Behind the Scenes of Running a Magazine

 Behind the Scenes of Running a Magazine -

Words & Images by Sarah Hartley

Holl & Lane was started in June 2015 with no budget, no experience, and no idea how a magazine is actually run.  A year+ later, things are getting a bit more smooth.  Today, I'm walking you behind the scenes to give you a glimpse into how things operate at Holl & Lane.

There is so much that goes into every single day of this magazine that I wanted to pick just a point in time to illustrate what goes on that you may not see.

As the Editor in Chief, I always have a lot going on in varying stages and right now, in mid-September, things feel especially crazy.  (Plus, I also have a full-time 9-5 job, I'm a wife and a mom to a toddler, so life is a bit hectic.)  I am currently in the final stages of putting together our October subscriber bonus issue, designing our November issue, and in the initial stages of our January issue.  Plus, I am designing each blog post for the upcoming two months and working on setting up the campaign for our very first product launching in October.  So, here's how it all works:


Five-six months before an issue launch, we'll decide on a theme and then will open up our pages to submission ideas from people who want to write for us.  We'll leave the options open for 3-4 weeks and then we'll go through each submission and decide what fits best for the theme.  Myself and our Editorial Manager, Mia, will then contact each contributor with details about how many words their article should be, how many photos, as well as a deadline and submission details.  The contributors will have about two months to put together their submission and send it in to us.

In the meantime, we'll also take a look through our general idea submissions and pull the ones that will work best for our blog.  Mia will reach out to those contributors with the same types of guidelines as for the magazine.  Blog contributors generally have about a month to submit their articles to us.

Once the magazine articles come in, I get to work on designing the spread within the issue.  Each initial spread usually takes me a couple of days to complete as well as edit.  Once each article is received, I then go back through and make general tweaks to the order, the layouts, and lots of other nitpicky things to get it looking the way I want.  In all, I spend about 1.5-2 months working on the design and first edit of an issue.  

For photography for each issue, I work with a handful of photographers who submit photos for our use through our Dropbox.  I pick and choose the photos to use for each issue (and also use the photos for our social media and blog) as well as use stock photography where applicable.

From there, I send the issue over to Mia who then reads through every single article for spelling, grammar and general edits, and checks every single link (for digital) and sends me back notes on what needs corrected.  This part takes a couple of weeks.

While also working on the magazine, I work on the blog posts for the upcoming month.  I set them all up in our Squarespace website, edit them, pull images if there aren't any sent in, and also create hidden Pinterest images with our branding.  I can usually put together 4-5 blog posts in a day.  

In addition, Mia puts together a weekly newsletter that's a recap of our current blog posts as well as some other important things to remember and issue sneak peeks that goes out each Friday.


Once each issue is completed and ready for print, I open up our print issue to pre-orders at a discount for the issue contributors as well as our newsletter subscribers.  This is also the time that I talk with stockists to see if they will be selling them in their store and how many they would like to order.  I leave the pre-order period open for a week and once that is over it will give me a good idea of how many to order.

After one final look through, I send the issue off to the printers and cross my fingers that I haven't messed anything up!

I receive the copies back in a few weeks and from there I set out to get them all packaged for shipping.  All of the issues come to my house and I individually package and ship them myself.  Occasionally if I'm lucky, my husband will help me.  I also hand write notes to every single purchaser to thank them for being a part of our family.  

I strive to send out pre-orders a week before the issue launches so that our readers will have their copy as it launches (or even a few days early!).  As new orders come in, I also try to get those in the mail within one or two days so that no one is waiting on their shipment for long.  Our magazine is always published live on the first of the month, every other month (as we're a bimonthly magazine).


Before launch, I create graphics to be used for our launch, I reach out to our Facebook community to see if anyone is interested in being cheerleaders for the issue, and we generally start to build the hype for the issue about a week prior.  I also have a giant checklist of back end things I have to do such as creating the product pages, adding digital files to dropbox, creating passwords and discount codes, emailing subscribers with tracking information, and SO much more.  The list seems to keep growing with each launch.

Launch days are so incredibly exciting to the H&L team.  Once the issue is officially live, we focus mainly on social media and word-of-mouth to spread the word.


Our social media channels are our favorite way to interact with our readers and find out what they're loving.  Our Facebook community is where we really get to know each other (and they get to hear all about our upcoming surprises), our Facebook page is where we share our newest blog posts, articles from each issue, and news, our newsletter houses letters from me, issue sneak peeks as well as discounts for the issues, and our Instagram page is to share motivational messages and get to know our readers.  

