From the wise words of Dan Smith

After visiting LeisureMedia360 Publishing, we embarked on the daring journey to downtown Roanoke to meet Dan Smith.  The trek was not without its hairy moments: we took a right at a fork when we should have turned left, dealt with the lunchtime craziness of downtown, and squeezed into the parking garage with what felt like only an inch between the van roof and the cement ceiling. We surpassed these obstacles, however, and headed into the Taubman Museum of Art to eat lunch in their café, Norah’s, with Dan Smith.

Dan Smith sitting back in his chair during lunch

Dan Smith sitting back in his chair during lunch

Dan Smith is currently a freelance writer and novelist. He previously worked as a sports writer for Madison Citizen Times and wrote sports features for The Roanoke Times. He is also the co-founder of the Valley Business FRONT magazine and previously served as co-owner and editor of the magazine. Smith is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame and has also created his own blog called fromtheeditr. It would appear to young, learning eyes like mine that Dan Smith has done everything you can think of in the news and writing business, and probably more.

We walked into the bright, airy café with large windows all along the side and sat at the big table and enjoyed a nice lunch. Sitting near Smith, I quickly learned that he was the type of guy that had a way with words that just makes you smile. In his soothing Southern voice, he calls out to the group to try the potato chips or the cheesecake pops, “Jump on these, they are as close to Heaven as you will get today.” With his arms crossed over his chest, he leans back in his chair and truly tells you how he thinks things are: from his opinion of a writer to his opinion of politics.

The class in Norah's café

The class in Norah’s café at the Taubman Museum of Art

Smith handed out a paper outline of all his tips to starting a magazine, and, after everyone had finished lunch, he stood up in front of the group. He began by explaining that, in today’s world, he sees no necessity for working for anybody. Below is a severely abbreviated outline of all the useful tips he gave us for beginning our own magazine:

  • Research the local market for a magazine topic that your audience needs
  • Find a topic for your magazine that is interesting to you and your audience
  • Take a good, college marketing class.
  • Plan the role you want to play in your magazine and the staff that you need. Smith explains, “Don’t leave yourself removed from the parts you love. If you’re a writer, write… But that is secondary to being an owner/manager.”
  • Make sure you have a good photographer and designer. Smith believes that a magazine must be pretty first to encourage the reader to read it, and good content comes in second.
  • Use freelance writers as much as possible and always read a writer’s work before you turn him/her down.
  • Get the needed business licenses and acquire a lawyer and a financial man.
  • Use a week to plan every detail of your magazine and determine what it will be.
  • Find a local printer and talk about costs and techniques for printing a magazine.
  • Plan out your distribution.
  • Have a strong online presence to keep your ideas interactive and alive on a daily basis.
  • Before you publish anything, print a small example issue for advertisers.
  • Strive to eventually create a 60-40 ad-news breakdown, but this ratio will not be achieved quickly.
  • Use Quark and InDesign for design and have a photo editing software. Also be sure that you have back-ups for everything.
  • Determine whether to charge for your magazine.
  • Using Roanoke’s market size as an example, seek about $50,000 to start up your magazine.

He finished giving his advice by saying, “I bet you can start a magazine from nothing tomorrow.” That most definitely is our goal in this class. The value of his advice is unmeasurable. His handout is something we will keep in close hand to reference as we move forward in the class and designing our own magazine. I know I will be keeping this information for my years outside of college.

— Laura Lemon

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