Dispatch from AWP: Starting and Sustaining a New Literary Publication

To start a new literary journal, you need a few things. Let’s go through a quick list of what the panelists had to say.

1. Money. There are a variety of ways to go about getting it. The panelists used IndieGogo, Kickstarter, donations at the door of events, and subscription plans. When the journals were lifted off the ground, it was also helpful to ask well-known authors to judge writing contests that required entry fees. Josh Raab of The Newer York says that he’s instituted a $12 optional fee for those writers who want a personalized response to their writing. This fee brings in hundreds of dollars each month.

2.  Kick-ass design. All the panelists agreed that you need a great design team to make both the website and the physical journal stand out. If it looks sloppy, readers won’t want to read it, and authors won’t want to publish in it.

3.   Help from local bookstores. People stumble upon new things at bookstores all the time, and it’s likely that local, independent bookstores will carry your journal if you ask them nicely.

4.   A dedicated staff. In general, it’s good to have one manager to oversee everything, a designer, and several editors (as many as three per genre).

5.   Transparency. One panelist says it’s really important to be “super-transparent.” Tell writers what you’re looking for, about how long it’ll take to respond, and who is doing the reading/deciding. It’s also wise to be transparent about how the journal is funded.

The panelists also had words of caution. Believe it or not, some rejected writers are brazen enough to dispute the rejection, or mock the editors for having declined to publish their work. Some send nasty emails. Be prepared for these inevitable snotgrams.

Do not claim to publish the “best literature in the world.” It’s not possible for all journals to do this, and many already say they do, so don’t add your voice to that misleading chorus.

Finally, for managers of these literary journals, Stephanie Torres says, “It’s important to have a hand in everything, but not to micromanage.”

As the BWW moves forward with plans for our own literary journal, it’ll be wise to keep these things in mind.

About Peter Biello

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered on New Hampshire Public Radio and a writer of short stories, novels, book reviews, and essays. He's also the host of The Bookshelf, a series of interviews with authors from or writing about the Granite State.
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