Magazines That Just Couldn’t Cut It

For every successful magazine, hundreds fail either because they’re flat stupid, were published before their time, or were written and edited by nuts. Here are my memories of those that didn’t make the grade.

  • Jupiter Images graphic

    Bad House Keeping – Written by trailer trash for trailer trash, but went off the rails when it also tried to appeal to artists, writers and other dreamers who didn’t have time to keep house.

  • Bizarre – Featured photographs taken by readers while they were drunk about stuff that seemed funny at the time but, as it turned out, was trivial and boring later on.
  • Croquet Digest: Readers were never sure whether this magazine was about the game or fried rolls of bread and meat. Those who thought it was about croquettes unsubscribed then many of those who thought the magazine was about croquet claimed to be using croquettes instead of balls because what else were they good for?
  • Hades Home Journal: Editors thought this take-off on “Ladies Home Journal” would document what life was like for most housewives, that is to say, life in a hell of dirty diapers, burnt food, endless dust, and unfaithful husbands. Even those who sent in true stories hated the magazine because they wanted to pretend life in housewife hell didn’t exist.
  • HayBoy: This original spoof of “Playboy” failed because–contrary to marketing predictions–nobody wanted to see cartoons and photographs about scantily clad men working on a farm.  Even the dazzling articles about crop rotation and the center spreads featuring John Deere, Ford, Massey Fergusson, Case, and Farmall tractors couldn’t save the magazine.
  • Homewrecker: Based on high divorce rates, publishing moguls decided there was probably a huge audience of wanton women who were being neglected by mainstream media. This publication pioneered in the publication of ground-breaking techniques for stealing a man away from goody-two-shoes women who were reading “Good Housekeeping” and “House Beautiful.” Basically, the church got ticked off at this magazine and said everyone associated with it was going to hell, so that pretty much scared advertisers and readers away.
  • McBalls: This magazine, aimed at the husbands of women who lived their lives by the gospel of “McCalls,” focused on dangerous methods of barbecuing, high-energy and potentially fatal sports, living lives based on the “hey, honey, watch this” philosophy, and featured centerfolds of stuff that blew up or caught on fire. The magazine had a spectacular first year, but after that it lost readers when most of them died.
  • Photoclay – A bunch of potters in a collective run by visionary manufacturers of wheels, kilns, and other craft supplies, saw the success of “Photoplay” and thought, “why not clay?” As it turned out, nobody much cared about pictures of clay or even the gory pictures of stuff that blew up in the kilns.
  • Popular Seance – This magazine was the best of the best during the spiritualism craze, featuring articles by spirits such as Patience Worth, Ouija Board techniques, and how to contact uncle Danny in the afterworld to find out where the hid all his gold. Then a horde of spoilsports came along and said spiritualism was mostly frauds taking people’s money. Subscribers thought that was a real downer and left the magazine to become Tarot card readers.
  • Everyone can’t produce a successful magazine.

    Popular Quantum Mechanics: When the magazine came out, nobody knew squat about quantum physics, so naturally they thought everything in the magazine was about a bunch of frauds taking people’s money.  How, people asked, could there be multiple universes when one was bad enough? How could a butterfly flapping its wings in Tallahassee, Florida, cause a rain form in Walla Walla, Washington? The magazine was a true gem that failed before people were ready for it.

