You have a great idea for a magazine, but nothing to show prospective investors or advertisers. So you want to do a prototype, the most credible and convincing way to show them what you are asking them to buy into.
Before you begin discussing a prototype you must have your publishing plan in order. You will need:
The magazine’s title, mission statement, and a list of 100 story ideas, or twelve consecutive lineups, plus special reports, theme issues, regular departments and columns for the publication.
Demographics, psychographics and estimated size of the audience you want to reach and talk to with your magazine, and tactics for reaching that readership while competing with other publications in the same category.
Design and packaging strategy, including logo, cover and interior design, coordinated with an editorial blueprint that outlines the front, middle and back of book contents to be found in a typical issue.
These elements form the basis for your media kit, which will include the prototype as a "sample issue." At this point, certain questions need to be answered.
How Much of a Prototype Do You Need?
A prototype must have the essential features of the magazine it will become. It’s like a model home at a development where shoppers are considering buying, and it should be pretty close to full-size so that it does not mislead the client.
What Are the Most Important Characteristics?
Foremost, it must have design sizzle, and it should not be sparse. Go long;as long as you can afford. Minimum, 72 pages, or you risk looking weak at the starting gate. Emphasize covers. Have at least four samples, in addition to the one on the prototype, with a great logo, slogan line, and cover lines that make it real. Use the TOC to explain the kind of material that is in the magazine, and make certain that your editorial mix is on target for advertisers. Remember, apart from the look of the book, very little of the prototype is about the magazine. Mostly it’s about pleasing investors and advertisers. Topics chosen, for instance, have to be worked out carefully so that they excite an investor while establishing categories advertisers will like.
You will need sample ads, too, and you must secure permission from advertisers or their agencies before using them. Ask ad reps for PDFs of ads that have cleared permission with clients or accounts. We usually stick to full-page ads for the proto, but if fractional ads are likely accounts for your particular idea (like one we did aimed at a bookish audience, which would include many small ads from booksellers), make it real.
How Close Should You Be on Final Design and Edit Voice?
You want to be close to the finish line with your look and editorial attitude, but, like a launch issue, it’s not going to be perfect. It takes a couple of issues to do that. In Leonard Mogel’s The Magazine, the former publisher recounts the prototype used to launch Self magazine;128 pages plus cover. The TOC listed over 20 stories and a dozen columns and departments. The heads and decks were "live," but the text copy was Greek. The issue looked real, but it was strictly for browsing, not reading. The only readable text was in a cover letter from the publisher. Advertisers loved what they saw.
What Does It Cost?
A friendly printer might give you a good deal, especially if you are doing business with them now and they think a new project might come in-house. If you have enlisted a designer who can produce PDFs, put it all on a digital press for a short run on slick paper and you can run off a few hundred copies for very little money. Many small shops that do catalog runs for department stores specialize in this kind of project.
How Much Time Does It Take?
It can be done in two months full time, but you’d be weary. You need three to six months.
John Brady is visiting professional at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. He is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy, and conducts editorial workshops for professionals. For information on his Interviewer’s Handbook: A Guerrilla Guide for Reporters and Writers, e-mail him at Bradybrady@aol.com.