Ideas and proposals

I’m in New Mexico. I’m not supposed to be here, but here I am. I had a fantastic weekend with the Las Aranas guild, spinning and braving the snow and ice covered roads (in New Mexico!). While I was here I received the most amazing indigo-dyed gossamer shawl I’ve ever had the luck to fold in half and drape around my shoulders.  Knit by mara bishop statnekov, I can’t take it off.  Ever.  As kind as it is beautiful.

I was supposed to be home early this morning.  I was supposed to leave tomorrow morning for Iceland, with a 3 hour layover in Denver. Instead, and due to the ice here in NM and in TX, I’m meeting Levi and O (my 8-year old daughter) in Denver tomorrow and then off to Iceland.  It’s all going to be fine.  It is.  I know it.

And Iceland is going to be fantastic. I can hardly wait.  I’m teaching for 2 days, giving a talk at the art school, and touring for 5 days. While I’m there, the Leicester issue will be winging it’s way to you.  You’re going to love it, I think.  I love it.  I know I always say that, but I do.

But while I’m captured by ice in New Mexico, I’d like to talk about something.

Years ago, I used to hear a few people grumble with frustration that they’d propose article ideas to Spin Off and then later they’d see their article idea in the magazine but written by somebody else. They would say that it wasn’t fair or nice that the magazine would take their proposal and get somebody else to write it. Of course, I thought that wasn’t fair or nice too. Who wouldn’t? It’s only now that I realize that was probably not at all what was really happening.

I say this because I have some personal experience with this very thing. Every issue I get (thankfully) lots and lots of proposals. Sometimes over 200. It’s wonderful and the reason the magazine is so great. However, out of those 200 proposals, there might be 100 that are actually different. What I mean is that the same general proposal will come in from 5 or 6 people. It won’t be exact, of course, but it’ll be the same in spirit. And so if it’s an article that enriches the issue, that makes it big and round and awesome, I’ll ask one of the authors that proposed it, to write it.

What that means is that several other people will later see the article in the magazine. It will look like the article they proposed, and it is, but it’s also the article the author of the article proposed.

Spinning is an old craft. Spinners are brilliant. It makes sense that several of us come up with the same ideas about a particular topic, right?

So, just in case you were wondering, and because I hate the idea of people going around feeling sad, or thinking that we don’t like them, or even that we’re not nice or fair, let me assure you, we don’t ever take one person’s idea and ask another person to write it. Not ever. I’m pretty sure that Spin Off doesn’t do it either.




Breaking down the Math: the price of PLY

Do you know how much I knew about making a magazine before I actually started making a magazine? Almost exactly zero. And I believe in the truth.  I mean, I believe in telling the truth, in being as transparent as possible, even when it comes to business and money so I’m going to talk to you about why PLY is the price that it is, a price that is higher than many other magazines, especially magazines in our own genre.

PLY is $36 for a year’s US subscription.  We don’t give discounts and we don’t go on sale. I recently got a “please come back to us for only $12” email from another craft magazine and it worked, I came back to them!  However, PLY will never do that. We just can’t afford it.

Here’s why.

Most magazines don’t actually rely on the revenue from subscriptions. Surprising, right? I had no idea of that little fact. I figured that’s what supported a magazine, but it’s not. It’s why they can sell subscriptions for so cheap, $12 a year and buy one get one free and all that. The serious revenue for magazines comes from advertisements. Did you know that most magazines (and everyone that I subscribe to except Taproot, which has no ads) has between 55% and 75% advertising? That means that if I take one of the several craft magazines on my coffee table right now and thumb through all the pages counting up the space taken by ads and adding it together, there is 62 pages of ads and 38 pages of actual non-ad content. Really, I just checked.

Since each ad page in our type of magazines (because while fashion magazines have the same ratios, they charge far more for advertising) brings in anywhere between $1200 and $3000, average advertising revenue per issue is $75,000 – $190,000. It’s the advertising that pays a magazine’s way in this world and it’s that advertising that keeps subscriber prices so low. Subscriptions are what the magazine needs to get the advertisers. If a magazine can show a potential advertiser that they have a boatload of subscribers, the advertiser is far more likely to happily hand over the green that keeps the lights on.