Our Social Media Manager, Jess, runs our Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, while Mia runs our Facebook community and I run our Instagram page.  We talk often about our social media strategies as well as to make sure that our branding is cohesive across all platforms.  Jess focuses on sharing both new content and older "reader favorite" content across our channels and also makes sure to respond to every single comment we receive.


Because we're a completely remote company, communication is INCREDIBLY important to us to make sure that we all stay on the same page.  We use Trello to keep everything organized (boards grouped by issue number, blog post month, as well as each "department" - editorial, social media, public relations, etc.).  And we use Slack to instant message each other about things that need to be taken care of ASAP (or just to chat, which in general is mostly what we use it for daily).  This HUGELY cuts down on the amount of emails that we receive and send, which was key to me.

In addition, because we have a couple of assistants - Amy is our Editorial Assistant and works with Mia on any tasks she needs help with, and Melody is our PR Intern and works with me on any advertising or public relations tasks - these two platforms have become lifesavers to keeping everything organized and keeping everyone in the loop.  We have one main Group Messages board that houses the plans for each week as well as general group information for everyone to know.

Also within our Trello boards, you'll find our Business Blueprint (an overview of templates, important notes, branding, etc. for a quick glance), our H&L Team Guide (essentially our Employee Guidebook), a listing of our subscribers for quick reference, and statistics that we can keep up with, plus a few extras.  


This is a general outline of how each issue works:

  • 5-6 months prior to launch: Open up for submission ideas
  • 4-5 months prior to launch: Decide on articles & contact contributors with guidelines
  • 3 months prior to launch: Receive articles from contributors and begin designing and editing issue
  • 1.5 months prior to launch: Send issue to Mia for final edits and clean up the issue for printing.  Talk with stockists about wholesale orders
  • 1 month prior to launch: Open up the issue for preorders and then send to the printer.  Create graphics for launch, talk with "cheerleaders", put together product pages and newsletters and social media post.  Set up shipping and subscriber information
  • 2 weeks prior to launch: Begin individually packaging each issue and shipping for preorders and subscribers
  • 1 week prior to launch: Begin promoting issue on social media with countdowns and sneak peek posts
  • Launch day: Promote the issue throughout our social media channels and newsletter


Throughout the months, there are a lot of other things that we're working on - talking about new products to launch, reviewing our current strategies to decide what is working and what isn't, putting together copy for our social media posts, working with photographers, sending deadline reminders, always researching new article ideas and methods, taking courses on building a business (since none of us are experts), updating freebies, deciding on sales and marketing, and generally learning all we can about this business that we've found ourselves in.

A couple other things to know about us?  None of us are paid.  Since we're still a startup magazine, all of the money we make goes right back into the magazine.  This is most certainly a full-time job for me (in addition to my ACTUAL full-time job) and I'd guess it's at least a part-time job for Mia and Jess (in addition to their REAL jobs, too).  We put a LOT of work into this magazine every single day.  But the good thing is that we all so strongly believe in this magazine that it never feels like work.  PLUS the bonus is that we've become SUCH good friends.  We spend a lot of our days laughing together about nonsense on Slack.  I can honestly say I would not be where I am with this magazine without the two of them and their dedication.  This magazine is not just mine - it's also theirs.  And I'll never be able to properly express my gratitude for them.


If you've made it this far - I commend you.  Is there something you were hoping to learn about that I didn't mention here?  Leave me a comment and I'll update the post accordingly!  And more importantly, THANK YOU for being the reason that we exist.  If it weren't for you, there would be no Holl & Lane and we wouldn't be able to spread the word that it's OKAY to be honest about life.

Sarah Hartley is the creator and editor in chief of Holl & Lane Magazine, a magazine dedicated to creating a movement for more honest media.  She is a wife to Brandon, a mom to Henry, and lives near Pittsburgh, PA where she works as a marketing coordinator.  She has loved writing since she first wrote about being the Future Mrs. Justin Timberlake as a young girl, and has since moved on to writing about her life with her real husband and son on her personal blog.  Searching for a magazine that featured real life in a beautiful way, that would give women a voice and a platform, Sarah set out to create that magazine and has been ecstatic about the response to her mission.  In her (minimal) spare time, she loves to read, have dance parties with her son, and enjoy a beer with her husband at the end of a long week.