How I self published a magazine in 4 months

2017 is shaping up to be a big, exciting year in business for me and if you’ve been around the blog for some time you may have caught this post I wrote about the biggest project I’ve tackled in my design career to date.

In October 2016 I decided to create a niche lifestyle magazine which would focus on promoting and celebrating the stories of the people and the places of my local far western region of NSW Australia. In 4 months I took the idea for Far West Living Magazine from conception to creation and today I’m sharing my story on how I went about self publishing a quarterly magazine which now forms a huge part of my income as a freelancer.

Self Publish Magazine

SELF PUBLISHING: WHERE DO I START?

I had been thinking about creating a magazine for a really long time before I finally jumped in and actually started working on it. I’ve always been incredibly interested in print design and throughout my career I have had experience working with other media companies in the realms of sub-editing and design. I knew creating a magazine was something I wanted to do, I just wasn’t sure how to do it.

Luckily for me I had an amazing contact and colleague who had also published her own national magazine the year prior and was kind enough to share some of her journey with me. Having a ‘mentor’ (so to speak) was invaluable to me.

Before pitching the idea to my friend I had no idea whether it was even possible for me to create a fully fledged magazine on my own and by just having someone else to talk to who had already been through what I was planning was pure magic. I’m hoping in some way this post will be the ‘mentor’ you might need in your journey too!

Print Vs Digital

Naturally when I pitched the idea of a printed magazine to a close relative of mine she questioned me on whether I’d considered offering the magazine digitally and to be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it. My mind was so clouded by the excitement of starting this project that I jumped into making my social media sites live and launching the website immediately that I hadn’t really thought about my options with regards to distribution other than the fact I knew I wanted the magazine to be printed.

One thing you should know well before you set out on your own self publishing journey is this: printing will be expensive. It’s quite obvious in today’s market that large media companies are struggling with weighing up the cost of printing a physical product in comparison to offering their content digitally, so it’s no surprise printing will be pricey.

Before I had even considered the costs involved with printing a physical magazine I had already shouted out to the world that I was going to be launching the magazine in early 2017 (a mere 3 months after the initial launch of the project) which is not what I would suggest you do! Initially I hadn’t contacted any printing houses or sourced any quotes on having the magazine printed so I had NO idea what the first print run would cost me, or how many magazines I wanted to print at all!

At present I haven’t secured a digital distribution channel for the magazine, however this is something I am working hard at organising for future issues. Although I am a huge fan of printed media (and this medium suits my target audience), I know there are many people out there who prefer to digest their content digitally. It’s important to know your market and move with trends and digital media is by far becoming superior to traditional printed media. #watchthisspace 😉

Pro tip: If you’re planning on selling a printed magazine, have an idea of how many magazines you hope to sell for your maiden issue and organise quotes on the number of magazines you want printed. Sourcing quotes from several different print houses will help you work out how much you are willing to charge people for the retail price of your product, and this will be heavily influenced by the number of magazines you order in your print run. For example, in a smaller print run the unit price of each magazine will generally cost a lot more than if you did a larger print run of say 1,000 magazines. Remember, you still need to make money on the magazine so take into account the wholesale cost of your magazine and set your retail price accordingly.

Your target market

When I set out on creating FWL Magazine I felt I already knew a lot about my target audience because my interests are very much in line with that of my consumer. Knowing your target audience is crucial to making any business successful and by putting myself in the mind set of my consumer I was able to work out how and why this project might work.

For me, my product is quite niche and is heavily aimed at the locals (or tourists) interested in the lifestyle and destinations of the far western region. I knew my main goal for the magazine was to highlight and uncover the hidden talents or interesting stories of the people and places in this area so I always kept this in mind when it came to curating content for the first issue. I knew the content needed to be quite specific and I was determined to stick within the guidelines as to what I wanted to share.

The first issue of any magazine will always be a bit like a first impression. I wanted to provide my readers with a good insight into what I planned to share with them not only within the first issue of the magazine but to also give them an idea of what other topics might be covered in issues to come. I really wanted to get my readers excited about this journey and encourage them to stick around for future issues.

Pro tip: All magazines will have their niche market whether it be very specific like mine, or targeting a much wider generic audience like Cosmopolitan Magazine or Real Living. The important thing to know is who YOU are targeting. By understanding your audience you will be able to tailor content to them and can be assured they will be interested in what you have to say.

