2016 roundup: Tips on making a magazine

by Grace Wang in January 2017

From magCulture’s Modern Magazine conference to the talks we presented, 2016 was packed full of advice from independent publishers, editors and art directors on the finer points of magazine making. So if you’re thinking of starting a new title this year, scroll on through the top five tips we’ve gathered below and make a start on turning those ideas into reality.


1. Focus on your niche, and may it be as weird as possible
‘Is the Best Magazine of 2016 Really Just About Some Old Rope?’ AIGA’s summary of this year’s Stack Awards results encapsulates the independent magazines community quite well. Presenting at the Modern Magazine conference, MacGuffin spoke of their meticulous study of the life of things — their ‘Rope’ issue featured every obscure detail of the thing, from an ancient notation system to art made of split-ended hair. mono.kutur also presented at ModMag about their decision to delve deeply into interviewees with niche followings.

2. Make a dream list, and just keep emailing
At our Somerset House talk in November, Ladybeard magazine spoke of creating a ‘dream list’ of everyone who they thought were the best voices in that field, when they were researching for the publication. Then, they just persistently emailed those writers and artists for a commission… even at the expense of being blocked on one occasion. The ballsy move resulted in one of the most talked about indie mags of the year.

3. Engage with your readership by integrating the magazine into the real world and creating a ‘club’
At the Modern Magazine conference, Empire magazine showed examples of events the publication held to engage with their readership. In a weekend, Empire Live held a panel discussion on women on screen, live script-reads from Trainspotting, Q&As with directors, actors and writers, and interactive film screenings — one of which saw the audience covered in goo Ghostbusters-style. This feeds into the advice of emulating a ‘Private Eye club’, which Little Atoms talked about as a way of giving readers the sense that they’re part of something fun, interesting and exciting. The Gentlewoman similarly has ‘Fabulous Get-Togethers’ and running clubs for their readers.

4. Build your online reach, use it to test the waters
At a crowdfunding themed magazine talk in September, Reuville magazine told us of their effort in tedious thumb work on Instagram, in order to gain a wider reach and increase their online presence. Later in the year, Accent magazine spoke about having a website prior to print, which let them test the audience response, and hone their vision of making icons out of ordinary people.


5. Work hard for the support of your gang
As well as bringing in chocolates for everyone, Liv Siddall (above) of Rough Trade magazine put in the hours at the pub, and made an effort to get to know the very knowledgeable staff of the brand’s retail store. This led to community-driven features submitted by members of the company, which helped define the magazine’s unique personality. (“If this magazine was a person, would you want to hang out with them?”)

Hand-delivering magazines to stores is another way to make that connection with magazine peers, and the effort will be especially appreciated when you’ve travelled to another country. Accent’s Lydia Garnett and Lucy Nurnberg spoke of lugging heaving suitcases from London to New York — saying to shop owners “We’ve come all this way!” definitely beats a faceless press release or email.

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