Indie Publishing
Field Notes

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Production

Resources for mag makers

Posted on Sep 10 2015 in Production

People often ask me what resources I can recommend for fledgling magazine makers. So here’s a list of sites and services that helped me when I got started and some others I discovered in the years that followed.

magCulture
Probably the most popular and most established blog about everything magazine related. I admire Jeremy Leslie’s persistence and devotion to the subject matter. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram too.

Stack Magazines
Stack is a service that sends you a random indie magazine every month. The guy behind it, Steve Watson, is also extremely knowledgable about magazines and runs a very lively blog and Twitter account with lots of mag reviews and insightful interviews.

Magpile
An online community all about magazines. Create a digital database of your own physical mag collection, follow other mag lovers, buy or sell issues and generally discover great publications (maybe by their covers?. I love what Dan is doing with Magpile! Make sure to also check out his podcast MagHeroes for interviews with publishers and his new tool for managing subscriptions, Subsail.

Magazine Wall
A Tumblr with thousands of magazine covers.

The Publishing Playbook
Hüman After All is a London-based creative agency with a lot of publishing experience (having created titles like Little White Lies and more recently Weapons of Reason. They’ve launched numerous publications in the past and have compiled their experience in this open and free Google document that is collaboratively edited by lots of other folks in the publishing community. Definitely check this out if you’re thinking of starting a magazine!

Monocle’s The Stack
The Stack is a weekly podcast dedicated to the world of magazines, often hosted by Tyler Brûlé himself.

Lynda Video Tutorials
If you’re a total noob like I was and don’t even know how to use Indesign or how colour management works (who the hell knows!?), you can use an online video tutorial service like Lynda to learn the necessary basics.

Editorial Design Inspiration
I collect the occasional editorial design inspiration in this collection. Other great resources for editorial design are Designspiration and Behance. Though, the best inspiration comes from buying the actual magazines.

Heftwerk
Heftwerk is a network of Berlin-based services for magazine makers (printer and shipper, mostly) that I helped create. I use these services to print and ship my own magazine and because they’ve now done this with several indie titles the process is getting a lot smoother. Get in touch with them to get a quote, and if you don’t mind, please tell them that you heard of them through me.

Indie Publishing Club
This is a simple Facebook group I created to help indie publishers connect and share ideas/challenges. It’s a member-only thing, and for the sake of keeping the discussion on topic, I only give access to existing publishers of print titles. So once you’ve got a first issue, make sure to join us!

Last, but not least, a reminder to keep browsing. I've written down most of my successes and failures on this blog. They might save you some mistakes. Also highly recommended, my Medium post Indie Magonomics.

How to plan a magazine (using a flatplan)

Posted on Mar 15 2015 in Production

In this post I want to give you guys a bit of insight into how I plan the content for each issue, and how my approach is somewhat different and simpler to that of other magazines. But let’s start with a few thoughts on creating an enjoyable reading experience.

One of the beautiful things about printed publications is what Craig Mod calls ‘the edges of print’. We all know how great it feels to open a new book — the excitement of a fresh start. But also to be able to finish it, to close it and to move on to the next one. What happens in between those events is quite a linear experience. While magazines are also great for 'quick dips’ and reading in small chunks, most of us start from the front cover and work our way through to the final page. Compare this to consuming content online: how often do we start reading an article only to find ourselves watching a farting cat video because we clicked on a link half-way down the page? There aren’t any edges in digital.

This is one of the reasons why printed publications are still such an attractive tool for storytelling. Because content consumption usually flows in a linear direction, editors can create a unique journey that has a clear start and a clear finish.

When I first thought about Offscreen and how I wanted to present the content inside, the idea of arranging stories in an engaging way was exciting, but also quite daunting. The first step towards clarity and action was to define some basic boundaries, like the page count and the dimensions of the publication. Once I had some physical limits, I experimented with typography and grids within Indesign, trying to come up with a versatile set of ‘templates’ and a consistent visual direction. I won’t go into detail about this phase here, but let’s just say I bought a lot of font licenses (which I didn’t end up using) and printed out a ton of sample pages in the process.

All of the above sets the constraints for how much content I could fit into one issue. The next step was to come up with a way to organise my ideas to see how they flow in the context of a magazine. This is where the content plan (or flatplan) comes in. The content plan gives you a bird’s eye view of an issue. It allows you to pace the reading experience by placing and moving around story ideas with the goal of creating an enjoyable and captivating content flow.

There are various degrees of detail when it comes to content plans. It often starts out with something like this:

Source

…and then often turns into a more detailed version such as this:

Source

At a later stage, once content is coming in and the editorial designer begins with her work, the content plan takes a more realistic shape as printouts stuck to the wall or laid out on the floor:

Source

Seeing all the spreads next to each other enables editors to identify critical areas where, for example, stories or visuals are colliding. These printouts also give creatives an idea of how the layout of a particular spread work in the context of the bordering pages.

Being a kid of the digital age, I don’t really have an office with a big wall or a lot of floor space. I move from place to place quite a lot and take my office with me when I do. So I decided to take a more digital approach to the content plan: a simple spreadsheet. Although I do print out the magazine in its entirety on my trusty ol’ laserjet, mainly for proofreading.

