How to: Make a Magazine in 3 Easy Steps.
Author: Maggie Washo | Photographer: John Brackett
If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be the editor of a magazine on Hilton Head Island, I would have laughed hysterically and told them that the crystal ball they were using was cracked. I never had aspirations of being Oprah. Sure, I liked to read, and did so routinely on the back of the bus (yep, I was a nerd, in case you were wondering). But I also liked to routinely boss my siblings around, so I guess I could’ve just as easily ended up being President of the United States.
The twists and turns on this journey through life sometimes surprise us, and so here I sit, writing about how to make a magazine in three easy steps. It seems appropriate as CH2 is celebrating its second birthday this month. As with most projects we tackle, making a magazine is 50 percent inspiration and 50 percent perspiration. Read on for an exclusive “behind the scenes” look at what the hell we do all month.
Step I: Creative Meeting of the Minds
The whole process starts with every member of our staff crowded into the CH2 boardroom with donuts and coffee. This is an open forum where we all shout out ideas for the upcoming month and try to get our opinions of what the next great story is into print. Sometimes these meetings last three hours longer than they should. This has nothing to do with the donuts or the coffee.
Story ideas for the magazine come from everywhere. Our advertisers suggest them (Why You Should Shop at My Store in Park Plaza). Our readers suggest them. (Traffic Circles: Getting Around Them). They come to us in the shower (Water Conservation and Your Bad Habits). Our writers suggest them (It Could Be Worse: You could have writer’s block an hour before deadline).
Generally there is no set way we decide to cover anything; it’s a free-for-all of ideas being tossed at a dart board. If enough of us think it is a good idea, it gets put on the list of stories to be assigned to writers. If enough of us think it’s a bad idea, well… look out for those darts.
Step 2: Break! Divide and Conquer
Immediately after leaving this meeting (which has given every one of us at least one gray hair), we all head straight to separate bars and down several whiskeys. Just kidding.
We have a list of story concepts and now we are ready to execute. Let’s follow a hypothetical story from start to finish. After several attempts at getting a story to stick on the dart board, Becky Verbosky, our super salesperson, finally throws out an idea that everyone loves: Martians: Real or Myth?
Now comes the execution part of the process, which can be neatly divided into four categories:
Being well aware of Paul deVere’s (writer extraordinaire) affinity for all things extra-terrestrial, I decide he would be well-suited to write this article. I call him. The conversation goes something like this:
Paul: “Miss Maggie! How wonderful to hear from you!” (Or maybe I just remember it this way…)
Me: “Mr. deVere! I have one hell of a story for you!”
Paul: “Don’t keep me in suspense.” (which actually means…”Could we hurry this up? I have a tee-time in five minutes.”)
Me: “October issue. Martians: Real or Myth? An exposé on whether they live among us right here on Hilton Head. If you could arrange an actual interview with a REAL, honest- to-goodness Martian, I could give you 2,500 words for the story.”
Paul: “I’m on it. Let me guess. Becky’s idea?”
Paul: “You’ll have it next week.”
Me: “Until then. Good luck.”
Phase one of Martians: Real or Myth? is underway and we move on to the Art Department.
In my (humble) opinion, the photography/art/layout of an article is just as important as the content. If the artwork fails to capture readers’ attention as they flip through the pages, they probably won’t stop to read it. So the task that falls to the art department is to make those opening pages as attractive as possible.
This is where Kelly Stroud and Elisabeth Reed come in. After several in-depth discussions and brainstorming sessions, they decide that artwork is the way to go. Ordinarily we prefer photographs, but the Martians aren’t returning phone calls and we are getting close to deadline. The only question is which image to choose.
Kelly calls Tom Staebler (contributing art director with over 40 years experience as the art director at Playboy) for his expert opinion. The conversation goes something like this.
Tom: “Kelly! What’s the crisis this week?”
Kelly: “Not sure which image to use for the Martian exposé—have an opinion? I e-mailed both to you.”
Tom: “Hold on a minute.” (Slight pause while Tom gets off the phone with Hugh Hefner and opens up his e-mail) “Why are you going with artwork? Don’t you think photos would work better?”
Kelly: “Tried. Can’t get a Martian to call us back, and we’re cutting it kind of close.”
Tom: “Prima donnas. Ever since Ghostbusters came out, they’ve been impossible. Oh well. Don’t use the one with the gun. It’s a family magazine.”
Kelly: “Good point.”
Tom: “Anything else? I’ve got a tee-time in five minutes.”
Disaster averted. Families will not be offended. Phase two is completed.
Now, I’m sure I’m stating the obvious here, but this is the MOST important part of making a magazine. Because if you can’t sell ads, you can’t PAY for the magazine. Advertisers buy if A) they like your magazine, B) they like you C) you have the distribution they want at the price they can afford or D) they have money burning a hole in their pocket.
You don’t come across D very often, so it’s important to keep your distribution high and your cost low. Advertisers with a plan for promoting their business generally see the value of advertising their business on a monthly basis. But sometimes, if it’s a niche market you can sell based on the content. Take the Martian story, for instance. Our sales team goes out and calls a business they think might want to be affiliated with such a story. The conversation goes something like this.
Business Owner: “Ghostbusters! Bob speaking.”
Stan (CH2 sales rep): “Hi Bob. Stan here. CH2 magazine.”
Bob: “Hi Stan. Love the magazine. Especially that story you ran last month on the Loch Ness Monster.”
Stan: “Thanks Bob! Love to hear that. Listen, we are running a story on Martians next month, and I thought you might want to take out an ad.”
Bob: “What’s your distribution?”
Stan: “Generally 60,000 a month, but we are increasing distribution on Mars next month specifically for the story, so we’ll be at about 70,000.”
Bob: “Sounds great. Fax over a contract. But I’ve got to get off the phone. Got a tee-time in five minutes.”
If only it were that easy. But you get the idea. Bob, of Ghostbusters Inc., is taking an ad for the October issue, so we move into the next stage…
Morgan O’Banion (account executive) and Elisabeth Hancock take it from here. Together After several versions, Bob signs off on the ad and it is ready to be placed in the magazine layout.
Step 3: Putting all the Pieces together (in a nutshell)
The writer has submitted the story and our copy editor has crossed t’s and dotted i’s. Artwork of a friendly alien (sans gun) has been completed by a local artist. All ads have been approved, and now the art department spends several long days putting all the pieces together. The finished project is delivered to me and I stay up all night making slight corrections (because it is almost always PERFECT when I see it).
The “book” goes to the printer, comes back three days later than we wanted it, gets distributed all over Hilton Head Island and Bluffton (60,000 copies a month!) and you pull it out of your mailbox.
At this point the Celebrate team all goes to the SAME bar, does several shots of whiskey together and looks forward to the next creative meeting…where we start the process all over again.