Every year, thousands of people head up to the mountains, out on the sea and into the depths in search of the unknown. Records are broken, stories are created, bonds are forged—all in the name of outdoor adventure.
But many of these narratives remain dormant, something Somerville’s Zoe Balaconis is working to change. By day, Balaconis is an English teacher in Cambridge. By night, she’s the editor of Misadventures, the only magazine devoted to women’s adventure and outdoor lifestyle. We caught Zoe between teaching, surfing, traveling and editing to talk about her work for the fast-growing Misadventures and what it’s been like starting a print magazine in a digital era—especially in an industry that’s traditionally placed men in the spotlight.
Scout Somerville: Tell me about yourself and the other editors. Is Misadventures your day job? Do you all live in the Boston area?
Zoe Balaconis: We have many careers, but I’m the only one careering here in Somerville. I am a high-school English teacher at the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge. Jessica Malordy, my co-editor and our social media savant, is an author who also works for the Girl Scouts in Tucson; Sarah Connette, our operations manager, works for the Tennessee Justice Center in Nashville and is a pro pickup basketball player; and Marybeth Campeau, our creative director, juggles millions of projects while being a design manager at Blue Chair Bay—Kenny Chesney’s rum company.
SS: What’s it like running a magazine cross-country?
ZB: It’s tough, but we’ve gotten very good at communicating, delegating and being upfront about what we’re able to take on at any given point. We’re constantly messaging each other and having video-meetings—and it helps that before we started Misadventures we were all friends. It’s been a great way to stay in touch, actually. It seems like we would be pretty disorganized and chaotic, but I’m amazed at everyone’s capacity to keep the ship afloat.
SS: What’s the story behind Misadventures?
ZB: I’ve always loved magazines, and I started to realize that a lot of the outdoor or sport magazines I subscribed to weren’t written for me. They were written for a male audience—and, not-so-surprisingly, there were very few women on those mastheads. I thought, “Well, surely there is a magazine out there for this niche. Surely there’s an outdoor and adventure magazine for women.” I looked around, and there wasn’t much there. I emailed Marybeth and asked if she wanted to start a magazine with me, and she said yes (foolishly), and we were off. The short story is we noticed a glaring gap in the media landscape, and we aimed to fill it.
SS: Is it hard doing something like this in a male-dominated industry?
ZB: It can be hard, but I’ve felt very supported by my team and by others who hear about our mission. Going into this, we were pretty confident about our design and editing skills, but we knew very little about the legal side of publishing: distribution, brand partnerships, advertising sales, working with stockists, etc. There was a steep learning curve, and it can be difficult to cede that ground of confidence as a woman in business. We had to balance an appearance of confidence and faith in our idea with humility—and just having no idea what we were doing. We’ve been lucky to have wonderful mentors and collaborators—men and women—in publishing and in the outdoor industry who’ve helped us along the way.
SS: Have you had any difficulties or pushback with Misadventures or has there only been fanfare, parades and positive receptions?
ZB: There have been very few actual trumpets (unfortunately), but I’ve been surprised that we’ve mostly gotten fanfare. When discussing advertising partnerships with brands, sometimes I’ve had to explain thesize of this market—that, yes, women do like climbing and traveling and cycling and survival skills—believe it! And it’s a growing group! But, more and more, companies are coming to us. We did have a man, early on, email us and “very helpfully” and “patiently” explain that we probably didn’t know what “misadventures” meant because it’s “actually” a bad thing and not something to be celebrated, so we should probably change our name. Thanks, guy, for that insight. (So many of the editorial decisions we make are based on puns, I have to admit.)
SS: What’s it been like starting a new print magazine in today’s digitally oriented world?
ZB: It has been challenging, but it’s also forced us to be more creative with our revenue. You hear all the time that print is dead—and, yes, magazines are folding all over the world—but before we launched as a print magazine we did a good bit of market research and found that though people are less likely to buy magazines, they are more likely to invest in less frequent, higher-quality publications. That—and cost of printing—is the reason behind us being on a biannual print schedule. It keeps the quality of the product high and validates it as a worthy purchase by our subscribers. People don’t want an update—we get those all the time from social media. They want a beautiful, artful artifact that they can keep, collect, savor, put on a bedside table, clutch to their heart!
SS: Since you’ve been running the magazine, have you noticed any shift in how society perceives women? How about how women are perceived in the outdoor industry?
ZB: I’ve definitely noticed a shift in visibility in the outdoors industry. Women writers are getting more page space, women athletes are getting more recognition, but in both the industry and society in general, we’ve got a long way to go. It’s one thing for the media to begin changing its representation; it’s another thing for the governments of the world to start making policies that recognize and protect women (trans, cis, women of color, all) in their pursuits—whether those be in the outdoors, in the workplace, in any place. That shift has yet to come.
SS: What’s next for Misadventures?
ZB: We’re always looking ahead to the next story, the next issue, the next project. Next is the summer issue of the magazine, which is shaping up to be incisive, surprising and funny (just as summer ought to be!). After that, we just hope to keep championing women who go “out and beyond” in all the issues to come.
SS: Do you have any advice for others looking to take a leap and start something they are passionate about?
ZB: Do it! The worst thing that can happen is failure. I would say, yes, leaping is good, but you should also do some looking first, too, especially if there are going to be financial repercussions. Spend some time making a plan, talking to people more experienced than you are, gathering resources and getting a crack team together. Then, leap! There’s no better learning experience. Life’s for leaps.
SS: Give us a haiku or limerick about Somerville… go!
ZB: “Somerville Sunset”
Atop Prospect Hill
I can make out the red light
Of Ebi Sushi
This story appears in the May/June 2017 issue of Scout, which is available for free beginning May 11 at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.
Misadventures is published biannually, and subscriptions and information about submissions are available at misadventuresmag.com. You can also find Misadventures at Barnes & Noble and in select REI locations.