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How to Start an Online Literary Magazine

start an online literary magazine

Photo by Tamarcus Brown

Perhaps the best way to support writers is to publish their work. This month, we will focus on some of the best practices for starting your own online literary magazine. As our world becomes more and more digital, online magazines serve to bring great writing to the masses. From blogs that feature work, to full-blown magazines, these online literary spaces help engage readers from all corners of the internet by bringing them the latest and greatest works of our time.


Being the editor-in-chief of a magazine is no easy task. Like an octopus, the leader of a magazine must have many arms to complete many tasks. Most chiefly, the editor-in-chief must lead their readers and editors through a process of collecting and curating written pieces by different people into one, coherent magazine. Like an octopus, the editor-in-chief must collect and arrange what it most loves.

Think about the works you most love. What do they have in common? Are they all short? Are they all the same genre? Do they have similar themes? Are they written by similar kinds of writers? Do they share similar imagery? The same sense of humor? Why not get a few friends together and start thinking about your answers to these questions… it just may be the beginning of the magazine of your dreams!


The next steps to starting an online magazine are to gather a team and come up with your mission.

Maybe you want to have a literary magazine with many genres. You might consider bringing a team together to handle the submissions, reading, editing, etc. These members of the editorial board are known as the magazine’s masthead. Most literary mastheads look something like this:


Founding Editor(s)

Editor-in-Chief (or editors-in-chief)

Managing Editor


Senior Poetry Editor

Senior Fiction Editor

Senior Interviews Editor

Senior Essays Editor

Book Reviews Editor


Associate Editor, [Genre]


Prose Readers

Poetry Readers


Senior Art Editor

Associate Art Editor


Web Designers

Web Editors


Blog Correspondents

Regular Contributors


Business Development Associate

Copy Writer

Editorial Assistant


Layout Design

Marketing Assistant

Social Media Manager

As you can see, you can build a well-rounded team of people to bring your magazine to life and keep the publication process running smoothly.

Many literary magazines also include an Advisory Board on their masthead or in the credits. Let’s say you start your online magazine through your school. You might use this space to name the teachers who sponsor your efforts. Maybe you meet at your local library to put the magazine together. You might thank the library or the librarians for hosting your efforts. It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and to give thanks to those who help make your magazine a reality!

Your team might not ever be as big as the example masthead above—many small literary magazines run successfully with just a few people at the helm, but this list is a good way to start thinking about how you might start to gather some editors together. Maybe you belong to a slam poetry group at your school?. Likely, some of your friends also have a passion for reading poetry. They may want to join your team of poetry readers or editors. Perhaps you belong to a book club dedicated to mystery reading? Maybe one of your book club members would love to host a monthly blog on great mysteries in literature on your site? All of the readers and writers you know are available to you for these opportunities. If you’re short-staffed, you might reach out to teachers at your school about the project and see if they have any students in mind for your open positions. You can also post on your school’s bulletin boards or take an ad out in your school’s paper.

Once your team has been built, it is time to brainstorm. What is the mission of the magazine? With so many literary magazines out there, what is it your project seeks to bring to readers? What makes it unique? Will you only publish flash fiction? Will you only publish pieces that contain mountains? Is your magazine political? Artistic? Let readers and submitters know what it is you’re looking for.

The last commitment to make in this stage is the model of the magazine’s distribution. Will your magazine come out annually? Bi-annually? Quarterly? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? If you choose quarterly or longer between publications, what other things might you be able to do in between issues? Some things might be related to social-media. You might also have editors contribute little twitter reviews of their favorite pieces each month or week. Anything goes!

With a team intact, a name chosen, a commitment to a timeline, and a mission in hand, you’re ready for the real work of running a magazine to begin!


The first commitment to make as an editor-in-chief is giving your magazine a name. A name, like a title, is a promise made to a reader. It offers a sense of tone. It might also indicate the magazine’s content. When a reader hears or sees National Geographic, for example, they know to think of exploration of the world. A reader seeking to learn about science, nature, or anthropology, knows to go to these pages.