This document stays open as a pinned tab in my browser throughout the three or more months it takes me to create a new issue. It’s a constant work in progress. As contributors confirm (or drop out), I add/edit names and deadlines accordingly. During the 3-4 week period when the majority of content is due I run through this document from top to bottom at least 2-3 times per week to check on the status of each contributor. This is by far the most stressful period in the making of an issue as I have to replace the inevitable drop-outs last minute and remind already very busy people that they are running late. If a piece is complete (written and visual parts have been submitted in their final version) I colour the cells in the 'Deadline’ column green. I repeat this step until the last piece of content has been submitted and I can move on to the next stages (proofreading, final editing, and eventually laying out the issue in Indesign).

The content plan is one of the most important tools in the making of a magazine. There are many magazine titles out there that do an amazing job at creating a unique reading experience and taking the reader on an adventure with every new issue. I won’t lie, Offscreen is not one of them. The core structure has intentionally not changed much since the inaugural issue launched. My lengthy interviews set the pace and make up the bulk of each issue. Changing smaller features in between break up the reading experience into digestible chunks. It’s a fairly strict pattern that I’ve come to rely on, not least because I’m a one-man show which necessitates a fair amount of routine to be able to make three issues per year possible.

Update: There is now a handy little online tool called pageplanr for easier flatplanning. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks great.

Timelapse of my interview layout process

Posted on Aug 18 2014 in Production

I thought it would be fun to show you guys a bit of the process of laying out a new interview in InDesign, so I made this timelapse video, condensing roughly 70 minutes into 10.

A day in the life of... me

Some people recently asked me if I could do a ‘Day in the Life’ piece about my own day. I had a bit of time in between editing the new issue and retouching photos today, so here you go:

7:15am — My iPhone gently wakes me. I’ve given up resisting the urge to check my emails in bed a long time ago. I quickly scan the 32 unanswered emails. Some good, some bad, one with the subject line 'Sorry dude’. I wait with opening that one till after I had my first coffee.

7:45am — Pants are on, teeth are brushed. Time to check the weather: looking good enough for the five-minute bike ride to Code Black, one of about five local cafés and unofficial Offscreen 'side offices'. I inhale a banana on the way to my bike.

8:00am — Armed with a Long Black I get started with emails: a couple of stockist enquiries, a few contributors asking for feedback, some submissions, some bills to be paid, and a reader from Slovenia asking about the whereabouts of his shipment. Oh yeah, and that apologetic email from an interviewee dropping out last minute.

9:30am — After getting most of the emailing done, I’m scouring the web and my database of potential contributors to find a worthy replacement for the newly opened interview slot. One of the more difficult parts of running a magazine: locating and then soliciting busy people to see whether they can help you out on short notice.

10:15am — I’m starting to slouch — a good sign to get up and move to a new spot. I’ll grab a bag of coffee beans, pay up and ride home.

10:30am — A reminder of Melbourne’s unpredictable weather: I arrive slightly soaked. Time to put the heater on (yes, we have winters in Australia too!) and get the kettle going for a brew in the Chemex. I love the ritual of making coffee.

10:45am — Back to work with coffee in hand. I love my standing desk. Perhaps the best work-related investment I ever made. Today I’m getting started with some photo retouching for the new issue, so I’ll get the Spyder Express out to calibrate my external monitor.

11:15am — Still getting used to working in Lightroom. Half of the time I’m not sure what I’m clicking at. Google is my friend.

12:45pm — Lunch time. I find some leftovers in the fridge. I turn on the news to be reminded of people’s inability to coexist in the world. I turn it off when Australia’s prime minister comes on to propose a business case for delisting Tasmanian World Heritage forest.

1:15pm — I open up the essays from three contributors in Google Drive to do some editing and provide a first round of feedback. This is good stuff!

2:30pm — More Gmail action: I email my proof-reader to sync our schedules. A look at my Content Plan for issue No9 suggests that six contributors are already running late. I follow up with them via email to set new deadlines. Let’s hope they get back to me!

3:15pm — Browsing behance, flickr and 500px to locate a photographer in Florida. My tiny budget filters down my options to about one.

4:30pm — I log into Offscreen’s order management system and quickly go through last week’s orders to make sure all the shipping address details seem correct. After exporting current orders, I’ll email my shipper in Berlin so they can get those orders out as soon as they start their day in Europe.

4:45pm — With another trip to Germany on the horizon, I’ll search for accommodation in Berlin on Airbnb.

5:15pm — I go for a quick run (usually around 8km) before the rain is coming back. It’s my favourite (and only?) way to clear the head and get some proper thinking done.

6:15pm — After a shower I’m checking in on Twitter, Facebook, and the like to see what everyone else has been up to. I jump on Tumblr and press the 'Publish’ button on a post I’ve been holding off on for a few days. I love sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff with my readers and getting feedback from it. It’s humbling to know people actually care about my ramblings from time to time.

