Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone, editors of Fuselit, give their tips on running a magazine alongside advice from other editors. Plus a “Ten Steps to Starting a Magazine” to guide you through your first issue.
Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone run the poetry magazine Fuselit. The first edition was a simple affair of stapled pages they made as students but over the years this humble booklet has grown into a popular online zine, with a limited edition art-book print run for each issue. In this feature, they give their advice on starting a magazine and suggest some magazines they think you might enjoy. We have also jotted down ‘Ten Steps to Starting a Magazine’ to help guide you through your first issue.
You want a strong first issue, so consider soliciting work from poets whose work you enjoy. After this, setting up a mailing list and creating a website are two of the most useful tools you can employ to raise awareness. Don’t rely solely on Facebook and Twitter (though by all means use them) as everyone else will probably have had the same idea. Including editorial guidelines on your site helps to avoid confusion. Be particularly clear with regard to payment (especially if there is none!) and whether you will give free copies to contributors.
Regarding submissions, don’t be afraid to politely say no. I try to give some indication, where possible, of why I am not accepting a piece. I also suggest edits for poems that I feel are nearly there but for a couple of minor alterations. Prepare yourself for the odd person being overbearing or sensitive to criticism, and be confident in your decisions.
Jon on Production
Dealing with a limited budget is one of the hardest parts of setting up a poetry magazine, though not insurmountable. Even if you’re hoping to recoup expenses through sales, you have to plan for the possibility of shifting very few copies. Ask yourself how much of a loss you could stand to make on each issue and whether you can afford to keep going in spite of this.
Setting up a blog-based zine is free, and even a full web-based journal is very cheap. It’s worth reading up extensively on html and web design principles, then building the whole thing yourself.
Starting off with a strong template will make the compilation of future issues fast and simple, and there’s a wealth of free advice on how to do this. Just google ‘html’ or ‘web design’ and a short description of the problem. Don’t be afraid to steal design solutions from other websites – you can right-click and select ‘view page source’ to see the coding.
Taking the print route can be kept relatively inexpensive as well. If you’re prepared to physically construct the magazine yourself by investing in a long-armed stapler and paper trimmer, or researching different binding methods, then we could be talking about the cost of paper and good quality black and white printing: 10-15p a sheet. Printing and binding in small batches will also give you the opportunity to spot and correct mistakes as you go along. If possible, get access to a copy of Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress they are invaluable, and will give you much greater control over the ‘look’ than using a word processor.
Overall, don’t underestimate the worth of sound planning and good design. Make the building of your magazine a labour of love, not just a means to an end. Treat it as much like an artform as you do your writing.
Advice From Other Magazine Editors
We’ve spoken to teh editors of other magazines to see what advice they can give. Remember if you are looking for Poetry Magazines you can find more on the Poetry Map.
Founder and editor Claire Trévien says: I started Sabotage in May 2010 as the response to an urge to review the literary magazines and pamphlets I was reading. It has since evolved into a place that welcomes reviews from regular contributors as well as one-off volunteers and I am in the process of expanding the range reviewed to novellas, short-story anthologies and performance poetry too by having two new editors join me.
Perhaps the most difficult part of running Sabotage is tracking down writers who have lost sight of their deadline, or trying to deal diplomatically with an article that’s not up to scratch. Mostly though, it’s a wonderful excuse to make time to read literary magazines instead of, say, tidying my room. We are often told that there are more writers than readers out there – I hate to think of these stacks of magazines gathering dust somewhere, unread and unloved.
Runcie says: When we started Pomegranate, we felt there wasn’t much provision for young writers who wanted to improve and get their work read. We wanted to make a quality magazine that was fun to read and helped writers to get started before moving on to other things, and I think we’ve succeeded – we already have quite a few alumni with pamphlets and first collections on the go.
