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How to…start a magazine

Written by Degna Stone

Online is fine, but sometimes we all yearn for an actual, physical thing. Degna Stone, co-founder and sometime editor of poetry magazine Butcher’s Dog, tells us about its origins and gives some tips about where to start with a magazine.

I think poetry magazines are a fantastic way of discovering new writers. You’ll often find established poets mixed in with previously-unpublished poets. And sometimes you can get a fantastic eyeball kick from seeing an unexpected combination of poems next to each other. I love a good online magazine as much as the next poetry lover but we always wanted Butcher’s Dog to be a print mag.

There’s something special about being able to carry poetry around with so we’ve tried to create something beautiful, something that you’ll want to keep with you.

1. Decide what it’s about

At Butcher’s Dog, poetry is our focus. We publish poems and prose poems and that’s it. Don’t be pressured into throwing everything in; just publish what you love. Being clear about what you’re publishing (and why) will help you to create a strong identity.

 2. Who is doing what?

Is it a one-person operation or will there be a team putting the magazine together? If you’re going it alone make sure you know what you’re taking on. Publishing a magazine is very, very time-consuming. From generating submissions, to selecting the poems, from contacting all the writers and selecting the artwork for the cover, to typesetting and promotion, there is a hell of a lot of work to be done.

If you’re working with others, make sure you all know what your role is from the outset and play to your strengths. Don’t forget to set out a timeline for each issue so that you know what needs to be done and (most importantly), when it needs to be done by.

3. Don’t put yourself in debt!

If you can secure funding so much the better, but if you’re funding the venture yourself make sure you know how much you’re willing to put into it and stick to it.

 4. Spread the word

Shout far and wide when it comes to soliciting submissions. Make sure all your writing friends know about your magazine and let all the listings folk know that you’re accepting submissions. It’d be great to see a growing diversity amongst published writers so it doesn’t hurt to think about how you might reach the unheard or underrepresented voices out there.

You’ll probably need to have an online presence. If you can’t stand social media you can possibly get away with not having Twitter and Facebook profiles but you will need a website so that people know how to contact you, how to submit work and how to buy your magazine.

5. Keep in touch

At Butcher’s Dog, once we’ve selected our poems we think it’s only polite to get back to everyonewho has submitted work. First we contact those who’ve made it into the mag and double check that the work is still available – and then comes the hard part.

Getting back to writers who haven’t made it into the issue is definitely the worst thing about editing a magazine, but it’s got to be done. Using a submissions portal like Submittable really helps with this, as you can send a personalised email, but even a plain old round-robin, close-but-no-cigar email is better than nothing.

Thank the writers for allowing you to read their work; be polite, be encouraging and be prepared for the inevitable unhappy few who don’t take bad news well. Luckily most people are understanding and don’t see it as ‘rejection’ – you’re just giving their poems back so that they can be sent out again.

6. Be bold! Ask for help!

If you love a particular magazine think about approaching the editor for some hints and tips. If there’s anything you’re not sure of someone out there will have the answer.

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