors, Royce began assembling the components that would become Northerly. From the magazine’s inception in March, she set a content deadline of June for her contributors and planned to be ready for online printing by September.
In addition to featuring outdoor photography and content, Royce worked with her sister, Addie, a recipe developer, to create and photograph recipes using seasonal and regional produce. “It’s not just an outdoors journal,” she said. “It’s outdoors and food and gatherings. I want it to be very experiential.”
How Hard Can it Be?
Royce’s roots working as a designer with publications like Vita.mn, L’Etoile and City Pages gave her valuable editorial design experience. A stint with General Mills taught her about major consumer brands. Her current work with the not-for-profit United Way taught her about working economically, while and her ongoing posters for DJ Jake Rudh, famous in the Twin Cities for his Transmission dance nights, maintain her indie design credentials. However, Northerly exposed her to entirely new disciplines outside of her design foundation.
“There’s points where it really becomes not fun,” she said. “Parts like trying to find distributors, and I haven’t gotten advertisers yet because I just can’t fathom trying to add another thing to figure out.” She had to navigate details like buying a barcode and ISBN number so the publication could be sold in retail outlets. She learned to wrangle contributors, set deadlines, and manage its social media. “There are lots of tiny details that aren’t really design related,” she said.
Evolution of an Idea
Over the course of planning and executing the first issue, Royce let the idea behind Northerly grow and change. She began contacting people whose work she admired on social media, offering small payments in exchange for their photos and content.
The magazine’s focus crystallized for Royce, “In a really rustic cabin on the lake, in the fall, and we woke up, made coffee and took some relaxing hikes.” It was there that she realized the basis for Northerly: “It was really just about this kind of slow living and just soaking up the north.”
Royce shoots with a Canon 70D and Canon lenses, edits her photos in Adobe Lightroom, and uses VSCO filters to process the images and achieve specific moods for her images depending on the subject. She also combs through her social media accounts to find contributors whose photography she admires and who have had interesting “Northerly” experiences. “As long as it’s an authentic story that happened to them,” she said. “Hey, it looks like you went on a cool skiing trip. Do you want to write about that?”
Going to Press
Some design colleagues recommended Smartpress to Royce for our online printing services and quality, and she found the instant quoting system helpful in setting initial metrics for magazine printing. “I didn’t know the specs yet, I just filled in some boxes and dropdown menus,” she said about the system. “Okay, so that’s how much it’s going to cost. Good to know.”
Choose Perfect Bound Booklets, Royce was able to experiment with paper stocks, text and cover weights, UV coatings, full-color ink, even shrink wrapping, while she designed. With our booklet printing options and binding choices, Royce was able to print a magazine exactly the way she intended.
Starting Northerly came with some unexpected expenses that Royce advises other ambitious publishers to bear in mind. “There’s a lot of hidden costs,” she recalled. Beyond printing and startup costs like the website, ISBN number, barcode, and paid social media, she was adamant about paying contributors. “Plus, I realized that maybe I priced shipping too low,” she said. “There were lots of things I had to learn the hard way.”
Royce reflects mindfully on her opportunity to start Northerly. “I was desperate for a creative pursuit, and I just happened to be in a very privileged position because my husband has a good job, and we have health insurance, and that allowed me to take these risks,” she said. “It takes talent and skill, but it also takes money and time, which are both huge privileges.”
Northerly breaks even for Royce and, while she has paid social media help, she still handles the majority of the publication’s tasks herself. Working with an online printer like Smartpress, allowed Royce to print on sumptuous paper that’s both uncoated and recycled, and the magazine continues to fulfill her ambition to create a physical artifact that people like to hold onto. It’s an ambition that eclipses her need for profit: “There are so many blogs,” she said. “I want to make something a little more special.”
Royce remains a leading ambassador for life in the North, professing her undying love for the region’s seasons. “We’re so lucky to have them, and there are seasons within seasons, and they’re all a gift,” she said. “What if instead of complaining about it, we found a reason to love it?” Royce has succeeded in celebrating the hardiness of northerners by taking her self-publishing leap. “You’re not allowed to just make your own magazine, right?” she remembered thinking. “But you can. You literally just make it and print it and figure out the rest.”
Hint: Inspired to create your own photography magazines? Do it with the right booklet:
- Choosing the Right Paper Stock for Your Booklet
- Square Backed Saddle Stitch Booklet vs. Perfect Bound Book
- Perfect Bound: Print Booklets with a Sophisticated Binding
PHOTOGRAPHER AND DESIGNER CAROLINE ROYCE JOINED SMARTPRESS IN DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS FOR AN EXTENDED CONVERSATION ABOUT NORTHERLY WITH BRENT STICKELS OF YYES.