“It has been increasingly difficult juggling work for Pomegranate alongside our university careers and searches for paid employment, especially as the project has grown and got better. All the Pomegranate editors live quite far away from each other (from Edinburgh to Swansea, via Ipswich and London) and it’s tricky having to organise it all over the internet, but I think it probably helps us to keep an online-focused perspective, which is useful for an ezine. We’ve all learned a lot about poetry and online publishing while we’ve worked on it, so that’s an added bonus for us. We’re so proud of what we’ve achieved and the promising writers to whom we’ve given a leg-up – it’s definitely worth the effort.
Jones says: Etcetera started out with the simple aim of publishing new work by poets I liked, with a view to attracting more international contributors and to featuring artwork alongside the writing, often by my co-editor Natalie Orme. It has since evolved into a more transdiscourse site, using poetry as a springboard to other, more critical or philosophical areas of discussion, areas I feel are important for anyone seriously interested in poetry to be involved in. I’m continually way behind with everything Etcetera-related, but it’s worth doing, I think, and nice to feel a part of a community.
We feel proud of the wonderful work we’ve collected, and it has been a joy to publish poems by such widely known and successful writers as Helen Farish, Peter Sansom and Geoff Hattersley alongside emerging talents like Andrew Wynn Owen, Emily Bagshaw and Jacob Silkstone, amongst many, many others. Our ethos remains what it always has been – to publish fantastic poetry, sparkling flash fiction, and insightful reviews, and to let the work speak for itself.
Ten Steps to Starting a Magazine!
1. Decide who do you want to be in and to read your magazine?
2. Ask yourself: how will you pay for your magazine?
3. Using the answers to the two cunning questions above, pick the best format for your magazine! If you are creating a magazine for a few friends then it’s hard to beat crafting together a physical publication. However the costs of printer ink soon add up, so if you want to grow a larger audience without worrying about income, perhaps you need to go for an online magazine. There are lots of free blog sites out there which you can use. If you want to create a magazine for a school you may wish to consider piggy backing it onto an existing school newsletter by asking teachers if you can have a poetry section or supplement. If you are going to sell your magazine where and to whom will you sell it?
4. Advertise for submissions and approach people personally. Pick a deadline and make sure everyone knows about it. People are often shy about submitting to a new magazine. If you want your friends to submit then contact them directly and ask them. Remember that everyone likes to be asked.
5. Choose the best submissions and let everyone know if they have been accepted or not. As editor, you don’t have to be afraid of making suggestions if you think a contributor’s poem is good but not quite there yet.
6. Make your mag, whether that means uploading content to your website or stapling, stitching or gluing together the pages.
7. Send contributors a free copy. Published poets ought to receive a free copy of any publication they are in. If you are publishing online make sure you send the contributors a link when their work is uploaded.
8. Distribute it. If you have an online magazine, are there appropriate websites that might link to it? Could you get it reviewed? Can you post it on any suitable poetry forums and facebook groups? If it is a print magazine, will you create a website to advertise it or are you aiming at a smaller print run? If it is for your school or college, is there an event or fair where you can sell it?
9. Will you have a launch event? The format of launch events is usually a reading where some of the contributors read their featured poem(s) alongside a few others. Encourage your contributors to bring friends along and then sell the magazine to the audience. (We will be posting a guide to organising events in the next couple of months so watch this space).
10. Evaluate each stage of the process – what worked and what didn’t. Decide what you will change as you prepare for your next issue.
Valiant editors, Kirsten and Jon, in the fierce world of magazine publishing.
Kirsten Irving is the editor of Fuselit, and a co-editor of Sidekick Books. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and journals, including City State: New London Poetry (penned in the margins) and two editions of Stop Sharpening Your Knives (eggbox publishing). She is the co-author of a sci-fi poetry chapbook, ‘No, Robot, No!’, writing under the pseudonym Eve Bishop, and her full debut pamphlet, ‘What To Do’, is out this year from Happenstance.
Jon Stone handles production of Fuselit and is the other co-editor of Sidekick Books. He was highly commended in the National Poetry Competition 2009, the same year his debut pamphlet, ‘Scarecrows’, was released. A full collection, ‘School of Forgery’, is out early next year from Salt. He has also published ‘Thrakoom’, a free online collection of superhero/comic book poems. Both Kirsty and Jon blog frequently at Cut Out & Keep.