Regime Change: Behind the Scenes at Counter magazine

By:  Greg J. Schloesser

I have had the great pleasure of writing reviews and articles for Counter magazine for 14 years.  In my admittedly biased opinion, I believe Counter to be the finest journal in the boardgaming hobby.  The articles, reviews and commentary are all top-notch, in-depth and insightful.  It is difficult to find such consistent quality material in one place (outside of the OG site, of course!)

After 15 years at the helm, Alan How and Stuart Dagger have decided to retire from the managerial and editor duties.  Ben Baldanza and I have taken over these tasks and our first issue at the helm should be arriving in subscribers’ hands within the next few weeks.  To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it has been.”

counterThe amount of groundwork that had to be done was staggering.  Subscriptions were not accepted beyond Issue #61 (Stuart and Alan’s final issue at the helm), so we immediately had to undertake efforts to encourage current subscribers to re-subscribe.  Sadly, since Counter is a print magazine, there was no database of email addresses for the subscribers.  We were able to place notices in the last two issues, but knew that we should also try to contact the subscribers individually.  So, I spent weeks scouring the BoardGameGeek database, hoping to find email addresses whereby to contact both current and previous subscribers.  This seems to have worked, as subscriptions did increase dramatically.  We also launched various campaigns to make the gaming hobby-at-large aware of Counter and hopefully prompt folks to consider subscribing.

Further, we had to investigate the financial aspects of publishing a quarterly magazine.  Printing, postage, materials, advertising, etc.—all had to be researched and numbers crunched.  Counter is not a hugely profitable venture; no one is going to quit their day job!  Indeed, it truly is a labor of love for all involved.  So, we had to make sure we made the proper arrangements so that we could cover expenses and continue to offer the magazine at a reasonable rate.  This process was quite time consuming and often frustrating—especially considering today’s high postage rates and limited mailing options.  While we considered printing the magazine in both Europe and the United States, it was more cost efficient, even factoring in postage costs, to print the magazine here in the U.S.

We certainly wanted to maintain our current contributors, as they are the folks who are responsible for the high quality content for which Counter is renowned.  Fortunately, every current author was eager to continue their contributions, including Stuart and Alan.  Ben and I also wanted to add some new voices to the mix, so we contacted numerous other folks within the hobby whose views and writing talents were widely known and respected.  We were thrilled with the response, and are proud to have been joined by such notable luminaries as Paul Evans, Mitch Thomashow, Chris Kovac, Andrea Ligabue, Jim Reed, Rick Thornquist and, of course, some guy from the Opinionated Gamers website known as Dr. Dale Yu!

As the date for the June issue approached, I began receiving submissions from our contributors.  I have always respected the outstanding job Stuart Dagger has done as editor; his linguistic and organizational skills are formidable, and I knew I would pale by comparison.  After proofreading over and over again dozens of articles and reviews, I now have even greater admiration for his skills.  Indeed, I am in awe.  Everyone has different writing styles, and none of us save Stuart are experts in English grammar and style.  Couple this with the fact that we have writers from numerous different countries—many of whom do not speak or write English as their primary language—and you have a formidable proofreading and editing chore.  Indeed, my word processor spell checker threw a hissy-fit over the unique English (as opposed to American) spelling of numerous words by our British contingent!

It was time to hit the grammar books and websites to relearn—or counterlearn for the first time—the proper punctuation and grammar rules.  Just where does that comma go—inside or outside of quotation marks?  When are parentheses appropriate as opposed to dashes?  Should numbers be spelled-out or written as digits?  What if they are in a sequence?  These are just a few questions that I had to investigate; there were dozens and dozens more.  Interestingly, I discovered that the answers often differed based on the grammar sources consulted, and the rules were often different for English and American writers.  Sigh.

In addition to carefully proofreading each article, review and commentary many, many times, I also had to layout the magazine.  After investigating several programs, I felt Microsoft Publisher was the best choice.  It offers a great deal of flexibility and stylistic options, yet is easy to understand and operate.  Further, I was already familiar with the program, so I did not need to learn it from scratch.  While we desired to keep the magazine’s format essentially the same, we also wanted to make it a bit easier on the eyes.  Publisher offers the ability to easily add graphics and photos, which helps break-up page-after-page of text.

Since I do nearly all of my word processing work using Microsoft Word, it was a fairly simple matter to cut-and-paste material from Word into Publisher.  Well, that part was easy, but other complications soon reared their ugly heads.  One aggravating problem is that Publisher doesn’t seem to care much for justified text.  It delights in hyphenating words and creating large gaps between words and letters in an attempt to make the text align evenly with both sides of a column.  Turning off the hyphen feature was easy, but eliminating those unsightly gaps proved very tedious and time consuming.  After hours-upon-hours of work, I think I’ve learned a few tricks or two to correct Publisher’s nasty tendencies.

Finally, after working on the layout for several weeks, I thought I had everything ready to go.  However, when I printed a few test pages—something I should have done much, much earlier in the process—I discovered that the print was larger than what I desired.  After closer examination, I discovered that previous issues of Counter had been printed using a 9pt. font, not the 10pt. font I had believed it to be.  So, I now had to change everything to the proper font size, which, of course, gave Publisher the excuse it needed to once again wreak havoc when justifying the newly sized text.  So, it was back to the process of eliminating those glaring gaps and making sure everything not only aligned properly, but was also pleasing to the eye.  The good news was that reducing the font allowed me to fit in quite a bit more content.