  • La Vie Fille de la Joie: Hookers, according to the magazine’s cover blurb, brought an infinite amount of joy to men who “weren’t getting any at home.” The photographs and articles, according to even the most Victorian critics, were tastefully done and “made calling a call girl seem like a religious experience.” As had happened before with people just having a bit of fun, the church got ticked off at this magazine and said everyone sleeping with daughters of joy was going to hell. This idea bothered people and they canceled their subscriptions even though they continued to find love with unknown ladies leaning against lamp posts.
  • New Porker: This brave magazine was the champion of pigs and could tell you how to bring home the best bacon, carve a pork roast, and cook center-cut pork chops with out drying them out. The trouble was, most people think pigs are  gross, stupid, and filthy and balked at the idea of leaning anything more about them. Even the hog-calling “Sooie Short Stories” series couldn’t save the magazine.
  • Saturday Evening Fencepost: The trouble began when the magazine couldn’t entice Norman Rockwell to do their covers art featuring farmers, farmers’ wives, and hired hands sitting on fence posts creating sonnets about barbed wire, gates, barns, and silos. Somehow, a nasty campaign by other magazines convinced readers that this magazine was for people who were “dumb as a post.” Even those who knew they were dumb as a post didn’t want to be told they were dumb as a post.
  • Silver Scream: Since “Silver Screen” was a popular magazine, why not focus on the dark site of making movies, starting out with some of the best screams anyone ever heard in a feature film? As it turned out, readers didn’t want to focus on the shower scene in “Psycho” as much as editors thought, so the magazine went under with a whimper a few years after it began.
  • The Smart Seat: This magazine, a jibe at the popular “Smart Set,” featured seats, mainly toilet seats, but occasionally various hot seats and other places people found themselves sitting. The magazine was funny at first and then it wasn’t, some say because a story called “Toilet Seats I’ve Known and Loved” grossed people out. Then, too, legislatures claimed that using the word “ass” in a periodical made the whole thing obscene and got the copies removed from the shelves.
  • If you can’t be Vogue, be Vague.

    The UnAmerican Girl: With “American Girl” all the rage in those days, girls who weren’t American weren’t getting any news coverage. Unfortunately, the name of the magazine gave readers the impression that the magazine was about commies and other nefarious women who were out to take away America’s freedoms. Actually, that was probably true, though it was never proven. Even though many men thought dating an unAmerican girl was sexy, the FBI thought it wasn’t, and that pretty much killed the magazine.

  • Vague: The publisher wanted to compete with “Vogue,” but never figured out how to do it. The result was a wishy-washy magazine that wasn’t about anything other than people who had no idea what they were doing. It was not surprise that those people didn’t have any money, consequently they could afford subscriptions or buy anything from the magazine’s advertisers. The whole thing was so nebulous that nobody ever knew when there the magazine was sold, what it was about, or when it went out of business.

Have you ever considered writing nonfiction?

“Selling nonfiction articles is most often done by pitching editors with article ideas that fit the publication’s needs, whether you’re pitching a magazine, newspaper, or online publication. It is key that you understand the needs of the specific publication and the audience, as well as the sections of the publication that need freelance writing.” – Writer’s Market

There’s more nonfiction published every year than fiction. Books aren’t the whole of it; there are also magazines and newspapers and a variety of online sites. So, where’s the biggest opportunity for freelancers? If you’ve been writing poetry, short stories and novels and are serious about increasing your published output and earnings, check sources like Writer’s Market for advice, lists of publications, and submission guidelines.

Here are a starling ideas list:

  • newsstandAs with fiction, you need to develop a platform. This includes ever expanding lists of articles in better and better magazines that show you can develop what editors want, get it finished on time, and have a certain level of acceptance in your specialty subjects.
  • Credentials are important. Think of this as resume material. In terms of subject matter, do you have college or technical school degrees to back up your writing, or profit and/or nonprofit work in your specialty areas? Working as a full-time staff member for a newspaper or magazine where you covered your specialty areas also helps. Unlike blogging, newsstand and prestigious quarterly publications don’t accept facts gathered from Wikipedia or a few hobbyists’ blogs as either research or solid credentials.
  • Follow the directions in the submission guidelines. Notice that many magazines are working on articles for issues that won’t be published for 6-9 months. Others have yearly themes or special themes. If these themes aren’t listed in the submission guidelines and/or aren’t obvious from reading the magazine, go to the publication’s web site and look for advertiser information. Quite often there will be a calendar there of one kind or another that lists the focus of the year’s issues.
  • If you can pitch an article, you’ll normally save time and have a better chance of acceptance even though competition for paying markets is tough. First, if you write an article and send it in unsolicited, the odds are about as bad as winning the lottery to expect that article to arrive in the mail at the same moment the editor is wishing s/he had such an article. If you send a query, including your credentials, focus/angle, and word count, you haven’t wasted time writing and researching anything that may not be what the editor needs; secondly, the editor may wish to ask you if you can write something slightly different than you’re proposing. Assignments, guaranteed or not, are always better than sending stuff in out of nowhere.
  • Knowing the magazine’s style, depth, and focus will help you deliver what makes sense to that magazine’s editor and readers. Articles are always written to address the needs of the readers, as in, what’s in it for them if they take the time to read the material? Some magazines like easy checklists; others use a lot of humor; some like a first-person approach; some want in-depth material that’s heavier in tone.