So you see, it’s in the best interest of the magazine to get as many subscribers as they can, any way they can, even if it’s for $12 a year. It’s not for the direct revenue; it’s for indirect revenue. It’s for showing the advertisers how many eyeballs will be looking at the ads.

That’s how magazines work.

It is, however, not how PLY works.

We have between 12%-15% advertising in each issue of PLY. Never more. We think it’s better for our readers and better for the advertisers we do have. Plus, there’s just too much content to include in every issue, I can barely fit it all in! Also, our smaller ads (quarter and 1/12 page ads) are priced relatively low so that small, independent companies can afford to advertise. Each issue of PLY clears just under $14,000 in advertising revenue. That’s the number (it’s also the number, by the way, that we pay out each issue to contributors/writers/designers).  So our fantastic advertisers pay for our fantastic contributors.  It’s a wash.

Let me jump in here and say that I’m not discounting our advertisers. I adore them. Love them. Am completely grateful to them. I think they make the magazine better and I’m thankful that they choose to work with us. But I’m happy that we keep the ad to content ratio right where it is.

So you see, since we keep our advertising so low, we need our subscribers in a different way than most magazines need their subscribers. The subscription money is what pays the bills around here, directly. That’s not the regular magazine model but its what we’re doing. Before our first issue, everybody I know in the industry said that it couldn’t work, that people were used to very cheap subscription prices and wouldn’t pay the higher price. They all said we’d have to incorporate far more advertising.

However, so far it is working.

But the lack of advertising revenue coming in is just part of the equation in what makes our subscription price higher. The other part is the money going out.

Fiber is beautiful. We want to capture that beauty. The smooth silk, the crimp in a lock, the result of a slight difference in draft, our pages come alive with these things. However, if our pages are thin and transparent, it won’t matter how great the photography is because images and text will bleed through and muddy everything.

So PLY has good, thick, archival paper, both the cover and the inside pages. It raises the price from 0.30 – 0.45 an issue to $3.00-$4.00 an issue but it’s worth it. Not only does it mean the magazine is going to look and feel wonderful but it’s also going to (mostly) be able to stand up to the postal service (and that’s saying something, right?) and it’s going to last for the readers.

But because our paper is thick, our magazine is heavy. I just weighed 3 other craft magazines on my kitchen scale and they all fall between 6 ounces and 8 ounces. PLY weighs 14 ounces. What this means is that instead of costing 0.30 – 0.45 to mail inside the US via periodical postage, it’s over a dollar. And if I want to mail it from home (where I can’t use our periodical postage status) because a subscriber issue got lost, damaged, or the subscriber without telling me, it’s a whopping $6.00 to ship! So thick paper is great and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but I does have some drawbacks.

There are other bills too, of course: a $2 ,000 monthly IRS bill, monthly subscription management and ad-management fees, studio rental space, and little things here and there. Oh yeah, the 4 people that work for PLY, 2 of which (kitten and me) call it a full-time job.

All of this, in fact, everything except the contributors (which is what the advertiser revenue covers) is paid for by our subscription revenue and every dollar of each subscription goes somewhere it’s needed! I’ve tried to figure out how to make it cheaper but the math just doesn’t work. It’s why we can’t offer discounts or sales. It’s why it’s $36.

Low advertising, quality paper, great and in-depth writing, beautiful photography.

That’s why PLY costs more.





Did I tell you we have a new copy editor?

I know I told you we were on the lookout for a new copy editor, but did I tell you we hired one?  Her name is Karen Robinson (and I can totally put that online because you’ll see it on the masthead soon enough), and I couldn’t be happier.

It wasn’t an easy decision.  Not at all.  Within 48 hours of putting up the call for a copy editor we got over 200 applications.  As they came in, I broke them into 3 groups (so they’d be easier to manage) and replied with the test packet.  The test packet included our just-barely-there style sheet (the thing with all the specific-to-PLY rules that we try to follow), one article in 2 stages — edited by me (what they’d get if they had the job), and  the final, print version (so they could see what their job would entail), and another article edited by me that they had to copy-edit.

