Publishing in Actual Practice

When I started my life as an MSc Publishing student I had some experience in publishing, having translated a few novels and edited a short story collection, but the work I was most proud of was Pendora Magazine. I started this online magazine with a friend of mine almost two years ago, while we were both studying English in The Netherlands. We just wanted to share our thoughts about books and also publish original fiction. Did we know how to run a magazine? Nope. Did we care? Hell no! We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into until the submissions came pouring in. But we did our best and we learned on the job and we got a pretty decent idea of what the job required. Until May of this year, it was a pretty amateurish magazine, with irregular posts and our time was limited by our studies. After I finished my BA dissertation, I wanted Pendora to be what I called “a proper magazine.” During the summer I spent every day researching magazines and trying to figure out what we had been doing wrong and what we could improve on. When we relaunched on September 4th, it was a better looking, much more organised, and busier magazine with several people working on it. I was in charge of everyone. But I still didn’t know all the ins and outs of what this project required. At that point, I started studying publishing.

Almost everything that we learned on a weekly basis at university was directly helping me run the magazine better and more efficiently. We are still just online, so I’m keeping notes on everything I need to know for when a filthy-rich benefactor decides that the best use for their money is to fund a print run for Pendora.

The first major educative experience was not part of the degree, but it was thanks to it: MagFest. Going to this year’s MagFest was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I attended most of the talks and a couple of workshops, and by the time it was done I already felt I had learned so much from these amazing people who were in similar positions as I was. The online community is great, but nothing can replace the experience of being in the same room with so many people who had jumped off the same cliff as I had (yes, that’s what launching a magazine felt like for me). When all the talks were over, I thought “Well, today has been so amazing” but I didn’t know that the best part of my MagFest experience was saved for the very end. After the last talk, an interview with Ian Rankin, we were all having a glass of wine (each of us had their own glass, we weren’t all sipping wine from a giant glass) when I saw a notification on Pendora‘s Twitter of an account called @sheisfiercemag liking one of my tweets. I went on the account and fell in love with this magazine’s presence on Twitter so I asked around and was finally introduced to Hannah, the amazing mind behind She Is Fierce. It turned out that Hannah had had a very similar experience launching and running her magazine, so what followed was a half hour where we compared our frustrations at making a magazine work (the phrase constantly repeated was “I knooow riiiight?!). Hannah didn’t reveal some well-kept secret in the publishing world about how to make a magazine great, but just talking to her was really helpful in running Pendora.

The things that I learned in class that were directly applied to how Pendora works can be divided in two categories which I’ll call “Oooh so that’s what it’s called” and “Oooh so that’s how it works.” The first category is a list of things that I kind of figured out on the job during these two years but had no idea they had a name and a how-to manual. The second category is made up of all the things I had been wondering about all summer while Googling “how do u run a mag?” I learned that those choices I had made and was very insistent on were called “a hou-se sty-le”, and that table of translated name and cities and rivers I had made while translating a WWII trilogy over 3 years was called “a spe-lling grid.” I learned how rights work, even though I haven’t figured out how to sell my Breaking Bad fan fiction. I (theoretically) learned how to write a blurb, although the blurbs I write about Pendora articles on a weekly basis still feel kinda weird. I learned how to approach the target audience for every post that we publish through a technique that feels like it came out of Mindhunter. I want to say I learned how to network, but my Twitter feed is still a list of movies I hate (I know it’s not hard to share your thoughts about publishing and books you like with people in the industry, but it also kind of is, okay?) One of the most important things I learned, and I’m still learning, is how to use InDesign, which will come in really handy when that aforementioned benefactor becomes Pendora‘s patron. I learned how to efficiently edit our submissions, how to plan posts, and generally how to approach any new challenge thrown at me. Most importantly, I learned how the different roles in publishing work together to produce, market, and promote content. That’s the most exciting part about all of this. I’m surrounded by people who want to do the same thing I want to do: find, perfect, and promote content that we are excited about. There’s no better environment for this little project to grow in. The Pendora team has grown in Edinburgh too with Alice and Daniele taking over some of the marketing and promotion for the magazine’s content and doing a much better job than I ever did, and I am so very very grateful to them.

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