There are a lot of opportunities out there for freelance writers who develop their track records, specialties, abilities to adapt to editorial demands and deadlines, and a reputation for delivering high-quality material when promised.

If you go this route, you may never be as well-known as mainstream novelists, but you’ll make more money than writers who submit short stories and poetry alone.



Throwback Thursday – Four National Geographics

1961NGMThis morning, I reached into one of the many boxes of old National Geographic Magazine’s storied in the garage and scooped out four issues at random, two from 1961 and one each from 1962 and 1964.

These will probably be thrown out as part of my getting rid of old stuff project. Looking online for the December 1961 issue, I see it for sale on Amazon at $4.00 and on eBay at $34.99. What a price range!

I doubt that neither copy will sell. I’ve never had much luck selling old magazines. Time was, they were seemingly more valuable if you cut them apart and sold the pages with the advertisements.

Funny how a Great Northern Railway ad would sell quickly on eBay but if the same ad (along with other vintage examples) were offered as part of a complete issue, it was a harder sell.

The only copies I’m saving are those that are especially historic—some early space exploration issues, a John F. Kennedy tribute issue, and the issues that came out during the birth months and years of people in the family. I’m also saving some ads, mostly those having to do with train travel. Or, a few that are simply “strange” by today’s standards.

1961JunengmThe December 1961 issue includes articles about “Life in Walled-Off West Berlin,” “Canada, My Country,” and “Australia’s Amazing Bowerbirds.” The West Berlin article includes a map of the city, now from almost another time and another place ever since the Berlin Wall came down. But as Russia rushed to annex Crimea, I’m reminded of those cold war days. When I saw Berlin, there was a wall there. That shows how long it’s been since I was there.

A Look at London

You can tell at a glance that the June 1961 issue includes an article about London. When I originally read the article about the city’s “Storied Square Mile,” I didn’t know I would see it six years later. The article includes a fold out map along with photographs of people, places, pomp and pageantry.

When this issue came in the mail, you could also read about the FBI, Thailand, rose aphids and whaling.

There’s also a cute ad of a boy leaving his house with a red wagon filled with all his stuff for Bank of America Travelers Cheques. I used to carry these years ago, but in time I got fed up with explaining to stores and hotels with clerks who said “we don’t take checks” that these aren’t the same as the potentially bad checks torn out of a check book. You’d think people in resort towns would know that.

They probably still don’t know it.

The Holy Land and New Guinea

telestarThe December 1961 issue contains multiple articles about the Middle East. My father, who did some media consulting in the area in the mid-1950s probably liked the memories stirred up by this issue. If I had ever been there, I might be tempted to save this issue, though for what purpose, I’m not sure. I’m sure I still have this copy because my father saved it as part of his collection.

I haven’t been to New Guinea (or even the Canyon Lands of Utah), so the May 1962 issue isn’t tempting. It does have a space-aficionado article called “Telephone a Star: the Story of Communications Satellites.”

The article includes a picture of Telestar that would be launched that June. Teletar 2 would be launched the following year. At the time, this was BIG NEWS. Now, there are over a thousand operational satellites in orbit. The news media hardly even mention the launches any more.

