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How to Start a Magazine From Scratch, From One Girl Who Has

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Photo courtesy of Golly
Photo courtesy of Golly

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The past couple of decades have not been kind to the magazine industry, particularly publications aimed at young women. No fewer than six teen magazines have folded in the last 15 years, and while women's interest stalwarts—Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Vogue—have stuck it out, once-powerful titles like Mademoiselle, Jane, and Mirabella are now defunct. (And then there's Lucky.)

That's all to say making money from a traditional print magazine is tough in 2014, which is why a Kickstarter campaign launched by two twentysomething women to fund their magazine, Golly, has been met with both awe (so cool!) and bewilderment (a print publication—now?).

We talked to founder Roxanne Fequiere, an eBay copywriter and former freelance fashion writer, who, along with Alley O'Shea, a photojournalist and freelance creative director, saw a void in women's media and decided to fill it. "I wanted to create something that would be relevant to women we actually know, instead of the idea of a woman that doesn't even exist," she explained.

Golly—a magazine whose first issue includes a profile of a female NASA scientist, a review of eco-conscious beauty apps, and a houseplant photo spread—certainly speaks to that mission, and it's been a fulfilling endeavor for the pair, even if it did require pooling their savings and taking creativity-killing business classes to get the project off the ground.

Read on for Roxanne's tips for starting a magazine from scratch.

Remember supply and demand.

A life-long magazine subscriber, 26-year-old Roxanne realized that she continued to buy stacks of glossies every month, not because she enjoyed reading them, but rather because she felt like she was supposed to. "I was always really into magazines from a young age. I remember begging my mom for them. I got my first subscription was I was 12, and I always felt that, though they were great, something was missing," Roxanne said. "When you're a 12-year-old reading something for a 19-year-old, you think, 'When I reach that age, I'll get it.' And then you hit 19 and think, 'When I have a career and a salary, this is all going to make sense.'" But even after finding herself in the target demo for mags like Cosmo, Roxanne still felt like something was amiss.

So one day, she spontaneously reached out to Alley, a creatively-minded friend she had worked with at StyleLikeU and Wild Magazine, about the possibility of teaming up on a project. "I called her and said, 'Hey, I don't even know what I'm really talking about right now, but if I had a publication—which I don't—this is what I'd like it to be. Would you want to get together and talk about it?'" Ally was interested but skeptical. After all, who starts a print publication these days, particularly when you're still in the just-trying-to-make-it stage of living in New York City?

"At one point Ally said, 'You and I are both well-versed in web. Maybe we should go that direction,'" Roxanne continued. "But to me, the importance of this project was print. There are lots of places you can go online that have a targeted voice for women, and that's a beautiful thing. But this project is about walking to a newsstand and picking up something that's tangible, then taking it home and not feeling unfulfilled or that only one aspect of your personality has been spoken to."

Don't be afraid to reach out to experts.

When you're starting a business from ground zero with your own hard-earned savings, it's tempting to cut corners where you can and do as much as possible yourself. But sometimes that's just not realistic, especially if you want to maintain your sanity and, even more importantly, your creativity. "We took small business classes, but we were making ourselves crazy. We tried to write a business plan the official way—the way you're supposed to write a business plan," Roxanne explained. "But it was taking us away from the creative side of things."

The Golly team took a step back and decided to focus their energy on the first issue rather than devoting time and resources to creating mock-ups and business strategies in an effort to raise capital. At that point, they hadn't decided to go the Kickstarter route, but figured that once the initial issue was finished, they'd have a tangible product to show investors. This eliminated a lot of headaches—but not all of them.

Photo courtesy of Golly

"I'm a writer and I knew there were going to be things that would be way over my head. But none of the reading I did could help me," Roxanne said. "I must have read 18 different perspectives on how to incorporate our business, from LLCs to S-Corps to C-Corps, and there's no definitive answer. We talked to peoples' parents and accountants and lawyers, and everyone had a different opinion. At a certain point, we just had to commit to something. You can only bite your nails for so long."

In the end, they also hired their own lawyer to help out with the business end of Golly. "It was one less thing we'd be pulling our hair out about," she said.

Be realistic about funding.

The team hasn't tallied up their total expenses yet—which so far includes paying contributor fees and printing a first run of their first issue—but Roxanne estimates that they've spent around $18,000. "We printed 1,000 copies for our first run, and that was partially because a lot of our printer options specified that that was their minimum. The price per copy goes down as you increase the number, but we didn't want to end up with thousands of copies on our hands, so we decided to go small at first and see what happens."

They considered seeking out investors prior to printing their first issue, but ultimately decided that maintaining full creative control from the get-go was crucial to creating a product they could be proud of: "I am an aggressive saver, let's put it that way. I have a day job, and my fiancé, who was always along for the ride, is now an official co-founder, along with me and Alley. The three of us worked together to put up everything we needed for the first issue."

Stay small and scrappy, but invest in talent.

Unfortunately, there are lots of places that don't compensate freelancers, and others—start-ups in particular—that pay very little. Roxanne said that in order to have a respectful relationship with the magazine's staff and contributors, she felt it was essential to reimburse them for their time. "Early on, I decided I wouldn't do this project if we had to ask people to do free work," she said. "And I'm not saying it's not a nominal fee. But having been there and done freelance in the past, I just couldn't, in good conscience, ask people to do free work."

The masthead is tiny, boasting just eight names. But because Roxanne and Alley have been built a team that's enthusiastic about the publication, the tiny team works extra hard. (In case you were wondering, everyone has full-time jobs, so they spend their nights and weekends on Golly.)

As far as staff structure goes, Roxanne serves as editor-in-chief and Alley as creative director; Roxane's fiancé, Cameron Spickert, is an iOS developer by day and will be building the Golly website. Emily Theobald, a model and style blogger, is the fashion director. There's also an editor-at-large and a film critic on staff. "I put a staff together by asking somebody to do a piece," Roxanne said. "Then I'd realize that it was going really well, and ask if they'd want to do something in a bigger capacity."

Never underestimate word-of-mouth.

So far, all of Golly's buzz has been completely organic. The brand is active on social media, which helps, and their Kickstarter (and the adorable video they filmed to go along with the campaign) has gotten some press attention. But they have no promotional plan in place just yet. "It's really early in the game to think about marketing, but we're going to see how things go with stockists. We're currently sold at Collections Vintage in Bushwick and Swords Smith in Williamsburg," Roxanne said. "We're reaching out to people around the country, and then we'll be reaching out internationally. But a lot of it we'll figure out after the Kickstarter's over."

And they'll know soon enough—the now fully-funded Kickstarter campaign ends tonight, and the money they raised will go towards recouping the initial costs, printing another run of the first issue, and getting them going on issues to come.