It’s funny, on those occasions where a person mentions how much they love Learning Tangent; or a friend asks for one of those mythical “free extra copies”, I stop to think about how much work it is to produce. I’m not complaining about the work. I love it, and love that you see enough value in what we’re doing to subscribe and read the stuff we put out.
It’s really tough to grow paid subscriptions in a time when people expect freebies. Compliments and praise only go so far towards success, as we all know only too well. David, my husband, got to talking with one of his customers recently, and as he was talking up Learning Tangent stopped, and realized just how far it has come, and how much hard work I have put into it to get this far. It’s more than setting up a website and doing some writing. So much more.
Growing up, I learned how to type on one of my mom’s digital typsetters. Never heard of that? Don’t worry, you’re not alone and Wikipedia has your back. They looked something like this:
They were big, clunky, and the best new technology for doing layout. They used technology closely related to photography, in that 2 fonts were on a disk that looked like a film negative, and the text exposed onto black and white film paper before being developed. Want to change the font? Change the disk. Points, picas, em and en spaces were as familiar to me as cookies and milk. Pretty cool advances from manual typesetting, but still not like what we have today in a computer. To adjust the font size, or location, you had to know what the codes were. The code was sort of the predecessor to HTML, so when I started doing web pages way back when HTML was all you really had to work with, I caught on quickly.
I also learned how to carefully cut out that text, run it through the hot wax machine to wax the backside, and place it in the appropriate location in the ad or newsletter layout. That clip-art we download from everywhere now? It used to be in giant books that we would use an Exacto knife to carefully cut the clip-art from the book to wax and place. Why wax? It was movable.
This is where I started, and from my mom, I also learned about photography, writing, and more. I also said I would never put myself through the stress she did in getting things out on deadlines! I’m sure you can see how that’s worked out for me!
My current process
Fortunately, technology has evolved. I no longer have to have a darkroom (although the photo nerd in me would love one) just to develop type that I’ve set. Everything gets done on my computer (dual monitors is a life-saver). I can edit, edit and edit some more and I haven’t spent a ton of time of phototypsetting and fixing errors by re-typsetting sections. Every quarterly issue is different, but there are some constants. For each printed (or digital) issue I spend:
- anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 hours, deciding in what order to place the articles; often changing my mind several times before leaving it alone.
- several hours discussing various article angles with different writers.
- 15-20 hours deciding on the layout of each page.
- 10-15 hours contacting advertisers and cultivating those relationships.
- 5-10 hours creating graphics, taking photos, editing photos.
- 5-10 hours setting up and sharing social media posts.
- countless other hours just thinking about the current and future issues, so that each one has an interesting focus.
- many hours talking to people in real life, contacting stores and libraries, trying to get the magazine onto their shelves.
- several hours writing my own articles.
- several hours viewing it on different devices, test prints and more to try to catch all of the typos. There are always more. They breed like bunnies, and I swear they manage to find the most conspicuous place to sit, that somehow, I managed to miss.
I know there is more – but this gives you an idea.
Not included are the hundreds of hours spent learning how to use the tools I need to do the job, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Scribus, just to name a few. In looking back, I see how much this thing has grown and how much I have learned, and continue to learn. I listen to podcasts relating to business, design and homeschooling, study the layout of other magazines, look at the competitors, and try to understand as much as possible about the industry.
Also, I’m continually working to grow readership so that we’ll have the money to put into the print volume we’d need for places like Barnes & Noble and other large retailers. This is what holds us back from those – money. They ask for a minimum of more than we could afford to print…by quite a lot. You see, we didn’t take out big loans to do this, what the magazine doesn’t make in a given quarter, I pay from my own pocket. So yes, we’re still small, but growing organically this way means that the growth is more stable.
Edit: I forgot to include the thousands of hours spent maintaining and creating this website to make it possible for you to find your new favorite homeschool magazine.
Does this sound like a lot? It is! Two things are true though:
First – I love to do this. Really, I do! It feels phenomenally good to see the end result every quarter. To hold the magazine in my hands, and know that it has the power to help the people who read it homeschool their children more effectively, more confidently. I know that what we are doing here is important.
Second – This is why it isn’t free. In fact, why nothing is truly “free.” My time, my writers’ time and work are valuable. I treat them as such.
Every week, I also spend several hours interacting with people on social media, helping them and hoping that they’ll want to know more about Learning Tangent. Sometimes, I fall off the wagon and don’t get in there as much as I know that I should. In my defense, I sometimes just need a break, so if you notice that the Facebook page has been a little quiet, that’s probably what’s happening. I haven’t quit, I’m recharging.
It’s more than talent, consistency is vital
I know, right? Duh!! Of course it’s more than talent. But you would be surprised at how many people think that everything I do is because of talent. I wouldn’t call myself “talented” so much as I would call myself “relentless.” The biggest challenge that writers, bloggers, business owners and entrepreneurs face is consistency. After a while, they just stop showing up and there’s this dead website hanging around, or a business that’s been shuttered, doing nothing for anyone but tease them about what might have come next. So an entrepreneur of any type desperately needs a relentless aspect to their personality. They need staying power, the kind that gets them through the tough times when the enterprise is new and not making money yet (Learning Tangent is just on the cusp of making money). I need to remind myself that while it’s growing consistently, it still has a way to go before true profitability and a paycheck becomes a reality.
Showing up is difficult some days, it is hard to continue, knowing that there are a lot of people who really do expect something for nothing, and don’t truly understand the volumes of work that go into creating a product, any product. It can be a book, app, or just a printable freebie… but someone’s precious time went into creating that product and someone paid either real cash or time to develop that resource. So sometimes, I do get a little down. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are people (myself included) will happily pay a fair price for a good value. I just have to get the word to more people.
So when I say that I am not talented, but relentless…I really do mean exactly what I say. I am relentless in bringing the best product I can to market. Talent only gets you so far. Talent can be the spark that gets you started, but hard work is the only way to get to the finish line.