Avoid This Mistake With The Second-Most Valuable Page Of Your Publication

Don’t waste highly valuable print real estate.

Every month, I pick up a few new magazines from the newsstand to see what kind of stories they’re doing, what unique approaches they’re taking, and what I can learn from them. But when I picked up a copy of REI’s Uncommon Path magazine — a beautiful and engaging magazine in almost every respect — I was astonished to see its back cover. Take a look at the front and back:

What kind of ridiculousness is this?

Why is that back cover basically blank?!?

Outside of your front cover, the back cover is the single most valuable piece of real estate in your print publication. Don’t believe me? Check out these ad rates for People Magazine. If you want to put an ad on the back cover — that’s “Cover 4” in ad lingo — it’ll cost you more than half a million dollars.

Your back cover might not be worth a cool half mil, but you *should* be spending almost as much time on your magazine’s back cover as you do on its front. Tease a feature, show off some cool bookstore merch, highlight a beautiful seasonal campus photo. Whatever you do, don’t leave that space empty.

Breathe new life into your roundup stories.

Roundups are one of the most common feature story formats in alumni magazines.

You can see some of my early thoughts about this topic here — and even implement some of the ideas today if you’ve got one on your story list.

Understand what “success” is for your magazine.

One of my favorite podcasts is the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin, which she co-hosts with her sister. Sometimes the two talk about writing, and in a recent episode, Rubin shared how she talks to authors with a new books who are eager for it to succeed. As you read the quote, think about how this larger principle might apply to your print magazine.

“There are many ways for a book to succeed. It might sell a lot of copies. It might win a lot of critical praise. It might provide invaluable information to a small group of people who will benefit enormously. It could help you get a teaching job or speaking gigs. It might lead you to another project that you can’t foresee now. It might connect you to someone who will be important to your future. It might be a super fun intellectual adventure or something that’s crossed off your bucket list.

“And I remind myself and other writers that we can only do our best and then wait to see what the future holds. It doesn’t help to get overly focused on a single measurement of success because in the end we don’t have much control over what will happen. T

“There are many ways for a book to succeed. There are many ways for a college student to succeed. There are many ways for a vacation to succeed. Very often, there are many ways for a situation to be successful. And this is comforting because it’s true.”

 Here’s a link to the episode.

Navigate the perilous linguistic waters of online communication.

Your magazine has one voice and your school’s social media presence likely — hopefully! — has another. If you want to do a deep dive on how to communicate effectively on social media, Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language is an A+ primer.

It’s especially helpful for people who didn’t grow up swimming in this online environment, but still want to deeply understand its nuances to do better work.

These 6 techniques will transform your profiles

Nobody knows packaging better than Coca Cola.

I was reminded of this fact when I stopped into a gas station this past summer to pick up a soda. In a single refrigerated case, there were SIX DIFFERENT kinds of regular Coke: 12- and 16-ounce cans, 12-ounce glass bottles, and 16-, 20-, and one-liter plastic bottles.

The point is not that Coke is crazy: it’s that there are lots of different ways to offer what some might say is essentially the same thing to your audience. And they’ll love you if you do it right. (I, of course, was furious that they didn’t have a 12-ounce plastic bottle for sale, because I am insufferable. But I guess packaging really does matter.)

Anyway, experience got me thinking about profiles — the heart of many alumni magazines. So often, we’re tempted to tell profiles in the same one-size-fits-all narrative format (I include myself in this group). But some stories may be better told by breaking things down, building them up, and reshaping them in interesting ways.

Over the past couple months, I’ve spent hours collecting samples of magazine profiles that are told by using unique formats and frameworks. Six of them are below.

Format: The Opening Quote
Source: Runner’s World Cover Contest
The details: This format launches the story with a tiny bio and an incisive quote before digging into the narrative.
Why it works: For a package of profiles on similar kinds of people, differentiation is key. Instead of committing to an entire story, readers can scan the quotes to find the profiles that resonate with them most.
Use it here: Got a package of profiles on a half-dozen professors who just got tenure? Ten alumni who are changing the world of technology? This approach is fantastic.
Other examples: HHMI’s “Indispensibles.”


Format: The Dossier
Source: Vanity Fair’s What You Should Know About…
The details: This format mixes quotes and narrative packed into easy-to-read chunks.
Why it works: You don’t need to rely on a super-quotable source, and the format doesn’t demand a clean beginning, middle, and end. This quick read packs in lots of information.
Use it here: Need to cram (what should be) a 1,500 word story into half the space? Drop the transitions and go straight to the best details. This format is also perfect for a wide-ranging interview that would feel too scattershot if confined to a strict narrative.
Other examples: Jason Segel got the VF treatment here. Read more