12 Suggestions for Post-Ought Literary Magazines

Simeon Berry
Guest Blog Post by Simeon Berry

I don’t have all the answers about the growing divide between print and online magazines, but I do have a few suggestions:

  1. Advocacy of contributors is important. Those of us who were publishing in the 90s didn’t really expect it, but now we’re getting used to it. Guernica is a fine example of a journal who gets the content out there on social media.
  2. If your magazine has a social presence (which isn’t really optional any more), it should have personality. Your social feed should not be a welter of press releases. Those feeds get hidden faster than the people on Facebook and Twitter who only self-promote or thank others for following/publishing them.
  3. For the love of God, please stop driving authors to post terrible photos of their pages online. It just makes the print-only magazines look (rightly or wrongly) like dinosaurs. Rattle (who releases their entire print issue online in stages) and Song Cave (who makes their chapbooks free to download after the edition sells out) are pointing the way.
  4. Make each piece directly linkable by authors. Scrolling through an entire issue of minuscule text is going to lose you readers.
  5. Leverage the power of print to handle exotic text formatting and/or the ability of the net to provide additional content and functionality.
  6. Magazines only have as much prestige as authors think they do. It seems like the majority of well-established authors haven’t migrated to online magazines because they don’t feel like they need to. This is a boon to print-only journals, but it has an expiration date. Up-and-coming writers are beginning to look to journals for what they can offer in a very practical way, rather than who they publish, because online journals are mostly serving their needs better and allowing them to stock their online library of content. The work that less-established writers have online is ending up being the determining factor for whether or not they get readings, solicitations, etc.
  7. Make sure your magazine looks as good as it can on a smartphone and that the work is searchable by Google. See above comment regarding practical considerations.
  8. Make print journals more than just a way-station for poems on their way to becoming a book. I don’t know exactly how to accomplish this, but I’m sure that lots of editors are thinking furiously about it.
  9. Similarly, make online journals more than just annexes to a writer’s Facebook or Twitter feed. I’m also unsure about how to do this, but it needs to happen. (Hat-tip to Rob Arnold for this observation.)
  10. If your magazine has institutional support, either in the form of funds or teaching relief, start thinking about how you’re going to replace that support if it’s withdrawn. This happened to big name magazines, and no one is safe, especially in the age of the corporate university. If you think your prestige is going to save you, think again. Online publishing isn’t free, but it’s much cheaper than print, and college administrators are going to be asking editors why they can’t switch to that model as budgets shrink and online magazines get more prestigious.
  11. We may not like them, but submission fees are here to stay. More and more magazines are using them every year. It’s an easy and labor-free way of generating revenue for magazines, and it stems the massive tide of submissions that come over the transom without fees. In the past, I always felt guilty about sending to a magazine that I didn’t subscribe to and now I don’t, thanks to submission fees. Plus, online magazines don’t really have an effective subscription model in the same way, and I think the past decade has shown paywalls to be very limited in their effectiveness. If you don’t think a magazine has value, then don’t submit. Right now, because the field is so choked with online magazines and the technology/strategies of those magazines haven’t really started to sort out the wheat from the chaff, it’s not as big an issue, but it will be.
  12. All this stuff is happening very fast, so be prepared to forget what you thought you knew. On that note, feel free to quarrel with me! I’m looking for solutions.

About the Author:

Simeon Berry lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. He has been an Associate Editor for Ploughshares and received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. His first book, Ampersand Revisited (Fence Books), won the 2013 National Poetry Series, and his second book, Monograph (University of Georgia Press), won the 2014 National Poetry Series.

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