Naughty or Nice? A Publisher’s Guide to Breaking the Rules


CEO and Publisher Rebecca Wesson Darwin shares her insights with us on breaking the rules.

With such a wonderfully provocative title, how could Garden & Gun not be a rule breaker? Rebecca Wesson Darwin, CEO and Publisher of Garden and Gun, is also rule-breaker in her own right who was the first female publisher of the New Yorker.  After holding senior roles at GQ, Fortune and Mirabella, Darwin found herself living in Charleston, SC, outside the bustling fray of the New York media world – mother of two and the wife of a preacher.

Instead of sipping tea on the porch, she filled a void in the marketplace by launching a lifestyle magazine like no other! Darwin launched a national magazine focused on Southern lifestyle, Garden & Gun has built its success on an alternative circulation strategy and an unapologetic love of lush paper, good writing, and world-class photography.  We asked her to share with us some of her secrets for publishing success: how to think big when you are starting small, how to use (or not use) research when launching, and tips on growing a successful niche.

Niche Media HQ: What 3 things niche publishers could do today to start growing their business?


–       Use social media to your advantage.  It’s a great way to put others to work for you to spread the word.

–       Think of unique ways to grow your brand franchise.  Don’t copy what somebody else has already done.  Use that special relationship you have with your readers to cast a wider net.

–       Invest in a sound public relations strategy.  You’ve got a story to tell and you can stand out from the crowd if you have the right person leading that charge.

In general, I would say think big, not small … but more about that when we gather in Charleston at the conference.

Niche Media HQ: In the past, you’ve been a big-league publisher and executive for magazines like the New Yorker and Fortune.  And now you are a successful niche magazine publisher.  What are a few best practices that niche magazine publishers can learn from the big guys?

Rebecca:   There is a reason the big publishing companies I worked for in the past invested in quality editorial.  Because it matters.  And that has been the one thing I have believed in from the beginning with Garden & Gun and would never change – even in the toughest days of the recession.  Don’t scrimp on your product unless you want readers who don’t give a damn!

I have a similar philosophy when it comes to circulation and pricing of subscriptions.  If you don’t think your magazine is worth anything, then your readers won’t either.  Some of the larger publishing companies have stuck to their guns in this area, but there are many who are kicking themselves now as they struggle to keep up with their rates bases. 

The best companies and magazines that I worked for put a tremendous emphasis on marketing programs and partnering with their advertisers.  If a magazine team is coming up with smart ideas, they don’t have to give them away – in fact, they can even charge more for them.  This lesson has been the backbone of my entire career and one my team and I follow daily at Garden & Gun.

There’s a lot to be learned from the big boys.  We like to let them test things first, make all the mistakes, and then come in with our killer ideas.  I honestly think smaller publishers have an advantage in these times.  We’re more nimble and can adapt more quickly to necessary changes.

Niche Media HQ Bonus question: What’s your favorite Southern dish? 

Rebecca:  I have my grandmother’s spoonbread recipe and will be making it with my hoppin’ john and collard greens for New Years Day. (Editor’s note: Yum!)

Want to hear and learn more about breaking the rules? Darwin will be one of our keynote speakers this year at the Niche Media Conference in Charleston in February. Join us!


Diana Landau, Niche Content WranglerAbout this blogger: Diana Landau is Content Wrangler of Niche Media. A former corporate marketing hack, she has now found nirvana in writing and wrangling quality content. Diana is a food, wine, art and SF Giants enthusiast who sometimes gets carried away.



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