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Monday, November 28, 2011

Tweeted Questions: Calling All Lit Mags

Tweeted questions just don't stop! (And we love it. More, please!) Continuing with our quest to answer any and all questions we get through Twitter, our discussion panel is taking on a question from fellow mag, Revolution House.

Do you have advice for new mags?

Specter, Mensah Demary   Don't start a literary magazine for any reason other than a love for literature and writers, as well as discovery (the best thrill, so far, is finding a fantastic story from a newcomer or, in some cases, from a vet who had the story rejected multiple times). Beyond the intrinsic qualifications, my advice is to begin. Don't be afraid. Learn as you go along because you will make mistakes, but nothing too detrimental.

Also, don't be cheap. Spend $10 and buy a domain name for your lit mag. Find a solid hosting service with reasonable monthly rates for dedicated server space. If you're going to invest your time, you might as well invest a little bit of money, too. It's the Internet; presentation is everything, and first impressions are fleeting.

Ninth Letter, Jodee Stanley   Get involved with the literary publishing community. Seriously. Go to AWP [Association of Writers & Writing Programs] and any other conferences/bookfairs/literary events you can get to. Follow your favorite lit mags and literary publishers on Facebook and Twitter; engage in conversation with other editors. Once you've published a couple of issues you can and absolutely should join CLMP [Council of Literary Magazines and Presses] so you can participate in ongoing dialogues with editors and publishers. The literary publishing community is welcoming and supportive, as well as being an unbeatable source of information of all kinds.

Black Fox, Racquel Henry   I'd agree with Jodee. Getting involved in the literary community is good advice. Engaging with other editors and publishers is not only enlightening, but supportive. I think it's important for us to support each other and support the writers that we publish.

Joyland Fiction, Brian Joseph Davis   Joyland is online, free, and is funded by grants and donations. Without traditional subscribers, we run hard into the central problem of literary journal entropy: your readers and supporters are the people you, more often than not, are going reject. We ourselves haven't quite licked that problem, but we're trying all the time to improve it. My general advice is to come up with a rejection policy that makes sense, is clear about response times or whether you respond at all. I do believe how you reject is as important as publishing good work.

One problem that afflicts literary journals every now and then is only publishing from an immediate circle, and we have solved that by having eight different regional editors. They do have total control over what they publish. I'm not saying follow our editorial mandates, but if there are lessons you could learn from us, they’re: trust your editors, and start publishing people you don't know as fast as possible.

Contact established authors you like and ask for writing, as well. Both Emily and I worked in publishing and journalism for years before Joyland so we had a few contacts, but we've also done a lot of outreach to complete strangers whose work we love and it's always amazing. No author is ever going to be offended by being asked for work. Conflicted, yes, but offended, no.

CutBank, Josh Fomon   Foremost, don't overextend what you are capable of doing. Start with something manageable so you can grow and subsequently produce more far-reaching goals as you learn to negotiate the amount of time the entire process takes. When beginning a journal, it's not a bad idea to try to solicit work because that gives you greater control over the content and vision of what you want your journal to be. Not enough can be said about social media; it's a great way to expose your journal to a lot of people.

Black Fox, Racquel Henry   One thing that never occurred to me was the idea of soliciting work. I must agree with Josh. That may not be such a bad idea. We've always asked for work from other writers on Twitter, Duotrope, etc., but the thought of actually seeking a writer out and directly asking for a piece never crossed our minds. I quite like that idea, and that may be something we try.

Colorado Review, Stephanie G’Schwind   My advice is to make sure that your partners in crime (and heaven help you if you try this alone) each have different strengths and areas of expertise. Maybe you and a couple others want to select the work to publish, to discover those new voices. Great! But then ideally, you'll have someone who's an organizer, someone who will create structures and schedules for dealing with submissions, editing, and production. You'll have someone who can copyedit, who loves the nuances of the em dash, the semicolon, and that sort of thing. And you'll have someone who can design and lay out the pages and get the issues to and from the printer. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the details. See if you can recruit some dedicated volunteers to help or perhaps start an internship. And finally, join CLMP; it’s a great community of editors, most of whom are more than willing to share their experience and advice with newcomers.

