How To Start An Online Literary Magazine

[January 2023]

Are you considering starting your own online poetry literary magazine? This is one journal’s process and lessons learned over the past nine years. This list appears to be linear and sequential; however, in reality these steps are very fluid. This is an overview; not an all-encompassing list. Everyone’s process will vary and, certainly, important steps are missing here.

1) Decide on a title for your online literary mag and apply for an ISSN via the Library of Congress:

2) Consider accessibility from the very start. How will you ensure your submission & publication process is accessible to disabled writers, to writers with a diverse range of life experiences; in short, to as many people as possible? You might consider including Alt Text for any photos within the publication. You might consider asking authors to record an auditory version of their poetry upon publication. Design for those at the margins and everybody wins:

3) After you have your web site set up, consider possible avenues to promote your initial call for submissions. NewPages is a relatively minimal cost, with major pay-off for visibility. You might consider contacting local writing groups but be very respectful about outreach. Nobody’s world revolves around your literary magazine and that’s very OK. Advertising your first call for submissions will also inherently help you answer important questions such as:  Will your issues be themed? How often will you publish? Will you solicit cover art for the issue or provide your own photographs? Etcetera. 

4) Be true to your own emerging aesthetic. Do you want to partner with a colleague or venture on your own? What are your goals for the journal? What is your brand? What is your vibe? Are you more of a HashtagOnTwitter or PaperBulletinOnACoffeeShopWall type of journal? Or both? Somewhere in between?

5) Consider accessibility again. Be mindful of accessibility and inclusivity throughout the entire process. Be intentional about including a variety of voices and inviting diverse perspectives. 

6) Consider whether you’d like to use a submission platform such as Submittable or Duosoma (there are others, too), or use email, a Google form or some other format to receive and manage submissions. Start with something that’s free, probably. There are pros and cons to everything, no? 

7) Set up a free Duotrope account to let potential contributors know more about your magazine. The Duotrope “Ask the Editor” feature is a great way to articulate your values for others and for yourself. The Duotrope folks are incredibly responsive and objectively great to work with. In nine years, Vilas Avenue has gone on hiatus a handful of times and the Duotrope folks are great about updating the info page when there is a status change. 

8) Consider using social media to promote the magazine but maybe don’t go too wild with it? Then again, maybe don’t use social media? Rest assured, you’ll wrestle with this question throughout your stint as a founding editor. 

9) Be small, nimble, & flexible from the start. Be optimistic but realistic. Expect to probably fail and keep a loose, nebulous definition of success (and failure, for that matter). Stay intrinsically motivated. Know that it’s OK to start and stop, to go on hiatus, ultimately, to give up if it doesn’t feel right. If you have a day job, don’t quit your day job. Be intentional to ensure the magazine doesn’t interfere with your work, play, or general life priorities. Only keep doing it if it enriches everything else you’re already doing in the other parts of your life. If not, let it go. 

10) Be kind and considerate in your responses to submitters (acceptances AND rejections). Be speedy in your responses (if at all possible) but above all be transparent about your response timeline and stick with it. Work closely with contributors to ensure the final version of the poem is what they’d like it to be before anything goes live. 

11) Publish and promote your first issue. 

12) Thank your contributors!

13) Repeat this whole process for your next issue and change the things that didn’t work so well the first time around. This is another great time to consider accessibility. 

14) Promote & support authors before, during, and after the publication process. After nine years and 3-4 issues, Vilas Avenue is just now beginning to think about submitting nominations for Best of the Net and other avenues to promote the work of contributing authors. I wish we would have done this sooner. 



Founding Editor, Vilas Avenue