A throwback to the ruthless glamor of the precession Mid-Aughts; a talented writer grappling with severe prescription pill addiction and childhood trauma; A privileged young woman who holds her nose in the very industry she had worshiped all her life: Former editor and writer of the magazine, Cat Marnell, who probably with confidence, candor and her unmistakably quick wits in her youngest I will not discuss these earlier life epithets.
For those less indoctrinated by the intrigue of the Media Palace, Marnell announced her role as Beauty Director of XoJane, Jane Pratt’s former digital platform where Marnell worked after many years at various Condé Nast Glossies, in 2012 in the most dramatic way – she infamously told the New York Post: “I couldn’t spend another summer at night keeping appointments behind a computer when I was on the roof of Le Bain I look for falling stars and smoke angel dust with my friends and write a book about what to do next. ”
This book, her 2017 memoir How to Murder Your Life, became a New York Times bestseller and will be turned into a limited television series with Sony Tristar. Marnell is a producer.
In 2020 she published an Audible audio book titled “Self-Tanner for the Soul: How I Run Away to Europe and Found My Inner Luminosity (When Life Got Dark),” in which she narrates nearly three and a half years of circumnavigation of the world.
Marnell returned to New York at the start of the pandemic and began professionally planning her next move. While she’s optimistic about a second book concept she’s working on, she felt it made the most sense for her to join Patreon, a publishing platform designed for content creators to monetize their work through direct reader subscription. She started her BeautyShambles column in November.
Tech companies like Patreon and Substack help artists and writers bypass the traditional middlemen in the publishing industry. The creators upload their content directly to the publishing platforms and then send it to their paid subscribers via email and through their respective apps.
For Patreon, members can choose which tier they want to pay for (additional exclusive content is usually available at higher tiers, which costs more money), and there are also multimedia offers like podcasts. If done correctly, these subscription models can negate the need for traditional ad sales that have historically been the backbone of editorial content monetization. Marnell charges $ 5 per month for all of their content, $ 6 per month if users also want user-only Q&A, and $ 17 per month for an additional monthly call from Marnell.
She publishes weekly articles like “Swagosian Paris Saturday: A Home Decor Post”, “Havanashambles Part Two / Cuba’s Most Mysterious Bitch” and “A Romantic Walk to the Liquor Store”. These very personal considerations about travel, beauty, art and adulthood have a dreamlike quality, but are also firmly rooted in the writer’s own experiences. While, like many writers, she was dissatisfied with the idea of asking readers for direct payment, part of her development was realizing its worth.
“I really have good taste. My brain is cool and different. And I’m not saying this selfishly, I’m saying this because I’m a talented editor. And I’ve put in a lot of work to find the stuff I’m going to show people in these columns. “
In an interview with WWD, the former beauty editor speaks about disrupting the industry she grew up in, the future of the landscape, and the opportunities that will be offered to the next group of writers.
WWD: You started working in magazines in college. What was your original path?
Cat Marnell: I was in the [Condé Nast 4 Times Square office] Building when I was pretty young, and then moving on. My first job was an internship at Vanity Fair in the closet and I was 21. It’s so fun because back then I just wanted the Condé Nast thing. There was no Hearst Tower and it was just Condé, Condé, Condé. I was there for the Condé Nast Summit. And I was there in 2008 when everything changed. The big financial crisis, and then it became “Let’s get hold of these city cars”.
I adored the print. It was just an obsession, of course. And when I look back, that’s why I sent you the Beauty Queen magazine from my childhood.
I’ve written beauty credits and I don’t even know if I’ve read them in magazines, but I said, “That’s Max Factor,” etc. I’ve been doing the same thing for as long as I’ve been doing. I’ll do it now [on BeautyShambles] is only natural. I just loved it, I was obsessed. I was always strongest when I had my own little world. I’ve always been in this little world of beauty.
WWD: What brought you to Patreon in the first place?
CM: It’s a visual world that I control. I do all these little collages that I love. It’s like coming back to myself [Beauty Queen magazine] Days. It’s a girl’s world, diverse and different.
I learn from younger people who do what they want and make money from it. I love weird things. If I can just find a way to get paid for it, I think it will be successful. Because if I keep things pure and do exactly what I want, I have a lot more success and popularity with this work than someone else’s idea for me.
With Patreon, I didn’t even know that it would be this newsletter, I imagined shorter posts, but of course I just write and write. I can do it about anything. And I get the relief of letting go of it – letting go of work after a week and starting a whole new topic.
WWD: What was your initial vision for the column?
CM: What I really like about Patreon is that I show people an alternative lifestyle: live on the street, travel. I am very aware of how I structure the column. I wanted to open in Paris, but not in the dazzling Paris of [Netflix series] “Emily in Paris.” I wanted to make it mine, the Paris I am in, which is much less on the Seine than on the Canal Saint-Martin.
I didn’t even want to show myself that I was doing something so interesting, and that’s how I live my life when I’m abroad. I wanted a lot of realism because I think part of the reason magazines burned out is because there isn’t enough realism.
In the next few columns I’ll be going on my last trip, which I did in 2020.… I went to the cheapest ski resort in the world [the country of] Georgia known for its horrific chairlift crash. I was attacked by a dog and fell down a flight of stairs. Then this strange month in London. And then Malta – terrible – and then Jordan, Cairo, back to Paris and back home.
The last three and a half years of travel has been insane and my brain is just full of things and a pleasure to let them pour out. I am currently leading with my brain and am super healthy now as addiction is not part of my life.
WWD: You are your own editor now. What does this creative process look like?
CM: Back to my childhood, doing these little magazines, 20 pages long – I haven’t done that for anyone. That was just my obsession.
When I was older, in middle school, it was teenybopper magazines like Big Bop. I hoarded them and papered my room. Back in Condé Nast, I went to the Condé Library and went through all of those magazines. I played magazines the way people play house.
When I was an intern I took this [page layout proofs] and pretend they are being edited on the train like a real editor. That’s what I do here, and every week I look forward to the new idea.
WWD: With Patreon, your readers pay you directly. In the past you have had accountability issues. How do you get the financial side up and running?
CM: I probably wouldn’t be as obsessed as I am if I published publicly. It’s different when the person pays you. If readers pay, you have to get through. You are really only obliged to do so.
I look at the old me the way everyone else does. I am so different from this person. I just wasn’t there and it was such a crazy time. There really is [no drugs now].
I protect my peace. I protect my health and concentrate. Financial health is such a big part of it. Not letting irresponsibility and chaos be part of my life. I want to prosper, attract more money. I am really grateful. I have a lot of perspective, especially when I travel around the world.
This is my business. I work so hard I have the highest standards. I process myself. And I believe that I am worth all the money I get.
WWD: What do you think of disrupting this industry that you have admired for so long?
CM: As for the writers, I think I’m at the forefront for Patreon – not Substack. I encourage people to go to Patreon all the time (though not unlike Substack). I’m just saying it changed my life, it made me stronger. I like Patreon, it’s a lot more visual. Because I have my magazine background, I like the pictures. Patreon, the term comes from the patron of the arts, so more for the pictures. That’s why I didn’t do a Substack.
I had someone say, “Well, I don’t want people to say that I do because you did.” No, it’s just the platform. It’s access. It has nothing to do with Cat Marnell going to Patreon first. You should do it now. I want more people to do it. It’s cool. I want it to be more of the standard.
I know that I am really providing high quality content. I’m trying to do something completely different. I would never have charged any money. I was uncomfortable with it. I don’t like any of these. I’m not paying for the New York Times paywall. But it just makes sense to me.