How to Start a Magazine [Part 2]: Launching Your First Issue

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So, you’ve ironed out most of the initial kinks and are ready to create content for your magazine.

But… What do you put out first?

You want your first issue to be palatable, welcoming enough to draw in a readership.

However, with all of the magazines that exist, your launch must also stand out. 

In part 2 of this series, we will discuss the logistics of creating your first issue and launching your magazine.

Choosing the perfect topic for your first issue

By now, you should have:

  • Chosen a unique concept for your publication
  • Identified your audience
  • Established a tone and style
  • Created a business plan and hired your staff
  • Chosen a printer and distribution method(s)

Those will probably feel like a cake walk compared to what’s to come. 

Creating content is not a linear process, so reading a step-by-step guide will not be helpful. It may even distort your creative process. 

But, everyone needs a little guidance. ForMarketer Magazine (www.formarketer.com/magazine/) recommends the following tips for choosing a content topic:

  • “Request feedback from others: It could be in the form of what they want to learn or what challenges they face. There is always something about your subject that others want to learn … Just listen to other people’s conversations to see what they need, what their problems are.
  • Be active in your niche: You must actively participate in your sector, follow the latest news and trends, being active in your niche has many advantages. Make sure you subscribe to the best blogs and stay up to date with the latest news in your industry.
  • Stay up to date with the social networks of your industry: Monitor Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and any other important social network that people use in your industry. Monitor specific keywords to find out what it is that people are actively discussing and what they would like to know more about.
  • You have to be active in the sites of your community: Visit the category of your sector in places like Quora and you will be surprised at how much people want to know about various topics.
  • Do not limit yourself: There is much more about what you can write about and what you can imagine, but often you will be limited because you can not see beyond the current scope.”

Here are some additional suggestions to keep in mind: 

  • Your topic should be specific enough to pique interest, but broad enough to generate article ideas around. 
  • Consider topics that are generating conversation among your audience, and position your issue as part of that conversation. 
  • Make sure your topic is relevant to both your audience and the overall concept of your publication. 

As mentioned in part one of this series, it is recommended that you plan out your editorial content at least one year in advance. 

You can always adjust editions to reflect relevant events and trends, but planning out your content all at once will save you lots of time down the road.

For their first issue (1967), Rolling Stone kept it simple, centering their cover around an image of John Lennon. This served as the blueprint for all issues to come, as they continue to feature images of prominent figures on their covers.

Rounding up content and creating a mock-up

Once you’ve chosen your topic, you’ll need to create a mock-up of your issue. 

While your content doesn’t have to be finalized in this stage, it is important to have a general idea of what your issue will contain. 

Plan to include a variety of content. Aim for a good mix of articles, interviews, and opinion pieces. Above all, make sure your content is helpful to readers by providing actionable information. 

Article, design, and photography assignments should be given well before the mock-up is finished. This will ensure that you will receive all of your content in time for your launch. 

Though you may want to keep your costs as low as possible, do not cut corners on content acquisition. High-quality content is well worth the investment. 

If you outsource your content, it would be a good idea to create a style guide to refer creators to. This will ensure that your content is consistent, even if your creators are not. 

Pro Tip:A copy editor will take your magazine from good to high-quality … This person provides a fresh, outside set of eyes to go over what you’re creating, and offers insights you would likely miss ... Copy editors police your use of grammar, spelling, and punctuation [and] ensure a consistent writing style for your magazine.”

The tasks of writing the articles and creating the graphics/curating the images would likely be left to your staff. 

However, as the chief editor, you should be the one to lay out your edition to ensure that it fits your vision. 

You may choose to have one of your designers create the mockup. In this case you want to be sure to provide them with an outline detailing:

  • The title of the issue
  • The cover concept
  • The articles to include and the order in which they will appear
  • The ads the issue will contain
  • The placement of graphics, images and ads

It would also be a good idea to have article titles finalized, or at least narrowed down. 

Ideally, your mock-up will serve as the blueprint for your issue. As you receive finalized content, your graphic designer will stylize it and replace the fillers. 

Mock-ups should also be included in your media kit, a package of information and content with which you pitch your magazine to advertisers. A well designed mock-up will make your pitch that much easier to sell. 

