Magazine Publishing 101: A Crash Course for New Publishers

Magazine Publishing 101 A Crash Course for New Publishers

When new clients contact us about a magazine publishing project, one of the most frequent questions they ask us is, “How does your magazine design process work?”

Especially for new publishers, the transformation of their editorial copy and photography into a gorgeous, professional work of art worthy of display on any newsstand anywhere might seem a bit mysterious and complicated. At Picante, we want you to be as informed and knowledgeable about your publication as possible, and we go to great lengths to make the process as simple and effortless for you as we can. With that in mind, we thought we would try to shed light on some of the mystery and show you just how easy our design process is from the client’s standpoint.

Step 1: Understanding Your Vision
Before we set about doing any kind of actual design work on your project, the first thing we undertake is to find out exactly what your vision for the magazine is. We’ll send you a brief design survey to complete, which covers general questions such as who the target audience is, who your major competitors will be, what kind of look and feel you’re after, advertising information, etc. — these questions help us collect the background information we need and also are intended to get you thinking about any issues you might not have considered yet in the broader scope of your publishing venture.

Once we have that preliminary information, we’ll set up a design briefing call with you to discuss the publication in more detail and ask some more specific questions to help us understand your vision more completely. At the end of the call, we should have a very good sense of what you’re looking to achieve with the magazine and an excellent feel for what you expect your customers to see when the first issue launches. Our design styles and capabilities are remarkably versatile, and we create designs for a wide range of topics and markets — so whatever your subject matter may be, we’ve got you covered.

Step 2: Crafting Your Initial Design
At this point, we’ll take all of your input and custom-craft two distinct, well-thought-out initial design directions for you, which will give you two different approaches to consider in determining the final look of your publication. Each design option typically consists of a cover design, a feature spread design and a department page design. Feature stories, being the most prominent interior pieces in the magazine, will generally have their own individual designs from story to story — but the initial design sets the general tone and feel. Departments, the recurring sections, will typically be a bit more formatted and consistent. Regardless of the content, though, we design everything from scratch to give your publication its own unique design identity.

Once you’ve had a chance to review the two design directions, we’ll listen carefully to your feedback, discuss any needed adjustments, focus on one of the directions (of your choosing), and go through a revisions process until we arrive at the final look for the magazine — and until you are completely thrilled with the design of your blossoming publication.

Step 3: Editing the Copy
Some clients come to us with their editorial copy complete and polished, so this step is optional. Picante does offer professional copyediting and proofreading services, so if your copy could use another set of eyes prior to publication, we’re happy to help.

Step 4: Laying out the First Issue
Once the initial design and editing phases are complete, we will then carry out the rest of the magazine layout for the first issue, using the initial designs as a base from which to work. During the layout phase, there will generally be two or three rounds of layout revisions to get the magazine ready for press — almost.

Step 5: Perfecting the Publication
Prior to sending your magazine to press (or outputting digitally, for ezines and online editions), we put the issue through a number of detailed checks — known collectively as “prepress” — to ensure that it’s ready for primetime. At Picante we’re passionate about producing world-class publications, and the details are every bit as important to us as the big-picture design. The prepress process helps us make sure the files are as immaculate and professional as they can be before we send them off.

Step 6: Getting the Print Bids
If you plan to print your magazine, you’ll definitely want to do some shopping around to find the best printer for your needs — and your budget. Picante does offer print management services, so you can certainly let us know if you’d like our help with this aspect of the project (and in any case, be sure to read our article on the Top 10 Printing Tips for New Publishers). This step can be fairly time-consuming, so you should probably start soliciting print bids while the magazine is still in the initial design phase, to be sure that you have your printer lined up and available to meet your publication/distribution schedule.

Step 7: Going to Press
After prepress, for printed publications we output and upload the files according to your printer’s specifications. The printer will then either produce digital (on-screen) or printed proofs to allow you to check everything carefully and give your final sign-off. Once proofing is complete, the issue is ready to print! And once ink has actually been put to paper, the printer will finish the job by trimming, folding and binding the magazines. Most large printers also offer mailhouse services, so if you’re mailing to a subscriber list, they can even have them sent directly to your readers — or the printer can have the entire print run packaged and shipped to any number of destinations for distribution, according to your specific needs.

Step 8: Taking It Digital
These days, most magazines produce a digital issue — sometimes as an add-on to the print edition, and sometimes as the sole outlet for the magazine’s distribution. There are a number of ways to produce the digital edition (a topic we’ll cover in a future post), from Flash flipbooks to iPad apps and beyond, many of which are compatible with both desktop and mobile devices (depending on the device platform). And some of these digital formats allow you to include interactive, animated and video content to enhance the digital reading experience (and boost value for advertisers who may want to feature more than just a static ad). With tablet devices becoming ever more popular with readers, the trend toward digital content is almost certain to intensify in coming years, so be sure to consider digital editions as part of your overall marketing and distribution plan.

Beyond the Premiere Issue
Once you have your initial issue under your belt, you should have a good grasp on the publishing process. When the time comes to start working on the next issue, Picante will be ready to help out in whatever capacity you might need us. Almost all of our magazine design clients have us continue to produce their ongoing issues, and we like to think of ourselves as tried-and-true, long-term partners in the success of our clients’ publishing ventures.

We hope this crash course in magazine publishing has taken some of the unknowns out of the design and production process.


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  1. Hi JW. Can you send me a good working list of questions sales people need to ask their customers? We have a situation where the first question out is “what’s your budget”???!!!


    John Schaffner


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