Literary magazines tend to have much more coded names—this is unsurprising and writers and readers of literature tend to love good metaphors, double-meanings, sly puns, and the like. A quick study of the “About” sections of online journals can give us a sense of such pretensions. One of my favorite online journals is Canvas. Canvas is an online literary journal for and by teens. According to the about section, the name canvas has many meanings to the editorial staff, ranging from a canvas tent as a place of solace and connection (as the editors hope you will also find a place of solace and connection within their pages) to a canvas backdrop or setting (the editors hope the poems and stories will also help define/set the stage of the world we live in). As we can see, the thought-process in even naming a magazine takes a lot of time and care. Landing on a name for your magazine sets the tone for the works contained therein.


Online magazines need online pages. There are many software and platforms that are free to the public where you can build out your magazine’s look, format and organization:


As you and your team experiment with these sites, think about the look and organization of your online literary magazine. You might look to other online journals and see how they organize their buttons and headers in relation to issues of their zine. When you land on the site’s homepage, what do you want to see? The cover? The names of the contributors? Do you want it organized in columns? Or lists? These kinds of decisions can be inspired by the various platforms for web design. Just remember that these sites are not affiliated with Write the World so remember to ask a parent or teacher before signing up.


A key part of magazine operations is publishing the works of writers. In order to do that, you must seek out excellent work. This can be done with open submissions as well as direct solicitations. A solicitation means that you directly ask a writer to submit work to your project. Let’s say you’re starting a magazine for LGBTQIA teen writers and you heard someone read a great slam poem aloud at school that fits your magazine’s mission. You might reach out directly to that writer and ask if they’d be interested in having that poem published or if they have any other work that they’d like to submit to your magazine.

Submissions, on the other hand, give all writers an opportunity to make it through the ever-infamous slush pile. You and your team will decide on the dates for an open reading period. Then you’ll have to come up with guidelines.

Submission Guidelines Template

Your submissions guidelines might look something like this:

[INSERT MAG NAME] is open for submissions for our reading period from September 15th through November 15th. Submissions should be accompanied by a brief cover letter introducing us to your work. Poets should submit 3-5 poems. Fiction writers should submit works of no more than 12 double spaced pages. Artists can submit up to 8 pieces.

You might also include information related to formatting (do you wish to receive things in PDF format, or .doc format), or any other information you hope to receive from writers. As submissions come in, your readers will have to give each piece a fair read and pass the most promising works on to their more senior editors. As you start reading, you’ll also need to develop rejection and acceptance letters.

Be sure to be encouraging. As writers, we understand the impulse to take rejection personally. But luck often plays a big role in these decisions—a reader at a magazine may have read 100 pieces before landing on this one. That alone might make a reader less likely to hear music in a given submission. I always feel best when a form rejection wishes me well in placing the work elsewhere and/or to keep submitting.

For acceptances, you’ll want to follow-up with writer by offering a release form. A teacher can help you draft this, making sure that there is parent and writer consent to publish works. This is also a good opportunity to request updated information like a writer biography, the most recent draft of the piece you’d like to publish, and any other writer materials you may desire for your magazine.


Now that your many arms are performing their tasks and works are being selected, it’s time to put your first issue together. Host a meeting with your managing and/or genre editors. Bring snacks, as people tend to compromise more kindly on a full stomach. As a team, you’ll need to select which pieces will be featured together and why. Come up with a protocol for sharing air time and choosing pieces. Will you all vote? Will each editor get a final say? You’ll have to come up with the rules for selection as a team.

There’s still more to do once you’ve selected works for publication. You’ll also need to think about the order in which the pieces appear. Maybe you’ll organize the pieces alphabetically? Maybe the pieces will be grouped by theme? Or maybe genre? It’s all up to you.

Next, you and your editors will need to reach out to writers. You’ll want to make sure that the piece or pieces you want are still available. Depending on your format, you might need to follow-up with the writer for a short bio, photo, or any other contributor information you might include with the publication. As for the writers whose work you did not select, you’ll want to write a form rejection letter that is kind and encourages them to continue writing and submitting work.


As you accept work to your magazine and gather information from each contributor, it’s finally time to put it all together! You and your team can delegate different parts of the magazine for publication. You’ll need to transfer the writing into your chosen website space. Each editor will have to make sure there are no mistakes on the pieces. And then it’s time to press PUBLISH.

Once this happens, it’s up to you and your team to get the magazine out into the cyber world! Post links to your contributors’ works on twitter, IG, facebook, your school website, and the like. We at Write the World look forward to reading your literary magazines!


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