in Uncategorized

Building an Online Literary Journal from Start to Finish

Building a successful literary journal or magazine from scratch is possible with the right tools and blueprints. From the birth of an idea to the finished product, the process will require concentrated effort and heartfelt dedication. There will be a learning curve, but aspiring editors can craft a journal for both digital and traditional print by adhering to the following steps.

Begin with the End in Mind

To be successful in any venture, author and speaker Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head with his famous piece of advice, “begin with the end in mind.”

Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.

For creating a publication, it is crucial to have a vision for what you want the finished journal to be. Begin with the end in mind. Do you want the journal to be for traditional print, online-only, or both? What genres of writing do you want to represent? What is your purpose for creating one, to begin with? What name best represents your publication’s style?

Aside from all of this, one of the questions you must answer is, “how much work am I willing to apply to do?” Whether you have a team or not will also directly influence this answer. Once you decide on your investment, you will be able to assess how often the journal can be released: annually, bi-annually, monthly, etc.

Monetization is another possibility to consider. Many literary magazines (particularly digitized versions) can make a profit but require methods such as subscription services, submission fees, website advertising, and more to do so. However, these details can be readdressed later if you want to test the waters and measure your success before committing to sponsors.

Defining Your Digital Presence

Having an online presence will be critical to your success, regardless of whether you are printing or strictly virtual. Carefully decide which platform to use. gives several platform suggestions such as Weebly, Wix, WordPress, Bluehost, and Squarespace. These sites provide pricing and package options that cater to all financial and coding abilities. Most platforms offer simple drag and drop design schemes for free or low cost and are relatively easy to learn.

Other aspects to consider are advertising and networking platforms. Your virtual exposure will be critical for advertising purposes, requesting submissions, and maintaining interest. According to Statista, the most used social media platforms in 2021 are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and several more. While primarily known as entertainment-based mediums, countless professional entities are now using their advertising and networking services. Where the most people gather is where you should establish a digital presence.

To go a bit deeper into this advertising realm, do not discount services such as Google Ads to help you spread the word. Some marketing methods may require a small charge but often are worth every penny. Google Analytics is another good online tool to use for tracking your site’s metrics.

There must be a reliable way for readers to subscribe to your journal.
A “Subscribe Now” button on the site will allow for sign-ups via email.
* Remember to include all social media handles *


Now that you can picture your final result and have established your online presence, it is time for the blueprints. Whether for traditional or digital publications, stick to the plan, and you will avoid common mistakes.

#1- Team Effort Vs. Flying Solo
If you are lucky enough to have a team, now is when you need to get to know them. Plan around their skills and passions before assigning roles. People work harder in areas they are interested in. Assign clear tasks and solid deadlines. Spread the workload so that everyone is doing something, but no one is doing everything. If your team happens to be large enough, divide the group into sections with a group leader who reports directly to you. Keep lines of communication open and have checkpoints to keep a handle on progress. If you do not have a team and are flying solo in this venture, apply the same steps and principles to yourself as you would to others. If you handle yourself the way you would handle a team, staying on target with your publication goals will be much easier.  

#2- Deadlines
Once again, begin with the end in mind. Decide when you want your first journal to “hit the shelves” and work backward timewise from there. Remember that you will need time for contributors to send in submissions, editors to comb through those subs, and the design team to create a layout. Typical deadlines should include:

  • Close of Submissions
  • Content Editing Deadline
  • Design/Formatting Deadline
  • “Go Live” Date or Send to Printer Deadline

#3- Show Me the Money!
For traditional print, costs keep rising. Depending on print goals, you will need as much in the budget as possible. This amount will differ depending on whether you wish to pay your team, make it a profit-based publication, or offer it pro bono. Advertising, in-person fundraising, hosting ads, and any extra funds will always be helpful. For online publishing, the cost to “print” may be less or even nonexistent but those funds can go towards paying a team or yourself. The same focus applies either way.

If offering free copies, start fundraising ASAP! There will always be unforeseen costs when it comes to budgeting.
* Check early on detailed price lists *

#4- Submission Guidelines
Get the word out quickly once you are open for submissions. Clearly define your journal’s focus, the genres accepted, what will/will not be considered, and then hold to your own rules. Several submission services and websites will allow entries to be sent via email or into a collective location. One of which is the well-known Microsoft OneDrive. The submitted material can also be organized and shared with other team members, making step #5 a smoother process.

#5- Start Editing
Now is when the real work begins. You will need to find a system of sharing notes that work best for you and your team. Google Docs is a simple (and free) place to start, as it allows document sharing where everyone can see added notations.

Editing Process:

  • Formatting/Style: The layout of each submission should be consistent. Even if you have variations in style, you still want the journal to flow. Pieces could have bold titles, italicized author names, a page numbering system, etc.
  • Grammar: Address grammatical and structural errors within the subs while leaving room for artistic licensing.
  • Appropriateness: Is your journal “clean” content or language-wise? If so, then check that the submissions reflect those standards. Leniency will call those standards into question and will be harder to maintain later.
  • Paring Down: You may have to say “no” to some talented writers and illustrators. If so, be kind and encouraging. Never leave any contributor in the lurch as to whether their submission was accepted or not. Reach out to them directly if possible, and encourage them to try another time or even try a different publication if they were not the right “fit” for your journal.
  • Communication with Authors: Reach out to the authors with any necessary edits. A comma here or there can be corrected, but if there are fundamental changes required, reach out to them with the suggestions. They are the writers; if they do not want to change anything, then take it as-is and print it. If the piece cannot flow with the feel you want to convey, then a positively spun denial of publication may be required.

Congratulate the accepted authors and double-check how they want their names displayed.
* Get the spelling right *

#6- Building the Journal
What vibe will your cover convey? Your first image needs to represent the heartbeat of your journal. Is the theme more modern, fantasy, vintage, or pop-culture? Decide the feel you want readers to have when they pick up or click on your publication. One of the many programs that offer both free and paid versions is Canva. This site provides the ability to create custom pieces that can save in multiple formats. You can upload images or design them from the hundreds of elements offered.   

For formatting written content, there are just as many programs available as there are for graphic design. Reedsy is one such tool that allows you to transfer submissions from software like Microsoft Word, design and edit, and then save in various formats, including the widely accepted PDF. Pages can then be numbered, and a Table of Contents created. Include the following sections to ensure proper credit is given and the design remains professional.

  • Copyright Information with documented ISSN number
  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Special Thanks to Sponsors and Contributors
  • List of Staff/Team Members

If printing, check and see which formats the printer will accept.
Most accept several different formats – the most common being PDF.

#7- Go to Press!
Time to Publish! Send the formatted publication to your printer or click that “publish” button. Ensure that the formatting stays correct when shifting between your design software and your website. If applicable, check if the structure used is also compatible with a mobile version. Most people access the internet via their smartphones, and how your journal looks on a small screen will make or break the readability.

Maintain communication with sponsors, writers, and your team. Ensure everyone’s software is compatible with the jobs required and if using the same programs, talk and make sure margins and page sizes are the same across the board! Otherwise, this will throw off your progress and add unnecessary stress
Let your team know how much you appreciate their hard work, pat yourself on the back, and then…
* Get ready for the next edition!