Soft launch

One of the key things I took away from my mentor in the lead up to launching FWL was to ‘test out the idea’ by way of a soft launch. It was suggested to me to create a blog and social media pages to test the idea of this type of niche content on my target audience before jumping straight into creating the physical product. I did take this approach although, I didn’t take a lot of time to test out the idea and instead jumped straight into the creation of the physical magazine only a month after the soft launch.

My reasons for getting stuck in sooner than probably practical was I knew I wanted my first issue to be available in the new year to fall in line with the seasons as FWL is a quarterly publication. It was already November by the time I had made the announcement that I would be turning the Far West Living blog into an actual magazine so I didn’t have a lot of time to waste on building a bigger social media presence.

This is by no means the best way to approach a project of this size, however, for me I just wanted to get stuck in and I knew I wanted to do it right away. I felt confident in my idea and went all in.

Social reach

Social media has played the most enormous role in getting the word out there about FWL Magazine and it is something I am continually working on every day. I recently spoke with a gentleman who expressed interest in the magazine after he heard we had almost completely sold out of issue one in less than a month. He was surprised at the sales and asked me how I had managed to get the word out about the magazine and I told him the key was social media.

In the lead up to the launch of FWL I did one radio interview with a local broadcaster in the far west and had one shout out on another local broadcast by a friend before the issue was released. I had no other means of promotion other than these two broadcasts and the power of social media.

I use Instagram and Facebook to promote the magazine every day and these two platforms alone generate a lot of reach for me. Instagram has been a wonderful tool for this project as imagery plays a huge roll in the magazine and our region is so uniquely beautiful that people regularly share their own photos of the area which then make it simple for me to re-share. The thing with social media is to once again know who your target is. In the early days of FWL I started by simply following other accounts on instagram who were sharing the types of content I wanted to share and the types of content related to my target audience. Soon enough other accounts interested in what I was sharing started to follow me and the flow on effect continues.

Facebook is a whole other social beast of its own and the reach it can create is amazing. I love following the stats of each post, particularly the popular posts which get shared regularly. The thing to remember here is it doesn’t even matter how many followers you have – your post can still reach thousands of people! Take one of my recent posts for FWL for example. FWL had only 1,132 followers to date however my most popular post reached 20,700 people (approx) with 4,100 people engaging with the post organically (non-sponsored)! Incredible stuff and all because my audience helped share my post to their friends and those friends shared it on and so on!

Never underestimate your social media reach and your audience if you are posting content they are interested in or excited about.

Funding & Finances

No body likes to talk about money but I felt it was definitely something worth discussing here. In business there are always times when we need to think about how we will finance our ventures and a printed magazine is no different. As I mentioned already, printing is costly and will no doubt be the biggest expense for your magazine. Fortunately, being a designer I was able to complete the entire design and marketing of the magazine on my own which essentially cost me nothing, other than my time. If you aren’t skilled in design, photography or journalism you will have to factor in payment to contributors or freelancers to complete this work for you.

Where do you start with finances? Well, most magazines offer advertising space to assist with making money and raising funds to continue producing the product. My magazine was no different. I offer advertising space in my magazine at competitive rates in comparison to other niche publications similar to mine. Don’t be afraid in the early days to set these figures a little more competitive so as to entice advertisers to give you a go, after all they may see it as a bit of a risk to ‘invest’ in a start up business with no proven results as yet.

Advertising can only take your fiances so far and depending on how expensive (or how large) your print run is you will most likely need some additional finances for things like envelopes for postage or the like. Another way I managed to raise some finances to assist with funding the first print run of FWL was using the ‘pre-sale’ method. I offered my audience a way of purchasing the magazine well before it was completed by way of pre-sale orders on my website. This also helped me get an idea of who and how many people were keen on the project and excited about its impending release.

I sold more than 200 pre-sale copies of FWL before our release date in February which was more than I had originally anticipated so I was incredibly happy.

Pro tip: If you’re selling a physical product and want to create a little ‘hype’ around its impending launch, give pre-sale a go! This method can really help with initial cash flow and also, with effective social media posting, can create excitement around your product.


I could write a million words on this topic and share so much more about the process and my experience with self publishing a magazine so I think I will do a part 2 on distribution, postage, freelancers and more! I really hope you enjoyed this post and it gave you a real insight into how I brought it all together and maybe even inspired you to look at taking on your own self published project! Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 on the blog soon!

Far West Living Magazine has been a huge and rewarding project for me and is one I am incredibly excited about. It now forms a huge part of my business and freelance income. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of issue one (which is almost sold out!) you can head here to buy one now.

Ellie xx

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