Within 3 days almost everyone had returned articles and I sat down to read.  And I sat some more.  And then I sat some more.  It was a lot of sitting and reading.  Some I could dismiss right away – not that they weren’t good – but just not the level of editing I was looking for (some too deep, some too shallow).  Some went into my maybe pile and a few went into my yes pile.  My plan was to go through the yes pile again first and if I didn’t find somebody, to reach into the maybe pile.  I can tell you that my maybe pile was about 25 and my yes pile was about 25.

That meant more sitting.

I never had to reach back into the maybe pile because the yes pile was full of amazing editors, most of which are more qualified to do my job than I am.  There were 6 that copy-edited the style sheet.  There were 3 that copy-edited my entire email.  There were 2 that copy-edited the finalized article that had already gone to print! It was a little intimidating, honestly.  I liked them all. Finally, I narrowed it down to 5.

Our of those 5, I couldn’t choose.  I felt like I’d just be closing my eyes, spinning,  and pointing, so I sent all 5 to Kitten.  I may be the one that reorganizes and restructures but he’s the one with the close eye and quick brain for editing.  I told him to choose which one he’d like to work with and while he said all 5 were good, Karen was his top pick.

And so it’s Karen.  And Karen rocks!

You’ll see her handy work in the next issue (the Leicester issue).  She’s going to make us so much better!

Give her a little welcome, won’t ya?

How to run a magazine pt. 3

And now it’s time for another “what Jacey doing this week” post.  I hope you don’t get tired of reading these.  I was just telling Jillian this morning, at the board meeting, that writing them is pretty helpful to me.  Almost like a huge data dump of everything I have to do for the week, helps me get a handle on what needs to be done.

Okay, first the stage setting – We are at the very very end of the Autumn 2014 issue cycle, the middle of the Winter 2014 issue cycle, and the very beginning of the Summer 2015 issue.

First, the Autumn 2014 issue – community.  Kitten is moving this month so he is running a bit behind on layout so instead of having it all to me and me working on it, he’s staying up late and sending me things each day.  It’ll work out the same, but harder for him, I think.

He sends me the magazine in low-res pdfs, 20 pages at a time.  I read through every page, look at every ad, every graphic, everything, and keep notes on anything I see that needs to be changed.  Often it’s a “two” into a “2”, sometimes it’s a misspelling (this time it was “performance” instead of “performance”), and occasionally it’s a wrong caption (Deb will be much happier if we don’t call her fuzzy woolen sample a “slick woolen example”) or photos in the wrong order, and every once in a while it’s just that I want an ad switched with another ad.

I’d like to take this chance to publically say that when you see “fiber” spelled “fibre”, we didn’t miss that, we left it.  We like to preserve regional spellings.  If a Canadian writes the article, fibre will have lustre.  If an American writes it, fiber will have luster.  It appears that this makes some people see red but it’s just the way we roll.

So that’s what I’m doing right now, fine-tooth-combing the PDFs.  After I send him my notes, he’ll fix any mistakes that are actually mistakes and uploads the files to the printer where I’ll look at them via their pre-press portal.  This is super cool as it looks just like the magazine and if I’m feeling shaky about an issue, this step always eases my worries and I start getting excited.  I look over everything once more and then give an ok or a no-kay.  If it’s a no-kay, Kitten fixes the issue and re-uploads the troublesome pages.

Then it goes to press.

That’ll happen this week.

On Friday Levi will send the updated mailing list to the printer and if the name isn’t on that list, they don’t get a copy.  Which reminds me, that’s the other thing I have to do, e-mail everyone that needs to but has yet to, resubscribe.  We do that by comparing the e-mail addresses on the Autumn 2013 mailing list with the e-mail addresses on the Autumn 2014 mailing list.  Not the slickest way, I’m sure, but it gets the job done.

Once that’s done, that issue drops off my cycle list.  Shew.  It’s always a relief.  By September 10th, it’ll ship to readers.

