Starting a Literary Magazine
Today is publishing Friday. As I said I would do, every Friday I’m going to post an article that deals with something in the publishing world, so I decided to write a post about creating a literary magazine for those readers OR writers who are thinking about starting one, or for those just curious about how a literary magazine gets started. But here are some things I think you need to have.
- Experience. I didn’t start my lit magazine without prior magazine experience or editorial experience. I started out as a slush pile reader, so I was able to receive a behind-the-scenes view of how a literary magazine worked. I then went on to be an executive editor for a start-up magazine. Last, I apprenticed beneath Georgia McBride to receive experience in editing. All of this experience will make the magazine look reputable and something people want to submit to. Everything eventually culminated in my decision to create a magazine–and to be an editor for clients needing my services.
- An idea. You want to make your magazine separate from others. What makes yours different? Why should people submit to yours? The Corner Club Press is about putting a strong emphasis on both poetry AND short fiction/creative nonfiction, as there are many magazines that don’t do this. You will also need to know what to call your literary magazine. Make it creative. Make it even have a backstory. And a tagline for the magazine never hurts, either. CCP’s is ‘Where Poetry and Fiction Converge.’ It’s effective enough to let people know what our magazine is about.
- A strong staff. Once you have experience you are comfortable with and ideas put in place, you now need to find a strong staff dedicated to the magazine as much as you are. The Corner Club Press started out with two people, but we were able to manage it alone, until my poetry editor/formatter had to leave. So then it moved to just my personal assistant and I; however, that became too much. Now we have a strong team of people with professional experience to help create a strong magazine.
- How often you are going to publish. You need to decide this before gathering submissions. How often are you going to publish? CCP started out as quarterly, until Daphne had to leave. Then the schedule became too erratic, so we needed to bring on other people to get the magazine in order. Now we’re publishing quarterly again.
- Gathering submissions. You need to find out how you’re going to gather submissions in the most effective way possible. Sure, you can start out asking people to submit through Google+ and the like, but Duotrope and Submissions Grinder and Poets and Writers will earn you submissions more effectively, especially once you’ve established that you are professional and your magazine will be professional. To be honest, I am turned off by magazines that have to go around and ask for submissions. This means they didn’t plan well in advance. I get we all have to start somewhere, but when I started, I received over 100 submissions in the first week without having to do this, just from being listed on Duotrope. You can even start a simple thread somewhere, simply letting people know that your magazine just opened, and then link to your magazine’s website. I warn against actually having to go around and ask. It shows you don’t know what you’re doing to manage a magazine. You also sound desperate.
- A professional website. See the picture above (there is more to the home page than what you’re viewing). That is what my magazine’s home page looks like. I use Weebly, and unfortunately we don’t have the funds to buy a domain, but people are still submitting and don’t think our magazine any less professional for it. Weebly already has set templates, but you can mess around with those templates to set yours apart from others that use the same template.
- Tabs you need. You need a tab detailing how your magazine got started. People love to know the background of a magazine they are submitting to. This also gives more credence to your magazine. You need a submissions guideline, obviously, and I’m going to link to mine below on what needs to be included. You want the staff listed, along with their credentials, just so people know their experience. This will bolster their confidence in your magazine. Obviously you’ll need an issues page, starting with the most recent issue you’ve published. You’ll want to use your magazine’s cover and link the cover to a pdf or a website that can create a magazine for you. I use Calameo. And of course you’ll want an archive to put your backlist issues in once you start a new volume. We are on volume 3.
- You do not need to pay. Your magazine can still be reputable without paying your writers. Non-paying magazines exist for a reason. I have published people who were published by magazines that paid. It still looks good on a cover letter to be published by a reputable magazine, even if it doesn’t pay.
- Now begin accepting submissions. Close down for a submissions period when it’s time for you to read them. Let Duotrope know you’ve closed so that way they can let writers know not to submit during this period. When you let Duotrope know you’ve opened back up, they’ll slide you in a tab of magazines that have both opened and closed. Writers flock to this tab first. You’re on there for about a week.
- Once you’ve accepted work, send out acceptance letters immediately, along with a short contract. You can look up a short contract for a literary magazine. They’re easy to do. When rejecting, you do not have to give feedback. I used to give feedback, until that became too much. A rejection letter is all writers are owed. Nothing more. Nothing less.
- Formatting. You need to decide how you’re going to format the issue, what sort of art you want to use (keep this art consistent), and so on and so forth, so make sure you have someone on your staff with good formatting experience.
- Editing. Your accepted pieces should only need light editing. Any more, and you probably shouldn’t have accepted those pieces in the first place.
Now I’m going to link to my magazine’s submission guidelines so you have a general idea of what you need to include. Also look around the website and note how professional it looks.
Next Friday’s post will be for those thinking about becoming freelance editors. I’m going to write what you need to do in order to make this happen.