They were still in orbit, though nonfunctional, as of last year. Big news at the time, telestarsongthere was even a hit song about it that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 list. It was a catchy song then, but I doubt it would get much play today–unless you’re walking (or flying) down memory lane.

Memory Lane or Ancient History?

If you were there, going through a stack of National Geographic Magazines that came out during your lifetime is a trip down memory lane. I remember the events, the products and the global issues. Otherwise, this is all “ancient” history. Most of the stuff that ended up in these magazines probably isn’t on the RADAR in a high school history class. Perhaps the Berlin Wall will flit by in a footnote to the paragraph about Cold War–assuming the Cold War is even in the course. In a college’s “Recent U.S.” history course, perhaps the Cold War itself will make it into the course for a one-hour lecture. When Russia marched into the Crimea, a lot of people who didn’t know what the Cold War was started doing a lot of Google searches about it.

1964DecNGMI saved these magazines, along with copies of noteworthy issues of Life, Look, Newsweek and the Saturday Evening Post because I though they would be important as keepsakes, as windows on the world as it was, and possibly (like old books) as antiques that might be worth money some day. The memories are wonderful, but I can no longer afford the space all these boxes take up. Plus, they’re heavy to move around.

Perhaps they’ll have monetary value in another hundred years–like original photographs of the Civil War have now–but not being a rich person with a Downton Abbey sized house, I don’t have the space for that kind of collecting. And, I doubt my daughter wants to see a U-Haul truck arrive with a garage full of dusty old magazines arrive. She’s been to the Middle East, but I think she’ll always prefer her own pictures to those in the January 1964 issue of National Geographic.

Plus, I’m one of many millions of people who seem to have saved these magazines with the idea in mind that one day they would be rare.


The beauty of a regional magazine

November 2008 Issue
November 2008 Issue

While newspapers as we now know them will probably be all but gone within ten years (A Former Newspaper Boy Watches News Trends), the world of local and regional magazines has remained strong.

Writing in Folio Magazine earlier this year, Jason Fell said that “While much of the publishing industry grits its teeth in anticipation of a recession and established publishers reign in their print launches, the city and regional market remains hot, thanks to a low barrier to entry and a continued demand for print.”

Living Jackson Magazine, a superb example of regional magazine strength, is headquartered in Jefferson, Georgia, some 60 miles northeast of Atlanta along I-85. The magazine will celebrate two and a half years of publication at this year’s Christmas party.

This monthly magazine with high production values has a strong editorial focus: our county. In this case, Jackson County perched along U.S. Highway 129 between Gainesville and Athens. The website blurb says it well: The quality and quantity of editorial content in Living Jackson is bar none. Living Jackson utilizes the area’s best writers and photographers and Living Jackson is 100 percent local! Readers discover all that Jackson County has to offer through the pages of Living Jackson magazine, and they learn why our lovely area is known as “spacious, gracious and vibrant.”

I’m biased, of course, because I’m right here in Jackson County and have found it a wonderful change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta where I lived for 18 years. I’m also biased because I’m a contributing writer for Living Jackson for many of the book reviews.

If you were to move to Jefferson, the county seat, you would first notice the town square, one of the town’s historic districts, and its 1858 general store (now part of Crawford W. Long Museum) and you would see the quiet city streets, you might stop for coffee at Coffee Philter which all of us will tell you beats Starbucks, and you might stroll through the the old mill–the cotton and corduroy long gone–now used for multiple retail businesses under the Real Deals name.

But if you really wanted to learn about your new county, picking up the last two years of Living Jackson would tell you just who we are and where we’ve been. Our Christmas party on December 5th will celebrate a lot of hard work, dedication and love of people and place.

P.S. Noted on 11/9/21–Sadly, this magazine is no longer in business. Lack of readers. Lack of advertisers. But, as they say, it was fun while it lasted. The photo was a link and with the magazine gone, the link is gone.