The middle of the winter 2014 cycle is a bit easier.  I just got back the articles from Levi (remember, I edit them, sent them to him, he edits them and sends them back).  I look over them one more time and by the end of the week will send them all to Kitten.

Very Beginning of the Summer 2014 cycle means that between today and tomorrow I’ve got to e-mail everyone about their Fine Issue proposals.  I’ve mostly got it planned out but there’s still a bit of work to do on it.  I know all the articles but have to figure out the word counts and the budget.  We  have space for 35,000 words in each issue, that’s assuming we use roughly the same amount of photos and our ads are all full.  Once I gave Kitten 49,000 words, 50% more than would fit.  I’ve gotten better at planning but it’s always tricky.

In the misc. category, I’ve gotta get the website ads ready to go live in 10 days and get the website all prepped for the issue switch over.  Thankfully, Jessica, who built the website, is taking on this job, I just have to get her the materials.

Of course there’s always e-mails and packing magazines for LYSs and back orders.

Oh, and I have to hurry and find a photo of a Shetland sheep!  It’s an emergency!



Learning to make a magazine pt.2

How about another  installment of learning to make a magazine?

First to set the stage —  here’s where we are in the grand scheme of cycles and status:

End of the Autumn 2014 cycle

Middle of the Winter 2014 cycle

Planning of the Summer 2015 cycle

That sounds easy enough, right?  Let’s look closer, things are always more difficult and dirty when you look closer and making a magazine is no exception, my spinnerly friends.

End of Autumn 2014 cycle —  Kitten sends me PDF of the final design and layout and I review them.  However, he’s a bit behind (this sometimes happens where one of us is a bit behind, we always catch up) so I don’t have any to review this week.  Which is actually not a bad thing for me since much of my time needs to be spent planning, and spinning samples for, my Craftsy class.  Yes, folks, I’m doing a craftsy class. Very excited! Amy King just did one (and it’s great) and if there’s anything else in this world I want to be, it’s Amy King!

Middle of Winter 2014 cycle — there’s more work here for me, mainly, finishing all the first edits and re-orgs or author’s articles.  There are still 2 articles out with the authors (extended deadlines) but everything else is in and I’ve gone over all of it once.  Now I’m in the middle of going over it again so that I can make sure there’s not too much overlap, repeating of information and so on.  Again, with the themed issues,  it’s more of a threat than not.  I’ve already got most of these done and by the end of the week I’ll send them all to Levi for a 2nd round of editing.

I just sent the Winter 2014 patterns to Amy P,  our tech editor.  Except that we have a inkle weaving project and so I’m on the hunt for a inkle weaver for a little tech editing.  It’s small and simple so if you have experience, let me know!

Planning of the Summer 2015 cycle: The best part of my week is the planning of the Summer 2015 issue.  We got so many fantastic proposals and it’s my job to sort through them.  I told you before that I’ve got a folders in my mail client, right?  Under Summer 2015 there’s Yes, No, and Maybe.  In my Yes there’s 5, in No (which later I will transfer to my trello board in case we can use them elsewhere) there’s 39, and in Maybe there’s 56!  It’s a lot to go through but building the issues like this is something I really enjoy.

I used to use a giant sheet of butcher paper but since I discovered Trello, I do it there.  I have several things I look for when I first start this job. I have to make sure that there’s a great intro article, something introducing the topic, broad and focused (it’s a thing, really).  There’s not one in the proposals this time so I have to go hunt for one.  I’ve already put out an e-mail to who I’d like to write it, negotiating with her now.  I hope she consents, if so, it’ll be a great opener.

After finding that article, I try to make sure there’s a good mix of what I label light, medium, and heavy.  That refers to the content and how much brain power it takes to make it through the articles.  Deb Robson and Diane Palme are examples of heavy!  Smarty ladies, they are!  But it’s important to have a mix, take the reader on a journey they’re going to enjoy, not just fill it with heavy, dense facts.  I try for 40% heavy, 40% medium, and 20% light. Our regular features take care of some of that, you know, stuff like fiber study is usually heavy while guilded, who’s that spinner, and follow the fiber are usually light, and spin it’s are often medium.  The articles that don’t fit into those categories — the extras — are the ones that I have to make sure have a good balance and cover everything the issue should cover.