Pro-Tip: To visualize your issue without finalized content, use Lorem ipsum font to fill in empty text boxes and images from the internet as placeholders.

Tools to create your issue

Of course you can’t create your issue, or even the mock-up, without the right tools. Luckily, there are tons to choose from. Here are a few suggestions:

Indesign

Indesign is an offering from Adobe’s Creative Cloud (www.adobe.com/creativecloud) that allows graphic designers to create posters, brochures, magazines and even interactive eBooks. 

Pros: 

  • Highly intuitive, user-friendly software
  • Media is easily exported in a variety of formats 
  • Access to Photoshop tools and effects for images

Cons:

  • Does not lend itself well to more detailed designs
  • Text spacing requires manipulation, as it is known to looks uneven at times
  • One of the pricier options on this list

Price: Adobe offers a 7-day free trial of Indesign. Otherwise, it is available as part of a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. It will cost either $20.99 for the single app or $52.99 for the entire design suite.

DigitalStudio

DigitalStudio is a flat-planning and pagination software by Mirabel Technologies (www.mirabeltechnologies.com), created specifically for magazine publishers. 

Pros:

  • Allows users to accommodate ad units and paginate as live inventory changes
  • Interactive software designed for team collaboration
  • Includes free publishing to Mirabel’s Magazine Central, a digital magazine stand

Cons:

  • Designed exclusively for magazines
  • Included only as part of a Magazine Manager (www.magazinemanager.com) subscription

Price: As part of a Magazine Manager subscription, DigitalStudio will cost $65/month/user with an additional $250 initial setup fee. 

The subscription will include access to a powerful publishing CRM, reports, electronic invoicing (to bill advertisers), and top-tier support services.

Microsoft Publisher

Microsoft Publisher is a design program that comes exclusively with a Microsoft 365 (www.microsoft.com/microsoft-365) subscription. If you use Microsoft, as most businesses do, this might be a great option for you.

Pros: 

  • User-friendly interface, drag-and-drop capabilities
  • Tons of templates to choose from
  • Guidelines to ensure that your content is perfectly aligned

Cons:

  • Only available through Microsoft subscription
  • Only available for PC
  • Not compatible with other programs, such as Adobe

Price: Microsoft offers a 1 month free trial of Publisher, through its trial of Microsoft 365. 

The annual subscription starts at $12.50/user/month, and includes all of the Microsoft 365 products, along with their secure cloud services.

Post-Launch

The next step is, of course, distributing your publication. Let’s recap the distribution suggestions we gave in part one of this series:

  • In addition to your subscribed readers, be sure to send a sample of your publication to potential and existing advertisers.
  • If your publication is free, send your magazine to relevant readers in the industry.
  • Businesses with waiting rooms, like doctors offices, and colleges and universities are also great places to distribute your publication.
  • Provide digital content. You can do this by posting on social media, posting articles online, or creating a podcast.

Pro Tip: Make sure your digital content is shareable. “Content behind a paywall (or, worse, locked in a PDF or app) is not shareable … The goal of all of these channels is to keep readers engaged between issues, enable them to share your content, and ultimately drive them to your website and into your sales funnel.”

  • You can build your circulation and subscriber lists through traditional methods, such as cold calling, street team promotion, or direct mail. 

Your work is not finished after you distribute your publication. 

After distribution, you should follow up with your readership. You can do this by sending a postcard or email asking for feedback. 

One of your primary objectives is to satisfy your readers, so their feedback is essential as you move forward with your publication. 

Following up is especially important after your first issue.

Keep track of the things your subscribers enjoyed. Those elements should remain consistent across your editions. If they enjoyed a specific promotion, consider repeating it in a later edition.

On the same note, keep track of the things that your readers were critical of. These will be the things you should focus on fine-tuning as your publication progresses. 

Conclusion 

Successful publications are not created overnight. 

If you haven’t completely tapped into your niche yet, don’t worry. 

Focus on creating high quality content and distributing it to the right audience. The readers will come as your magazine gains traction. 

Once you have a handle on your creative and production processes, you can shift some of your energy into building awareness for your publication.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where we’ll discuss tips for effectively marketing your magazine.

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