So You Want to Start a Literary Magazine

I’m the founder and former editor of Little Rose Magazine. Little Rose started out as a project for one of my university courses and I enjoyed running it so much that I decided to keep it going long after the course had ended. Unfortunately, life got in the way. I became busier at work and started focusing more heavily on other projects, which meant I couldn’t dedicate the time to Little Rose that it deserved.

I handed over the editing reins to a new editor about a year ago. It looks like Little Rose is no longer actively publishing new work, which saddens me because I got to see a lot of great work come in over the last couple of years. But I also understand just how demanding running a literary magazine can be. Think you can handle it? Read this!

Do You Have Time?

Literary magazines take a lot of time. You have to build a website, get the word out to potential submitters, read each submission, choose what to accept and what to reject, write acceptance letters, write rejection letters (the hardest part, in my opinion), publish the work, and, although not required, you’d be wise to promote your literary magazine and contributors on social media.

This all amounts to a full-time job. The vast majority of literary magazine editors do this work voluntarily or for a pittance, in addition to having a regular day job. So, essentially, you end up with two full-time jobs. It’s a lot of work. Rewarding work, yes, but it’s not always fun.

Do You Have Money?

Little Rose was an online magazine created on a free Weebly account. I didn’t spend any money on it for several months until I decided to upgrade my account to get rid of the .weebly URL.

Yes, you can run a magazine without spending money, but if you’re looking to build a serious following and attract top talent, you’re probably going to have to spend some money. The costs can add up quickly. Domain names, marketing, advertisements, and if you’re starting a print magazine, you can add printing costs to the tally.

Don’t expect to make your money back. Literary magazines are very rarely profitable. The term “starving artist” exists for a reason.

Do You Have Energy?

Frankly, running a literary magazine is exhausting. When you have an inbox of 100 poems and 20 different 5,000 word stories, you’re going to get tired. Of course you want to respond to submitters as quickly as possible, but you also don’t want to burn yourself out.

There are ways to make the work easier. You could ask for volunteer readers to help you work through all the submissions. You could create email templates so you don’t have to type out the same message over and over again. You could hire a tech-savvy person to perform regular website upkeep. But at the end of the day, if your literary magazine is important to you, expect to spend a lot of your own energy on it.

So, Should You Go For It?

Yes! If you think you can handle running a literary magazine, absolutely go for it! Despite what I’ve stated above, I think running Little Rose was an extremely rewarding experience. Here’s why:

  • I became a better writer.
    By reading through hundreds of submissions, I learned from other writers and honed my own writing skills.
  • I became a better reader.
    When deciding what to accept and what to reject, I read each submission carefully and closely, sometimes three or four times before making a decision.
  • I became a better person.
    Running a literary magazine taught me to have more patience. With all the hard work, there were times I wondered if it was even worth it. When contributors emailed me, telling me how excited they were to be published for the first time, or how happy they were to finally have an acceptance after countless rejections from other publications — that made me feel amazing.

If you’re up for the challenge, do it. Whatever happens, you won’t regret starting a literary magazine.

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