Let’s be honest, the current situation with COVID-19 is less than ideal. We would all much rather be outside enjoying the sunshine than stuck indoors. We would all much rather eat out at restaurants instead of nurturing our own sourdough starters or living off banana bread. We would all much rather see our friends in person at the pub than do quizzes with them over Zoom. However, this is the reality that we currently find ourselves faced with.
I could mope around the flat, alternating between checking the fridge for snacks, sighing loudly and staring out of the window wishing I hadn’t already used my singular government-sanctioned excursion already, or I could find a more productive pursuit.
I’ve been running a website since 2014, an entertainment blog called The Indiependent which functions as a platform for aspiring journalists. I’ve always run it alongside something else — it was started whilst I was in sixth form, continued to grow throughout my time at university, and with the help of a team of editors, has had a regular output as I worked to obtain my NCTJ journalism diploma part-time while working full-time in marketing last year.
My Blog Grew Bigger Than I Ever Anticipated
In started a platform for aspiring journalists in 2014 which has been growing and growing ever since.
Until lockdown, I found snatches of time to manage the site around my day job, using the 20 minutes while dinner is in the oven or my boyfriend is playing PlayStation to fire off a load of emails or to schedule posts. But with the Coronavirus pandemic and accompanying isolation measures, I’ve found myself with lots more time to spare in the evenings and on the weekends.
There’s been some fantastic work produced for the site in the last few months, and I wanted to give the contributors — many of whom have never seen their work in print before — a physical product they could show to friends, family and even potential employers. So I decided to launch a magazine.
Researching and costing
My first step was to research ways in which we could get a small print run fulfilled, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, for an affordable price. I know a girl who had previously launched her own zine, so I reached out to her for some advice and guidance, and she recommended Mixam Printing. I played around with their handy quote calculator, figuring out how much it would cost. I then added £1 to the cost of every issue, because as well as giving aspiring writers a platform for their work, I wanted to do something for a charity that is supporting vulnerable people at this time of national health crisis. I settled on the British Lung Foundation, the UK’s leading lung charity.
I also incorporated postage into the price, settling on the price of £6 per issue. Once I’d figured out how much the project was going to cost, I created a mockup of the magazine which I could use to promote the project.
I’d previously used InDesign in my post as editor-in-chief of The Oxford Student newspaper, and I’ve also used it in the past to create bespoke CVs, so I felt fairly comfortable in my ability to put together a magazine all by myself.
The first step was getting the document set up with the correct dimensions for printing (with a 3mm bleed around the edges), and then settling on a colour scheme. I used a colour picker tool to pick out three colours from the menu bar on our website, to create a sense of brand consistency, and then went about creating the mockup.
Once the mockup of the layout was created, I used Photoshop to create promotional images which I could use to launch the magazine store and also promote the issue on social media.
I used WooCommerce to set up the store on our existing Wordpress.org hosted website, integrating the ability to pay by PayPal and direct bank transfer.
Once the store was set up and functioning properly, I instructed the team to tell everyone they know about the project. The more preorders we made, the better position we would be in when it came to going to print as we would be able to cover costs, rather than me having to front the money myself and recover it through selling the physical copies of the magazine.
By the time we’d gone to print, we had already sold over 100 copies of the magazine, all with organic word-of-mouth referral and social media use. No money was spent on advertising — just lots of Facebook messages and DMs sent to friends, family and acquaintances.
Alongside the daily promotion of the initiative, I was working with the contributor team to formulate a content plan, an overview of what would actually be in the magazine. We created a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of all the content for each section, with relevant details such as word count and agreed deadline.
We have Music, Film, TV, Gaming, Theatre, Books and Opinion sections, so I gave the contributor team a few weeks to pitch me and the corresponding section editor. I worked with the editorial team to shape the direction of pieces, and each contributor was given a word count and a deadline they would need to work to.
I’ve written two pieces for the magazine myself, so I also found the time to do this and get the relevant editors to look over my work.
Slowly but surely, the pieces started coming in and I worked alongside the editorial team to give feedback and rework pieces where necessary.
The Indiependent has always been peer-to-peer; our editorial process is one of gentle guidance and suggestion rather than ruthless cuts and edits made from on high. There were a few pieces that needed some work, but we always knew that would be the case as many of the team are not accredited journalists and have limited professional writing experience.
Of course, it was important that we maintain a standard of writing that we felt comfortable charging people for, while also ensuring that contributors felt that their own voice shone through.
Laying the magazine
As the pieces trickled in, I laid the magazine with InDesign. I’d laid eight editions of a weekly newspaper before as a student journalist, but that had been with the help of a co-editor and a series of deputy editors. Doing it solo was a big undertaking, but a great way of killing a month worth of evenings and weekends. Special thanks has to go to my partner, who realised that I was in the zone and left me to it for the better part of four weeks.
This was undoubtedly the most time-intensive part of the project; the editing stage took a while, but at least I had the help of all the editors. I always knew it would be laborious, which is why I chose to lay the magazine as pieces came in rather than waiting to have all the copy (we’d given those that pitched us first earlier deadlines, so the content came in in waves).
This did mean that there were a few last-minute pagination changes, but I preferred this ‘move-it-around-and-see-what-works-where’ approach to the idea of having to do all the laying in one go.
It was interesting being solely responsible for what the magazine looked like on the page. The finished product is very much a reflection of my taste and design instinct, but I have no formal digital or graphic design training so I have no doubt that there are parts of it that look awful to a professional. Perhaps one day I will have the financial resources to pay a designer, but unfortunately this wasn’t possible with this project.
One I had a finished magazine, I asked the editorial team to do a final sub-edit, going through and spotting any grammatical errors, typos, layout issues (e.g. wrong page numbers, missing pars, orphans, widows etc.). A few editors had design feedback, and I worked with them to adjust the pages in question to make them more cohesive with the rest of that section, or the issue as a whole.
In an ideal world, I would have liked a longer period of time to sub-edit, but I’d advertised the magazine as being distributed in May which meant working to a strict timeline.
On Sunday 26 April, I uploaded the exported PDFs to Mixam — a really easy to use interface for a novice like myself — and did a final check of the printer’s proof to pick up any last-minute errors.
I know full well that by the time the magazine arrives on 4 May that I’m bound to spot something I’m not happy with, but I wanted it to be as close to perfect as possible.
Promotion and sales
Now that the magazine has been sent off to the printers, I’ve incentivised the contributor team to sell as many copies as possible to their friends and family with two cash prizes; one for the contributor who sells the most copies, and another random draw, where each referred sale counts as one entry.
This way, the team has an incentive to keep promoting the magazine throughout May — hopefully keeping the momentum going and ensuring that we sell the additional copies that I ordered (I ordered 200 copies altogether, it may well be I need to do a second print run if we sell these extra copies quickly).
The print magazines are scheduled to be delivered to me on Monday 4 May. I’m really excited to see what they look like in the flesh, and so I have a feeling that this week is going to be especially long as I wait for them to arrive. Once they are delivered to me, I’m going to package individual copies and post to the individuals who have bought them.
The magazine is currently only available in the UK, although I do plan to ship out some copies via Airmail to one of our editors, who is based in the US, so that her friends and family can see what she’s helped to create.
It certainly hasn’t been easy embarking on a project of this scale, especially since my full-time day job has meant that the only time I have had to work on the magazine has been evenings and weekends, but I’ve really enjoyed the process. I’m crossing my fingers that people enjoy reading the magazine as much as I have enjoyed creating it!
Find out more about the magazine here.