Producing Your Profitable Publication
Back in December 1979 a young man called Chris Donald published, just for fun, an adult comic as an outlet for his hobby as a cartoonist.
Encouraged by its success he continued to compile the occasional one off, until in 1985 he did a deal with Virgin Books who began to publish it commercially on a bi-monthly basis.
Later, in 1987, the magazine was taken over by John Brown Publishing. By 1989 it had reached a circulation of over 800,000 copies and it remained a best seller throughout the 1990s.
The publication in question is VIZ, and is a true success story of what one person can achieve with a kitchen table business. Follow his example and you could do the same, by writing about your particular hobby, or developing your chosen interest into a profitable magazine or newsletter. Here's how to do it.
Examine the Competition
Before launching headlong into your publishing venture, examine the competition to see what you are up against and how your newsletter or magazine can be slotted into the marketplace. Seek out all publications covering your topic. Study how they handle their subject and material and analyze them to ensure that yours will be different, and above all, better.
Newsagents' racks and libraries are two obvious places to look for the relevant magazines. You can also track them down using The Writers Handbook, Writers and Artists Yearbook, or Willings Press Guide (your library should have copies). Each of these yearbooks cover between 500 and 600 UK periodicals, and every entry highlights the journal title, frequency of publication, cover price, a description of editorial content, and masses of other useful data.
Willings is the most comprehensive (and most expensive), listing almost 30,000 UK and international journals in two volumes.
Small press magazines can be tracked down using the following: Small Press Guide; Lights' List: A Guide to British Mail Order magazines and Adsheets: and The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. The first two largely cover literary magazines and will be of interest to anyone wishing to launch a magazine covering some aspect of freelance writing.
The third will interest anyone setting up a publication related to small business. The International Directory covers just about everything published in the English speaking world, including the UK, USA and other countries, and is the most comprehensive directory available. It carries over one thousand pages and includes details of over 6,000 small press magazines, their titles, costs, content, and just about anything else you might need to know.
Note that many magazines listed in these directories are run by just one or two individuals who have been in business for many years. If they can turn their ventures into a success, so can you. You will need to ensure that your publication offers something slightly different if it is to succeed in a crowded marketplace.
Finding The Copy
Some specialist newsletters, consisting of just a few pages of news and views, are published solely by one person. They will write the copy, print it out on their PC or by other means, get some copies photocopied or printed up, and then distribute and sell it. If you have a lot of spare time, or if yours is a minority interest newsletter or magazine you may choose to operate this way.
However, the majority of publications have a number of staff and contributors. Because the proprietor has many tasks to deal with and doesn't have time to produce all the copy, they will approach other people who can contribute articles.
You may have friends with writing or artistic experience who can assist you. If not, you will either have to burn some midnight oil to produce the initial copy yourself, or pay freelancers capable of doing the job (once your journal is established you will probably receive sufficient offers from freelancers to be able to buy in all of the copy you will ever need).
Freelance journalists don't come cheap - not those worth using anyway - so if you require their services you will have to make adequate financial provision.
No matter what your source of copy, it has to be up to standard - particularly in your launch edition when the likely standard of future issues will be judged by it. If it is first class it will encourage readers to buy the next issue and it will attract only the best quality contributors.
If you intend to use freelance material, produce a set of Contributor Guidelines and make them available to any freelance writer who asks. They should include: the subjects you are willing to consider and those which are taboo; pointers on style; preferred maximum and minimum lengths; type of illustrations used, if any; the form in which you wish to see copy (typed in standard manuscript format, on computer disk, or both); the rights you seek (usually First British Serial Rights); and your rate of pay (which may simply state "negotiable, according to value").
What Should It Look Like?
After deciding on the publication's subject matter, the next consideration is what it will look like. What will be its size, length, layout? Will it be illustrated? Will the illustrations be in black and white or in color? Will they be photographs or drawings? What will be the method of binding?
The main factor influencing the appearance of your finished product is its cost, and the largest production expense will be printing. Some printing processes come cheaper than others, and are influenced by your proposed size of print run.
For small circulation magazines, photocopying is the most economical means of production. While it can't compete when it comes to larger print runs, you can produce a few copies relatively cheaply. Today's photocopiers are sophisticated and capable of producing quality, multicolored pages, on glossy, colored, textured paper, if you wish, as well as basic black and white A4 pages. You can print out a master copy from your PC, photocopy the pages and then staple them together and voila!, you have a magazine.
For larger publication print runs (more than a couple of hundred copies, say) you will need to use a printer. With techniques such as offset lithography the more copies you produce, the cheaper the process becomes. The sensible thing to do is select your optimum page size, number of pages, quality, and print quantity and then discuss your requirements with a couple of local printers, who will advise you on the most cost effective way to proceed.
Another important factor is your publication's length and size. If you are going to post the magazine out to subscribers you will need to bear in mind postage and packing costs and include them in the subscription charge. Note that high postage and packing costs can often be saved by cutting just one sheet of paper through judicious editing.
Putting It All Together
Today, all you need to do is hand the printer your camera ready artwork exactly as it is to appear in the final magazine, and they'll reproduce it for you. The most economical way to create your own master pages and artwork is with a personal computer. Invest in some word processing (such as Microsoft Word) or desktop publishing software (such as Quark Express or Pagemaker), plus a printer, and you can put the whole magazine together yourself.
The whole PC, printer, software package can be put together very cheaply. Your local computer retailer will be able to advise you on the best system to purchase, as well as how to use it.
Another advantage of the DIY approach is that all it costs is your time. This inevitably means you can run much closer to your printing deadline than any outsider ever could. It also means that news can be more newsworthy and last minute advertisements can be squeezed in to help your cash flow.