Making It

By Margaret Webb Pressler
Sunday, October 14, 2007

As a journalism major at the University of Maryland , Kathy Jentz always wanted to write for magazines. Her first job was writing for the magazine of the Association for Women in Communications in Washington, which led to a succession of jobs at other trade associations. But it wasn't until she started her own publication almost three years ago that Kathy, 39, finally found the satisfaction she had hoped for in a magazine career.

Kathy produced the first bimonthly issue of Washington Gardener Magazine, and launched her Web site, in early 2005, both filling a niche in the marketplace and indulging a passion. "My personal therapy is coming home and being able to do whatever I want to in the garden," says Kathy, who has a quarter-acre yard with cottage-style plantings at her house near downtown Silver Spring.

Kathy had expected it would take five years for the magazine to break even, but she says she'll reach that milestone early next year. She's still living off her savings, but "everything's going in the right direction," she says. Circulation is growing about 10 percent with every issue, which now goes to 3,000 subscribers for $20 a year. Another 2,000 copies are sold at bookstores such as Borders for $4.95 each. Advertising revenue is growing at about the same rate, but Kathy recognizes it would grow faster if she weren't doing all the ad sales herself. Of course, the best indication of initial success might be that she's still around at all. About 60 percent of new magazines fail within the first year, according to the Magazine Publishers Association. "It's scary. It's almost like the restaurant business," Kathy says.

Kathy made $80,000 a year in her last job, but she didn't like having to run the trade shows for the associations she worked for on top of producing the magazines. And the free products weren't much of a perk, either: She worked for a running and fitness association, for example, but isn't a runner. And she had no use for free crayons and scissors from a school supplies association. "Other staffers could take home sample products for their kids and have fun at the show, but it just wasn't my thing," she says.

In 2004, after 15 years of working in communications for trade associations, Kathy realized she knew enough to start her own magazine. She had a 401k account and $60,000 in savings, so she figured she could live without an income for a while. "I definitely live a frugal lifestyle," she acknowledges, though she has had to tap her 401(k) once.

Gardening was an obvious subject matter, she says, in part because there was no magazine targeting the vibrant mid-Atlantic gardening market, which has a climate all its own. Her readers are gardening enthusiasts -- "dirt-under-the-nails gardeners," as she calls them -- who want advice and information tailored to the region's climate and soil.

With its fledging circulation and expenses of about $30,000 per issue, including freelance payments, the magazine is a modest operation. But Kathy has bigger ambitions. She expects to draw a salary next year for the first time and increasingly does speaking engagements for garden clubs and other organizations, as well as TV appearances on NBC's Channel 4. She'd also like to start her own gardening trade show in Washington.

"It seems like no matter what I do, I'm going to end up running a trade show," she says. But the freebies will be ones she wants.

Have you turned a love of outdoor recreation into a new career? E-mail

© 2007 The Washington Post Company