6:30pm — My girlfriend is back from work. We have a quick 'catch up’ before heading out to get groceries for tonight’s dinner. That’s when I appreciate living in the city — our local fruit and veg shop is just 50 meters up the road.

7:30pm — While dinner is cooking, I jump on Skype to confirm the production schedule of issue No9 with my printer in Berlin. They always love getting a call with last minute changes from the other side of the world. ;)

8:15pm — Dinner time, often accompanied by an episode of a TV show. It’s Fargo at the moment, and it's good.

9:30pm — Time for cleaning up the kitchen, my part in the daily dinner ritual.

10:30pm — I have a quick Facetime chat with my mum in Germany, explaining for the 24th time how to add a new contact to her iPad’s contact list.

11:00pm — One last email check to see if my printer has confirmed the paper delivery for the next issue. He hasn’t, so I guess it’s time to log off for today and worry about it tomorrow.

11:15pm — I try to conquer at least three or four long-form articles in my Pocket reading list before getting some shut-eye.

Fear of criticism

I’m still not sure whether publishing these thoughts is actually a good idea, but articulating them in the form of a blog post has become strangely therapeutic for me and (sort of) makes up for the lack of colleagues who help carry the emotional burden of running a business.

The launch of issue 7 on Tuesday last week was followed by a bit of an emotional meltdown the next day when my own box of magazines finally arrived in Melbourne. I always open that box with a fair amount of apprehension, aware that I will probably find something that is not ‘right’, that doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to. Proofing print products is difficult, especially when done under time pressure and from half way around the world.

Within seconds of opening the box I spotted (to me) a very obvious problem with the cover that sent a shock wave through my body. I won’t tell you what it is – I want you to enjoy the magazine without any preconceived ideas. You can either see it or you will never notice (great!). So far none of you have voiced any complaints. I’m not sure whether that’s the case because you guys view the magazine with unbiased eyes or you’re simply too kind to let me know.

Unless you are in publishing or produce physical products, you’ll probably find it difficult to empathise with how I felt at that moment. After spending hundreds of hours working on something so personal and close to my heart, discovering a very blatant problem in the final product can instantly shatter your self-confidence.

I went through the whole spectrum of emotions: anger, despair, disappointment. I could have easily burnt the whole box of magazines right then and there without even opening a single copy. The biggest source of anxiety and distress came from a fear of disappointing you, my readers. I imagined being judged, being criticised for selling a second-rate product, for not living up to the high expectations of the eagle-eyed designers that make up most of my readership.

The day before I was on cloud nine. The launch went really well and I was feeling great about myself from getting so much recognition for months of hard work. And it all went to sh*t when I opened that box.

Worse even, any accomplishments I’ve had in the past no longer mattered. For the rest of that day, I felt like an impostor, a feeling that, ironically, Christopher Murphy describes so honestly and bravely in the very magazine that caused all this pain. By Wednesday evening I was actually contemplating about alternative career options. I really haven’t felt this down in a long time. And all this pain came from a simple cover!

In retrospect, the ‘faulty cover’ was probably just a trigger. Weeks of deadline anxiety and a lot of anticipation from everyone, including myself, built up to that single moment of receiving the actual magazine back from the printer.

It took me a couple of days to pick myself up again, largely thanks to my girlfriend’s incredible sensitivity and unshakable positivity. I’m personally still struggling to appreciate the magazine for all the things that I got right. All I see are the few mistakes I made.

There are a few lessons I learned:

  • I need to triple-check and proof critical sections even if it delays the release date.

  • As my girlfriend pointed out: “it always takes you a while to come around.” Like many other creative people, I go through phases of liking, then disliking, then despising, then eventually feeling OK about my work again. It’s a love-hate relationship that keeps me on my toes and, hopefully, helps me hone and sharpen my skills with everything I put out.

  • I’m very lucky to have such an incredibly positive and encouraging audience. As more people follow and listen in, anticipation and expectations increase accordingly, putting a lot of pressure on me to deliver a great product. I love the fact that a large part of my readers are some of the most creative folks I know, but designing for designers can also be enormously intimidating.

  • Had I received the wrong kind of feedback on that forsaken Wednesday, I think it would have taken me on a serious downward spiral. It reminded me to be mindful and empathetic when judging other people’s work. Mistakes happen to the best of us. Often the author/artist has already lost enough sleep over it, so be kind in the way you deliver your (honest) feedback.

  • You may easily dismiss this little story with a notion of ‘first world problems’. Of course, there are certainly more serious issues, even though it’s hard see that when you are down. It always helps to remind ourselves that it all won’t matter in a few years. As time passes, nobody will judge you for a faulty print, a misplaced pixel or a buggy script.

The most important take-away for me personally is the realisation that my work is too closely tied to my level of happiness – with myself and life in general. It’s the typical dilemma of business owners and entrepreneurs: you made this thing and at some point this thing makes you. It defines you. Self-respect and self-worth go up and down with it.

I don’t yet know how to break out of that cycle, but I’ll have to try harder in order to make it sustainable – not financially but emotionally.

Phew, that was deep. :)

Dispatch
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