So after considering the intro article, and a good mix of article weights, I also consider authors.  I like to have a mix of those, as well.  I try to make sure we have at least 4 new authors in each issue.  There can be more, but I make sure there’s no less!  It’s important to me that we don’t just hear the same voices, that we involve the community, that we recognize that we are more than just our known teachers.

Finally I consider word count.  We have space for about 37,000 words in each issue but I probably won’t get to word count this week so we’ll skip talking about that for now.

It’s interesting, and I’ll tell this to the spinners I have to send the “thanks but no thanks” email to – sometimes a really great article doesn’t get in because it doesn’t work with the rest of the issue.  It could be fantastic but if there’s a gap in the issue and it doesn’t fill it, or if it’s too heavy or long or whatever, and I can’t make it work, I have to take the article that is lighter or shorter and gives the issue the roundness it needs.  It’s probably the hardest (and most interesting) part of my job.  Sometimes I am very happy with the results.  For instance, I think the Silk and Twist issues both are very full and round and diverse.  I don’t think the First issue or the Color issue  are as much, though I think the stuff in there is wonderful. That early in the process I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing yet and didn’t know how to really put together an issue. The winter issue is better but not quite as finished as the last two.  That just means I’m getting better at it, which is good. Hopefully I’ll just keep getting better at it!

But this week I’ll just decide on the articles and build my trello board.  My next work week I’ll deal with word counts, contracts, e-mailing authors, and all the in-house stuff. I’ll tell you about it as it comes.

And that’s what the editor-in-chief is doing this week.

But there’s more!  Here’s the less interesting stuff, in list form so I don’t lose you completely.


  • Stuff backorders and mail them (we got pre-paid envelopes so it’s a bit faster now!)
  • Resend copies of the magazine that got lost in the mail.
  • Answer e-mails.
  • Sell website ads for September!  Wanna buy one?  Only $15!
  • E-mail all the people that have a credit card on file with us (LYS and advertisers) because the recent Quickbooks update erased that info and I need to re-input it.
  • Sell the rest of the Winter 2014 issue ads there’s still some of every size except full page.
  • Send in payroll taxes to the government.  Government, if you’re reading this, thanks for understanding that I’m late, I’m sure you can see why, right? It’s busy up in here.
  • Secure a time and location for Winter shoot. It’s gotta be soon and it’s gotta be wintery!
  • The winter issue has a glaring gap so I need to whip up a short little article on worsted joins.
  • Start thinking about our Spinzilla team!
  • E-mail the LYSs and advertisers that are behind in paying us.  I’m reading (listening to on Audible while I work out at the gym) Gold Finch right now and there’s a whole section where he’s in Las Vegas with a gambling dad.  Me collecting from those that owe the magazine will be NOTHING like what happens in the book, I promise.  It mostly includes me saying “please”.

So that’s my work week.  What’s yours like?

ps.  if anyone wants to make me a graphic for this series (you can see the terrible one I made at the top of the page), I’m sure we could trade something good for it.  Please?



How we learn to make a magazine pt.1

Everybody that’s been with us from the beginning knows that we, collectively, knew nothing about running a magazine when this whole adventure started, right?  Nothing. The big ZERO (coincidentally, the same of stitches I’ve knit in the last month). I hadn’t the foggiest what made Amy Clark Moore and Linda Cortright so tired.  Now I do.  It’s a big job.  It’s not really that any one part is super duper scratch-you-head-difficult, but it’s complex – so many independent things all mashed together, happening at the same time, commanding your attention and running around in your brain like one of those tickers on time square.

I thought it might be interesting to blog about the process.  Let y’all see what goes on back here, behind the PLY curtain.  A kind of how-we-learn-to-run-a-magazine series, real-time.  It could be good.  At the very least it’ll give me a bird’s eye view of the process and maybe help me figure out ways to do it better.  Maybe you will have suggestions!