Black Fox, Racquel Henry   Make sure you do your research. Research was the key to our process. There are so many resources out there for literary magazines, but you'll never find them if you don't do your homework. Also, don't give up. Everyone told us that starting a literary magazine was hard work and that most of them fail. We did it anyway. There is nothing like struggling with something and then seeing it succeed in the end. Take the small victories and don't focus on what went wrong along the way. Last, don't do it unless you really love it. All of our editors love words and we are dedicated to continuing the fight to sustain good literature. It won't work unless it's a labor of love.

Barge Press, Shawn Maddey   You really need to take the time to hardcore examine yourself as a reader and/or writer. I honestly don't believe anybody can approach a big fat pile of submissions with the only goal being "I want to choose the very best pieces." What does that even mean? Everybody likes different things, for different reasons. The more vague and general your goals in reading and publishing are, the more dishonest you're being, and the less focused your editorial work will be. Only saying you publish the best work you can find is always a lie—everyone's got an agenda here, everyone's out to say their brand of literature is what's worth reading. Agenda is really not a nasty word; be bold, embrace agenda, and know exactly what yours is, because that's what will make you strong and that's how the conversation moves forward.

On a kind of similar note, don't be afraid to be a hard-ass. It may take a while, but rejections get a lot easier, the more you send them. Don't settle for anything less than exactly what you want. But know why you're rejecting and why you're accepting, most importantly. Doing all personal rejections in the beginning is a great thing and will make you a dramatically better reader. Bottom line is, you may be one of the nicest, gentlest humans on the planet, but if you're editing a mag, your goal is now to weed out the bad ones (and the good ones, too) and promote only the perfect ones. You don't hurt anybody's feelings with rejections, and, if you do, you're just doing the rest of us a service because they shouldn't be playing writer to begin with.

Never overlook the power of networking. Barge started with a core group of four people on the same page but with different skill sets to contribute. Hallie doing layouts, Christine editing and reading, me doing the same and kind of working as the "voice" and overseer of the organization, and Justin bringing the ideas and, very importantly, the network. Meet artists and designers—they will very often be down with what you're trying to do and they're a very active set of people. Make the right friends and you'll get a lot of awesome work done on the cheap or even free—plus now you've got even more people invested in your product who will help promote it.

Oh, and probably the best advice I can think of: if your drunk ideas are your best ideas, run with that. Just make sure you TAKE NOTES. Extensive, highly detailed notes.

Hayden's Ferry Review, Beth Staples   What's resonating a lot with me is what Stephanie said. It's helpful to have a diversity of talents on your staff. You of course have to love literature, but you also have to understand design, finances, social media, appealing to a readership, finances, managing subscriptions, technology and, oh yeah, finances. The problem Brian mentions is well-noted. The people you reject are, still and hopefully, your readers. That's a difficult negotiation. It's great to put out a wonderful magazine, but it's also important to recruit an audience for it. You'll find the number of people who SUBMIT versus the number of people who SUBSCRIBE is a troubling ratio. I think it's easy to underestimate the time and attention you have to put into issues besides finding the best work. Literary journal staffs are usually small, which means that everyone on board has to wear multiple hats, even ones that make their heads look stupid or feel uncomfortable. This metaphor is running away with me, but I hope you see what I mean.


Alisha Karabinus said...

Great advice, guys! Thanks to everyone who took the time to chime in. There's still a lot here we need to put into practice, and I know it will be helpful for others who have the same dream we did (and do).

-Alisha @RevHouse

Ashley Strosnider said...

A lot of these points are solid reminders for established mags with a staff filtered yearly through the revolving door of grad school. Thanks for the insight!

Steph Keep said...

Thank YOU, Alisha! We appreciate you asking and giving us the chance to really reflect. Knowing how much work goes into making a mag makes us admire anyone whose dream is to create one of their own, and from the looks of things, you guys are doing great!

You're right on, Ashley. Ever-changing staff is something we handle, as well, and it definitely makes for a dynamic, creative work environment. Glad you found it helpful!