So you want to publish a magazine? by Angharad Lewis (Laurence King) is a how-to guide that doesn’t tell you how-to. That’s because with the magazine industry in an intense state of flux, there’s no longer one right way to get a magazine out there. Rather, there are as many paths to success as there are indie mags on the shelves, with each title seemingly charting its own course. As such the book aims to be not a roadmap to publication, but a kind of journeymate, giving you the tools you need to make your own decisions as you go—less Sat Nav, more magic eight ball, revealing the myriad of options available.
Across 10 sections—not steps—the book tackles the dizzying choices faced by today’s aspiring magazine maker and helps you answer, once and for all, whether indie magazine publishing is really for you. What’s your publishing model? Who will you work with? What will you actually put in it? How many pages will you have? What size will it be? How do you deal with printers? How will you pay them? Will you work with advertisers? How will you woo them? Will you work with a distributor or do it yourself? Questions, questions, questions!
These are the nuts and bolts, the not-sexy-but-essential issues that always dominate Q&As at magazine panels and events. In fact, Lewis says distribution is “the most commonly cited problem among independent magazine publishers.” I’m willing to bet it’s the biggest turn off for wannabe publishers, too.
This is a book about magazine making that’s as likely to discuss digital strategy and business models as it is editorial concepts. Lewis’ encouraging but practical tone will gently prod even the most head-in-the-clouds creative to think realistically, ask themselves difficult questions and approach, or at least consider approaching, creative decisions from a business point of view.
All this hard thinking is tempered with inspiring case studies from titles as diverse as The Gourmand, Head Full of Snakes, and Noon. Bitter pills, such as the trade off between reach and income when working with a professional distributor, are made easier to swallow by the book’s elegant and sophisticated design. Meanwhile complex concepts are made simple with flow charts, handy lists, and call-out boxes.
There are interviews with over 50 industry experts in all, including printers, distributors, retailers, and enough magazine makers to fell a small forest. Indie giants such as Jefferson Hack (Dazed), Tyler Brûlé (Monocle), and Penny Martin (The Gentlewoman) rub shoulders with up-and-coming creatives such as John Holt (LAW) and Danielle Pender (Riposte), and authors of passion projects like Elana Schlenker of Gratuitous Type. This juxtaposition makes the whole endeavor feel so very achievable. Hard work, yes. But achievable. There’s a feeling of, “if them, why not me?”
While the magazine’s interview credits read like a Who’s Who of global indie publishing, it would’ve been interesting to hear from more of the magazines in the great newsagent in the sky. When Will Hudson, founder of INT Works and publisher of Printed Pages discusses what went wrong for his previous mag, (too much focus on nice paper and high production values, not enough on economic sustainability), it offers a valuable insight into not just what to do, but what not to do.
Some of the advice in this book will be familiar to anyone who’s toyed with the idea of publishing their own magazine. (Don’t do it! You won’t make any money! Have an ordinal idea, etc.) But the chapters on publishing models, distribution, advertising, printing, and cash flow are truly eye-opening and empowering.
Outside of this some other interesting themes emerge, like why you should collaborate with your contemporaries rather than lust after experts. Jefferson Hack says, “Work with your own peer group rather than people with experience: it’s much better to have the same set of references and the same kind of taste.” Penny Martin concurs:
“The only way you can create something worth reading is if it’s of your time and of your people.”
Now that this generation’s wealth of experience has been bought together in this handy book, there’s no excuse not to do just that.