About Starting an Online Literary Journal

Starting your own lit mag can seem like a daunting project, but if you don't have the funds to commit to a printed literary journal, you can still create a polished fiction or poetry magazine online. Online literary journals have grown in popularity, and being the editor of your own lit mag offers many rewards. It gives you an outlet to encourage new writers and flex your editing skills, and it gives you an excuse to spend your days reading stories! It can also help you launch your own literary ambitions by connecting you to other readers, writers, and editors.

The first step is to settle on a name for your magazine. Choose one that is unique, yet professional-sounding so that attract high-quality submissions. Experiment with titles like The XYZ Review, XYZ Poetry Journal, XYZ Magazine, or quirkier names. When you have a moniker, buy a domain name and a webhosting package so that your online journal will have a home on the web.

The next step is to write a set of clear editorial policies or a mission statement. This includes submissions guidelines, publication schedule, the genre and theme of your literary journal, and whether/how contributors are paid. If you can afford to give even a token payment, you really ought to. The only way to attract good fiction writers and poets is to show that you support them, even if you can only pay a modest sum.

Also consider how to receive submissions. Do you want to pick them up at a P.O. Box, or receive them by email? Postal submissions create barriers that deter writers from sending you a lot of junk, whereas email invites a lot of slush (both good and bad), since it is so effortless. Most online journals and print magazines accept poetry and fiction submissions electronically, and writers appreciate the convenience. This is probably the best method for a fledgling magazine of fiction and poetry. As your magazine grows, you can recruit slush readers or adjust the submissions policies, but don't stress over it at the beginning.

Advertise an open call for submissions by listing your online lit mag with Duotrope's Digest, a comprehensive and free directory of English language lit mags, both paper and online. You can also try to get a listing in the current edition of Poet's Market. Try to arrange link exchanges with other literary magazines and lit bloggers.

The more you connect with other writers, the more opportunities you'll find to promote your magazine and solicit good work. It's easy to fill issues with short stories and poems written by friends and family, but in the long run your magazine won't thrive unless you expand your reach. Read other lit mags and literary sites to find new writers. Use a minimalist approach to site design. Having black text on a white background and no artwork is better than having colors that clash and flashing graphics that hurt the eyes. Consider what will impress your readers and flatter your contributors. Solicit submissions from artists and photographers to create "cover art" for each issue. It will give your site the look and feel of a real magazine.

Do you invest in a web designer, or do you code the pages yourself? It depends on your skills and the functionality of your site. If you are a novice at webdesign, but want to create online submissions forms and databases, hire a smart web designer to bring your online lit mag to life. If you know enough HTML and CSS to make simple static pages, and that's all you want, then do it yourself.

If you want to make money from your literary journal, you can make some content available by subscription only, or sell ad space. If your website gets thousands of hits every month, big name literary journals may pay to advertise in the margins. However, it takes time to build up that level of readership, and it's best not to expect a profit for the first few years.

Don't forget to tie up any loose ends, such as record keeping, terms of use, and copyrights. Keep records of all the authors you correspond with, any payments made, and dates of publication. On every page of your online lit mag, make it clear whom the copyright belongs to.

The details have a tendency to pile up into a mountain of chores and considerations, but don't let it stop you from jumping right in and just winging it. You can correct errors as they arise and fill in gaps as you find them. Most literary journals are a labor of love on the part of the editors.

© Had2Know 2010