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Listings and Timings and Budgets, Oh My: How to Set Up a Literary Magazine

Online or print? What to do about marketing? Where should your budget go? Poet and Sideways founder Richy Campbell shares his experience of setting up literary magazines.


My foray into literary magazines began with a mission to discover more contemporary writers. I began picking up literary magazines from bookshops and searching on Google.


This browsing led me to a few publications that I still read today. However, a lot of the magazines I read didn’t publish the kind of innovative work that I was looking for. What better solution than to create a magazine of own? The result was my first literary magazine Fade which gave a platform to the kind of writing that I wanted to read.


Due to the cliché of Life Getting in the Way, I eventually stopped running Fade. But this year, I’ve stepped back into the world of literary magazines and  co-created a new magazine called Sideways. It’s wonderful to get back to promoting writing that I love.


In this piece I am going to draw on my experience of setting up Fade and Sideways. Here are my tips if you’re looking to set up your own magazine, or just want insight into magazine publishing.


Decide Which Format is Best for You


There are advantages and drawbacks to be weighed when it comes to print and digital publishing. The physicality of a print magazine is lovely, yet can be expensive to produce. A digital magazine is cheap and easy to make but also lacks the luxury and tactile quality of being on paper. Of course you can do both but this means more work.


Ultimately, it depends on your skill-set, the planned size of your magazine and your budget. If you do have the budget to print professionally, I recommend popping into your local printer for quotes.


At Sideways, we are self-funded and don’t have the largest of budgets. But these limitations haven’t held us back.


We worked out a simple format and made our first issue available in PDF. This means that issues can be housed online and downloaded. We also developed a print issue which we produce ourselves. All of this is kind to our budget.


Establish Your Submission Guidelines From the Start


I must confess that I didn’t do this for Fade. I soon discovered the importance of establishing guidelines when I received submissions that were over ten poems long. Also, given Fade’s small format, I learnt that it was important to set a word limit on the writing.


I recommend considering the following in your guidelines:


  • Word count (fiction)
  • Line-length (poetry)
  • Whether you want an author biography (and how many words it should be)
  • How many pieces permitted per submission


How Are You Going to Market It?


You may or may not cringe at the idea of doing your own marketing, but it’s key. This is how readers and writers will find you. You can do this through:


  • Online listings, including the Poetry Library, NAWE and Duotrope.
  • Physical marketing: create flyers and posters and ask your local library, bookshop or cafe if you can put them on display.
  • Digital marketing: there’s a big literary community on Twitter and you should find an audience there. Writing regular blogs will also help to draw attention to your website.


Patience and consistency are important for marketing your magazine. Always make sure that you shout about your activities and achievements in order to grow your readership.


In terms of building a website, there are a number of platforms available. Sideways is built on WordPress which has been an excellent user-friendly way of building our site. Even if you don’t have strong digital skills, there’s lots of help and tutorials out there and you can do it for free.


One more point: ensure that your magazine looks consistent. Establishing basics like font and colours will go a long way to establishing your magazine’s identity.


How Often Are You Going to Publish?


Be realistic about the time you have available to spend on running your magazine. Also remember that at the start, submissions probably won’t flow in; it takes time for writers to be aware of you.


Keeping these considerations in mind will help you determine a publication schedule. Alternatively, you could wait to see how the magazine progresses and perhaps a natural schedule (e.g. quarterly, monthly) will emerge.


Think About Copyright


A lot of literary magazines give the rights back to the author on publication. In other words, all copyright you have for the author’s piece goes back to them after you’ve published the relevant issue. This was standard practice for Fade as it enabled writers to showcase their work in other publications. I’d recommend doing this for the benefit of the writer.


In conclusion, it takes a lot of work to run a magazine but is also very rewarding. You can find great writers through your own magazine and be connected to new styles from around the world. Ultimately, it’s satisfying to give a platform to writing that you want to read.


Richy Campbell will take part in Live Canon Poets: New Works at Greenwich Theater on 16 June.   


Richy’s stories and poems have appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies nationally and globally. He has performed at Happy Valley Pride, Huddersfield Literature Festival, and at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. His first poetry collection is to be published in 2019 by Live Canon. Richy co-edits Sideways poetry magazine and exists digitally at richycampbell.com and @richyacampbell.