How Do You Know if a Lit Mag is Good?
Our plans for pursuing quality over quantity in 2024.
Things We Do While Waiting to Die is a reader-supported publication. All proceeds from this go toward supporting our work on Chill Subs.
Any butthead can start a lit mag. This means that some folks running lit mags are buttheads. That's just a reality. Not most. Not many. But it's possible. Most, I'd say are kind, passionate, creative people who want to contribute positively to the world of writing. But how do you know? Any butthead can win prizes. Hell, a butthead can be the president of The United States. The internet has made it particularly hard to sniff out buttheads1. As a database, this worries us a lot. We may, for example, list a magazine only to find out later they've been treating their writers poorly, or charging dumb-money for barely passable contests. With over 3000 listings, we do not have the time or money to comb through every magazine's dirty laundry. To do this, we would need to collect more qualitative data. Right now, most of our data is quantitative.
Here's what that means:
Quantitative data is anything that can be counted or measured; numerical data. Examples: how many submissions does a magazine get? how often do they accept work? what is their word count limit? and so on.
Qualitative data is descriptive, referring to things that can be observed but not measured. Examples: how kind are the editors? how well do they present a writers work? do they have diverse publishing habits? Whenever we get requests for the kind of data people want to see, they almost always ask for qualitative data. We have a very good reason for not gathering a lot of qualitative data. Because, hear me out. It's really hard to do.
Firstly, I can't simply give you my opinion. My butthead and your butthead may be two entirely different people. We dabbled with the idea of adding a comments section to magazine listing pages. But we hate comment sections. They are the internet's infected intestines. Any butthead can leave a comment. We didn't want people coming along, slagging on a magazine because the editors rejected them, or having to police misunderstandings. So, we've come up with some schemes. God, we love schemes.
In 2024, we will be implementing two features to focus on gathering qualitative data about literary magazines. First, we will be implementing a submissions tracker exit survey. When users log a submission, they will be prompted with a few quick questions about the results. Did they receive feedback? Was it valuable? Were the editors particularly kind or helpful? These will be designed to gather positive insights, NOT to punish things like form rejection letters, but to highlight those editors who go above and beyond.
Second, we will be introducing a badges system for writers to award editors on their listing pages. These will be pre-made based on a range of qualities a magazine might have. Gorgeous Design, Great Community, Diverse Publishing Habits, Quality Feedback, and so on. And some funny ones thrown in there. This way, writers can explore and see not just how popular a magazine is, but why. We will also be adding badges for a variety of other highlights for magazines like fast response times or popular on social media, and important info like competitiveness, affiliations, free subs, and so much more. We’ve already started mapping that out:
Both of these will come with a red flag warning system (Butthead security system, if you will) where people can report concerns to us that we will then follow up on. If we receive three similar complaints, we will contact the magazine. If we receive no response or an unsatisfactory one, we will flag a magazine's listing on our database. We think this is a better method than removing a magazine from the database because then nobody will know.
We are being so careful with this because we are of the school of thought that most people are kind and doing their best. So our qualitative data gathering will be mostly focused on bringing to the surface all of the good people are doing, rather than hunting the bad. Our process for red flags will be so strict, because the internet is so very opinionated and miscommunication is rampant. We want to ensure that if a red flag is up, it's there for good reason.
But yes, this is all future business. It will take a lot of dev & design work.
So what are we doing right now to try to do better? Well, our latest fun experiment has just come to an end: Chill Subs Community Favorite Best Lit Mag of 2023 (we'll have to figure out how to shorten that in the announcement. Or, fuck it? Idk, we’ll see). So, we asked folks from the writing world to nominate their favorite lit mags. For each nomination, we asked people to give their reasons why. And oh boy, so much qualitative data! So many beautiful compliments. I'd love to say that we were so clever to not announce what we planned to do with these nominations so that editors couldn't sneakily junk up the data, but it's just a coincidence that happened. We didn’t think of this until after the announcement.
Here’s what we’re going to do. We had around 1500 nominations across 600+ literary magazines.
We're working with a data engineer to turn people's reasons for nominating into community tags for magazines. For example, a common reason was that the editors of a magazine were wonderful to work with. People should know this. So, now they will. Another was that editors gave great feedback, had inclusive publishing habits, promoted writers well, and on and on.
In our next listing page update, all magazines nominated will be awarded community tags to show off to the Chill Subs Community.
As we move into 2024, a lot of our focus will be on providing writers with quality over quantity. Editor interviews, badges, exit-surveys. We'll be trimming long-lists in our Sub Club Newsletter to go more in-depth with our analysis of magazines from the perspective of looking at what sets them apart. Next week, in that newsletter, we will be announcing the Top 25 most nominated magazines from our Community Favorites Award.
#25-11 on Monday
#10-6 on Wednesday
and the Top 5 on Friday.
If you’d like to check those out, you can sign up here (it will all be free).
Nikita has informed me that I swear too much so…