After checking, checking again, and checking even more, I was satisfied.  Issue #61 was ready for printing.  Even though I had reviewed it countless times, I still had to review it yet again before finally pushing that button to upload the document to the printer.  I know that in spite of my meticulous reviewing, I have undoubtedly missed some things, and have certainly committed multiple grammatical faux pas.  I trust Counter readers will forgive me.

Now, the waiting game begins.  On Wednesday—the scheduled arrival date of the boxes of magazines—I will undoubtedly be anxiously awaiting the arrival of the UPS truck.  Yes, I am terribly excited, and admittedly a bit nervous.  Filling the shoes of the legendary Stuart Dagger is an impossible task.  Still, I am confident that the product we are delivering is top-notch.  Counter readers both new and old should really enjoy this issue.  In spite of the abundance of work, the journey has been well worth it.  Counter magazine is simply too valuable a resource to have its run end now.  I am honored to be part of its ongoing success.

So just what does Issue #61 hold in store?  In short, a LOT!  Take a sneak peek at:

http://countermagazineonline.wordpress.com/this-issue/

Ben and I sincerely hope that all of our subscribers enjoy the “new, yet still the same” Counter magazine.  We encourage everyone to consider subscribing, and feel confident you will be happy you did so!

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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11 Responses to Regime Change: Behind the Scenes at Counter magazine

  1. lambolt says:

    surely its time to stop fannying around with paper and put it online or mail out a PDF for printing, cheaper and easier for everyone. good to hear that Counter will continue

  2. gschloesser says:

    Call us old fashioned, but we believe there are still folks who prefer to read hard copies of books, magazines, newspapers, etc. I certainly know I am on of those folks, and I suspect that most of our subscribers feel the same way. While electronic material has its advantages, hard copy journals also have unique advantages. So, as long as it is supported, we will continue to produce a hard copy version of Counter.

    That being said, we will also be making Counter available electronically. Each issue will be available for download via the BoardGameGeek website. We are also investigating making it available for Kindle / Nook / Android devices. So, you can get Counter in any form you prefer!

    • lambolt says:

      Oh i dont disagree with that Greg, I enjoyed the paper thing too, but it seemed like it was making it more of an effort for you guys, and more costly for you and us,and then I’m quite happy to just print out a PDF or read it on my ipad or something. Great news that you’ll provide both options, I always thought it would be cool to compile a years issues into a single volume via Lulu

  3. Stuart Dagger says:

    I’m sorry to hear of the fight you’ve been having to eliminate those big and ugly gaps between words in right-justified text. The typesetting program TeX is thirty years old, its offspring LaTeX not much younger, and they never had any problem with that. Donald Knuth and his helpers just asked the professional typesetters what rules they used to avoid this sort of thing and then incorporated them into their program. It seems astonishing that the leading commercial package still hasn’t cracked it. I doubt my patience would have lasted for 60 issues if I’d had to go though that sort of struggle every time. Using LaTeX, all I had to do was put everything into a single file, type “latex filename” and the finished document came back a couple of seconds later.

    • Jim Ferguson says:

      But when you go to insert multiple in-line graphics and photos as Greg wants to do, suddenly you have need for a LaTeX Ninja.

  4. Melissa says:

    Good luck to you, Greg and team! I’m ashamed to say I had never got around to subscribing before – but I’ve sent off my payment now. Better late than never!

  5. Simon Weinberg says:

    Nice article Greg and yes, I too winced a few times at the struggle you have had to go through. I’m sure there’s a potential game in there somewhere. They say the UK and the USA are two countries divided by a common language…
    Even though you may call me biased, one of the reasons I love Counter is the ability to shove it in a bag, take it to the loo (that’s bathroom for you guys), and read it in bed, jumping from one page to another, without any electronic device needed. If an iPad version comes out I would love to have that as a back-up, but losing the paper copy would be a mistake. And the success of other magazines, including the stack of them being sold everyday in shops, reinforces the general feeling that magazines, on any subject, are still worthwhile.
    It’s probably worth reiterating, incidentally, that all contributors are working for free and that’s purely from a love of receiving that white envelope through the door every 3 months. So anyone who hasn’t already should give Counter a go! I believe there are some sample reviews on the website.

  6. Alan How says:

    Hey! Greg!

    Heres’ a simple test. What colour do you like best/”” Do you LIKE CPAS or CAPS? I hope your tongue doesn’t dry up too soon on the stamps.

    Congratulations on issue 61 for the new team!

  7. will sargent says:

    Hi Greg, I can’t believe you’re taking on a publishing role without any sub editing or desktop publishing experience – Respect to you for wanting to improve your writing skills, but be warned it will be a long and arduous journey. As long as you stick to a single style for the entire publication and remember it’s ’80s for something that happened back in the 1980s and not 80’s, then you’re half way to becoming a real, inky-fingered journalist and bettering most of the lazy, error-strewn Twittering that passes for critical writing on the web.

    Good luck!

    (now you know how we feel over here in the UK when MS word auto configures to all those terrible, abbreviated US spellings of words and phrases).

  8. gschloesser says:

    Hey, Will! I do have some publishing experience, as I’ve done newsletters and smaller journals for other organizations. This is, however, the most ambitious publishing task I’ve assumed. In spite of the hurdles, I’m really enjoying it!

  9. will sargent says:

    Throw me a .pdf copy of your issue to wsargent@hotmail.co.uk and i’ll run an editorial overview for free – at least enough to keep those apostrophe pedants at bay and set you on the right tracks.

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