Well, I think the answer is the same as the one I would give to the very similar question, “Why would anyone in their right mind want to write a book?”
Because they have to.
By that, I don’t mean that there’s someone with a gun to their head (though I’m sure that might be an interesting exercise in motivation); I mean that every fibre of their being tells them that that is what they must do and they feel as though they have no choice in the matter.
But there’s another potential reason, one to which I’d paid more attention at the time.
To make money.
If the very thought of filthy lucre makes you feel unwell, you’d best head towards the exit now, because the fact is that a magazine needs to be run as a business, or it will probably fail — and fail fast. Face facts: even magazines launched by extremely experienced and astute entrepreneurs hit the buffers with alarming regularity, so the more amateur your approach, the more your chances approximate those of the proverbial snowball in Hell.
We’ll spend a lot more time on the business aspects of running a magazine in due course, but for the moment, let’s dwell on that first spark of inspiration.
There are three threads that need to be unravelled to understand how I arrived at the decision to create my own magazine.
Perhaps, like me, you’d created a crude magazine of your own as a child. I certainly had. I remember at about the age of eight, my friend Timmy Eastwell and I put together The Queensouth Express (a merging of the names of the two streets where we lived). Production was, to say the least, somewhat labour intensive — I copied each issue by hand using a felt-tip pen! I must have been a scribe in a monastery in a previous life…
Then, as a teenager, I wrote articles for the school magazine. I was good at English, and found the experience of seeing my work in print thrilling. This also tied in with my mastery of what a German speaker might describe as a Wundermaschine.
It’s hard to remember just how miraculous those clattering machines seemed at the time. Instead of my unsure and wobbly youthful handwriting, it was as if my thoughts had been sent straight to perfect print.
Well, when I say “perfect”, of course, I mean after the judicious application of a patchwork of Tipp-Ex.
This really unleashed my ‘published’ output, and together with the use of early duplicating machines and carbon paper, my excitement grew as I was able to create dozens, even a few hundreds of copies of school charity week and after-school club magazines. As a keen writer, I also got plenty of chances to flex my creative muscles by contributing most of the content and, though I didn’t realise it at the time, I was also learning the rudiments of graphic design.
You might already be thinking that I was destined to become the editor of my own magazine. You might even be recognising similarities with your own life. But let’s examine the second thread.
In my case, it was my hobbies. You might be passionate about needlework, cooking, travel, cats, dolls’ houses, art, or one of a million other things that make your world more interesting. For me, as a boy whose father fought in WWII and who made models of combat aircraft and tanks for me, it was playing with toy soldiers — wargaming.
As I grew older and discovered the work of J R R Tolkien, I also developed an interest in fantasy and role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, but it was the historical stuff that really stirred me initially. An avid reader of military history from an early age, I wanted to play games in which I could command armies just like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Oliver Cromwell, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte and J E B Stuart. Wargaming with miniature soldiers allowed me to do that and, like countless thousands of boys around the world, I painted and collected regiment upon regiment of miniatures and spent many happy hours playing thrilling games on tabletop terrain.
Almost every hobby has its magazines, and wargaming is no different. People who share a passion for a subject like to communicate that passion and share it with others. Moreover — and here’s one of the commercial aspects — companies who produce the goods and services that feed that passion are always looking for places and methods to display their wares.
You might not be familiar with wargaming, but I bet you’ve heard of model railways (or railroads, for my American friends). Almost every news stand on the planet carries at least one model railway magazine. Next time you see one, take a look. It’s packed with knowledgeable articles written by enthusiasts and it’s hard to miss the ads, some tiny, some large, publicising a surprisingly diverse marketplace of all the ‘stuff’ a model railway buff needs to pursue their hobby.
For many years, after I graduated from university, went travelling and got involved with all those other things a young man does (ahem), my hobby took a back seat. In fact, the magazines were the only contact I had with the hobby, as all my miniatures, model scenery and so on ended up being stored in boxes in my old room in my mother’s house. Titles came and went over the years, but by the early 1990s there were three with a regular presence in the shops, and I had a particular favourite called Practical Wargamer, a bi-monthly publication. It had what I felt was a really nice, approachable style and tone; I just felt that it was speaking to me.
Then, in 1999, the publishers suddenly pulled the plug and it disappeared.
Surely, I thought — as did thousands of others — someone will step in, buy the title, and relaunch the publication.
No one did.
Fast forward. >>>
I have an idea. I buy the domain battlegames.co.uk and create a site devoted to my old hobby.
Within months, I have several thousand regular visitors. Though it wasn’t given the name at the time, what I’d created would now be called a blog.
And I had absolutely no idea what to do with it.
I posted on many different aspects of the hobby. My inbox filled with messages from fans of the site from all over the world. As an ego boost, it was tremendous. As a commercial venture, it sucked. I spent countless hours with (then) Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe Photoshop, becoming technically proficient in the art of wrangling tables to create half-decent layouts. David Siegel, Raymond Pirouz and Lynda Weinman were the gurus of the time. Sure, it helped me demonstrate my skills to potential clients, but monetizing the site itself was like pushing a rock uphill. I managed to get a couple of forward-thinking advertisers to place banners, but this was still in the days when very, very few companies had seen the future for online advertising, especially in the UK which lagged behind the US in Internet savvy.
Fast forward again. >>>
I get an email from one of the regular visitors to my site, telling me about a new Yahoo! group that has been set up to discuss a particular aspect of the hobby about which I was known to have expertise. (Hello to any ‘old school’ wargamers reading this!) To my astonishment, an article I wrote and illustrated that had been published in one of the hobby’s magazines back in 1986 was not only remembered, but apparently even lauded by some of the membership of this new group, which had already attracted a few dozen people. Would I be kind enough to drop in, say hello and answer a few questions?
You’ve probably already guessed that I became heavily involved. It turned out that many of the people in the group were also regular visitors to my own site, very much in tune with my own ‘take’ on the hobby, and soon I took on a leading role in the forum, becoming a moderator and designing its logo. The forum grew quickly, reaching more than 1,000 members.
Again, I must stress that the specifics of my experience are irrelevant. The point is that I had become a respected voice, even an authority, amongst a group of devoted enthusiasts. I claim no bragging rights: it just seemed to happen. But this fact proved to be very important later, in both positive and negative senses.
I also started to notice a recurring theme. Wasn’t it a shame, forum members often commented, that Practical Wargamer had disappeared? Wasn’t it disappointing, they opined, that nobody had ever stepped forward with something similar to relaunch or replace it?
The penny dropped.
Here was I, with an accurate understanding of what they — and I — felt was missing from the current magazines on the market. There was a gap, a niche-shaped hole, in the range of publications on offer. As a graphic designer, copywriter, photographer and editor (with a history degree for good measure), with a deep understanding of what wargamers wanted, I knew I had the skills required to create that very magazine. After all, I’d been creating magazines and brochures for clients for about 15 years.
However, I also knew something about the risk. Printing a full colour magazine and distributing it is expensive. Doing so with no guarantee that anyone will buy it is suicidal.
And for various reasons I won’t go into here, I was already broke. Flat broke.
So, I had plenty of answers to the question “Why?” But how on earth did I turn the dream of running my own hobby magazine into reality?
You’ll find the answer in Part 3, coming soon.