I frequently meet people who are thinking of starting a new newsletter or magazine. Often such people spend most of their time worrying about how their publication will LOOK, not how it will SELL. Sadly, more than two-thirds of new publications started by first-time publishers flop within a few months. Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to increase the odds that your own publishing ideas will succeed.
1. Concentrate on markets that you know very well.
For a small publisher with limited resources, the best strategy is to stick to a market you already understand very well. If you really know what you're talking about, then your publication is probably going to be useful to its readers. In addition, you'll find it easier to manage your publishing business if you have a deep connection to your field.
2. Listen to your readers and advertisers and develop products responsive to their needs.
The worst mistake people make is this: They concentrate on what they want to WRITE, not on what their audience wants to READ. Of course, great communicators listen as well as they speak. So, give your customers plenty of opportunities to tell you what they think. For example, use fax-back polls or e-mail to solicit their comments and suggestions. And study the information habits of your audience before you design your publication.
3. Aim for readers who have continuing information needs.
It takes money to find new readers and earn their trust, so look for people who will need you years from now as much as they need you today. Within every subject area, there are people with transient needs and people who remain interested for the long haul. For example, you can concentrate on divorce lawyers not individuals going through a divorce.
4. Get help from experienced people.
The quicker you learn the publishing trade, the sooner you can expect to succeed. Experienced people can help you learn quickly. Sometimes, you can get excellent advice for free from people right in front of you like your printer or your banker. If you come across someone you respect, don't be shy about asking them for business suggestions. And as soon as you can afford to do it, hire people with publishing experience to advise you.
5. Adopt good ideas whenever you find them.
In other words, don't reinvent the printing press. Study other publications and get to know other publishers. One fast way to master the business is to study what's already working for other publishers. For example, collect media kits from other magazines or renewal promotion letters from other newsletters and see if you can borrow some good tactics from them.
6. Befriend influential people in your market and ask them to support your publication.
Key people in your field can support you in many ways: sharing their thoughts in a column or interview, introducing you to their colleagues, or simply helping you understand trends and new developments. Reach out to them!
7. Study the results of your actions.
Especially if you are new to publishing, you're learn much more quickly if you keep track of what you're doing so that you can concentrate your efforts where you are most effective. Code your subscription order forms, for example, so that you can see which direct mail letter or advertisement produces the most orders. Then concentrate your money on the top producers.
8. Be prepared for change.
Save some of your resources for the proverbial rainy day, and always consider alternative strategies ahead of time because the one thing you can count on is change. New competitors will come along, readers will change their reading habits, and your organization will continually evolve. Many inexperienced publishers lock themselves into a single strategy and they fall apart when their circumstances change. For example, can you keep publishing even if a key editorial contributor decides to quit?
9. Look for ancillary profit opportunities.
Once you've got a trusting relationship with advertisers and subscribers, look for add-on or spin-off products you can sell to the same customers. Many publication make most of their profits from special reports, seminars, books, videos and other ancillary products.
10. Plan well before you leap into print.
Publications are relatively easy to launch but hard to maintain. Make sure you've chosen a subject that you care about and that you're suited to a publisher's lifestyle. The best insurance is to do a lot of homework before you launch learn as much as you can about publishing, study your audience and your competitors, and carefully define your own goals and aspirations. Don't go forward until you've got a long-term plan you can live with.
Here are two books I recommend for first-time publishers. You can read them both in one weekend, and you'll learn everything you need to know about starting publications. Look for these books in your local library, well-stocked bookstores, or buy them right now from Amazon.com by clicking on their covers.
Starting and Running A Successful Newsletter or Magazine, by Cheryl Woodard (www.publishingbiz.com). New, completely revised 4th edition published October 2004, $29.99 from Amazon. This is the how-to book you've been waiting for, written by a co-founder of three computer magazines, PC Magazine, PC World, and Macworld.
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