I should start with explaining the work schedule — Kitten and I have 3 kids together and we have a week on/week off schedule, both with the kids and with work.  Meaning that I get the kids for a week while he works and he gets them for a week while I work.  Kids for a week, work for a week.  Pretty great arrangement, I know. This week he has the kids so he’s doing Shakespeare camp, trips to the pool, and reading lessons and I’m working.

Now let’s set the PLY stage — right now we’re in the middle of a cycle, but we’re also at the beginning of a cycle, and  we’re at the very very beginning of another cycle.  There’s a lot of cycles.  A cycle of cycles, you might say…

The middle of the cycle part is the Autumn 2014 issue, due out in September (the Community issue).  The beginning of the cycle part is the Winter 2014 issue, due out in December (the Worsted issue).  And the very very beginning of the cycle is the Summer 2015 cycle, which might seem strange since I didn’t mention Spring 2015, it’s in there too but I don’t have to do much with it for a bit.

Let’s begin with the Autumn 2014 issue.  I’m not doing much on it except waiting! I said we’re in the middle of its cycle.  It’s actually a bit past middle.  It’s at Kitten’s right now.  Last week he started design, illustrations, and layout, he’ll continue it next week, as well. I’ll have more work to do on it after that but I don’t have much to do with his process.  I trust him completely and it always comes back to me looking amazing.

What I am working on this week is the issue after that – Winter 2014, the Worsted issue.  The authors that wrote for it had 2 separate due dates 2 weeks apart and the second batch of articles just came in. I have to say that it’s going to be a fantastic issue.  I’m deep in the initial edits and author-returns.  I read through, leave comments and questions for the authors, and then send it back to them. The article often goes back and forth several times before it moves to the next step.

When I get it back the last time, I read through it on it’s own, as a stand-alone piece, check if it needs any changes, anything rearranged, titled etc.  Once I read through all of them like that, I read through them all again as a whole, as a magazine, and make sure we don’t repeat the same info over and over again.  That’s one of the things that can happen with a themed magazine. If everyone is talking about silk, lots of articles will have similar introductions or the same background information (silk production, micron count etc.).  I try to minimize that and if I don’t catch it all, Levi or Kitten does later on.

So that’s what I’m doing this week with the Winter 2014 issue, reading through some articles for the 1st time and some articles after they’ve come back from the author for the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd time.

I told you we were at the very very beginning of the Summer 2015 cycle, right?  That’s the other thing I’m doing.  The mood board went out a few weeks ago and article/project proposals come in each day (you still have time to submit, by the way).  In my e-mail client each issue has a folder and each issue’s folder has a “yes” “no” and “maybe” folder.  As the proposals come in I put them in these folders.  The no and maybe proposals eventually go into a “prospective ideas” folder but for now they stay in case I can use them afterall.  Yes that’s a photo of my actual e-mail client.  It’s crazy in there.  Over 100 folders!  Am I the only one that does this? Every so often I go in and try to make it more manageable, rearrange and rename but it always grows and grows.

Other random tasks this week:

  • Talk to web-guy about subscription management software.
  • Pack and mail this week’s back issues (usually about 5 hours).
  • Editorial meeting tomorrow where we’ll talk about website, current issue, and future themes.
  • Write my article for the worsted issue.
  • Run credit cards for all the advertisers and wholesalers that have one on file.
  • Listen to 54 new voicemails regarding subscriptions.
  • Plan Winter photo-shoot (locations and date).
  • Answer last week’s e-mails.
  • Put up a couple of new questions on the FAQ.
  • Contact Zinio again about PLY (argh, they won’t respond!)
  • Send check to printer for reprint.
  • Send in quarterly payroll taxes.
  • get people to post their tipjar tips for the Winter issue.
  • sell our new webads (you know, the ones you see over there to the right, they’re helping us offset the fact that we don’t have many ads in the magazine).

Plus I’ve got to garden.  The vine borers may have taken the squash (any advice on this is welcome too) but the tomatoes are in full harvest mode!

ps.  please don’t think this post is in any way complain-y or woe-is-me.  I love love love my job.