What We've Learned After Three Months of Running a Literary Magazine
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Three months ago we launched Thread Lit Mag to coincide with the release of Threads and take advantage of this thriving new social media platform.
We did this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to see what it was like to manage a literary magazine on a small scale. Our whole thing is trying to solve problems for the indie-lit industry. Only seemed logical to try it out ourselves. We have Write or Die, but that’s big and scary and Kailey is boss af, so she and her team manage things over there.
This was our toe in the water. I have worked as an editor in the past for magazines publishing articles. It’s much different. If the idea is good and the person writes well enough, it’s a no brainer. But to judge people creatively? That’s a totally different story (lol).
This was not a well-planned operation. Threads launched. We thought, “Hey, you know what would be cool?!?” and then wrote all of the copy, texted Nikita (our designer) to make a logo, and by the end of the day, we released it:
Yeah, Nikita came up with that logo in like, 20 minutes. What an absolute gem.
So first, we set it up to be pretty low-key. The whole magazine is limited to the Thread/Instagram universe. People write a poem or micro, tag “threadlitmag” and then we can review it by scrolling through our mentions.
If we “liked” a story with a heart, it meant it was rejected. If we reposted it, it’s an acceptance. Pretty simple. No images, a single thread only, limited to 500 characters. At first, we accepted one piece every day. Then, on Friday, we published an issue on the instagram.
We quickly received hundreds of submissions, thousands by this point. We’re not pretending we’re playing fair here. Our social media reach is well beyond what any new magazine would reasonably start with, but even with a team, those first few weeks taxed us.
Every day, I’d go through and select the top submissions, send them to our chat, and the team would case their votes:
It went pretty well at first.
A few weeks later?
To be fair, our team are not editors. And I come up with a lot of whacky ideas to throw at them. But I don’t think it’s uncommon for this sort of thing to happen.
On top of all of this, we wanted to present our issues really well. This meant Shelby had to do design work. So at the end of each week, I created a document with all of the accepted work, sent it to her and she designed it.
This took hours. AND with such limited time, we made mistakes. Especially with formatting.
We attempted this on easy-mode. Simple submissions process, whole team of folks with different skills to put toward it, and still, we got burnt out quick.
So we shifted our publishing schedule to monthly. Threads added some new features so mentions stayed longer than 5 days (any magazine who reviews full stories in under a week, holy hell, you deserve a medal). Monthly has been much-much more manageable. I’m able to hold onto works longer, do specific calls, pay our writers $15 for every published piece, check for any formatting errors, AND pester the fuck out of our team for several days in a row to get their votes. Well, sort of.
The good news?
Damn, people write some incredible stuff on socials. I mean, I tend to be one of those writers who puts something down and thinks, “This will either get published somewhere brilliant or be found after I die so those who didn’t appreciate it can spend the rest of their lives knowing my genius was wasted.” I have developed a load more respect for folks putting themselves out there on socials. And it’s been so cool to run something that highlights their work (cause we don’t care about prev. published work, obv.)
Alright, so we learned that the management and editing of a lit mag, even on a small scale, is a lot of work. But what about choosing work to publish?
I have no idea how most editors work. I’ve mostly been on the writing side of things for over a decade so this is new for me. Also, grain of salt: this is a micro mag. Very very short works and poems. But here are some things I found:
80% of the time, I can tell something isn’t working within 5-10 seconds.
90% of those that work, lose me in the last line.
Folks use way more cliches than I thought. (I now plan to scour all of my current work for cliches. Then murder them).
People really like to write poems about writing/love; this is where I find the most cliches.
Issues make themselves. Every issue, I’ve found the first story sets the tone for what follows. It really does lead to situations where something I love just doesn’t fit.
I’m more critical when I’m hungry or sleepy. Pretty sure any editor this doesn’t happened to is either better than me or a damned liar.
We wanted to create something cool. We wanted to learn the pain points of editors. We’re having fun with it. We now have nearly 1300 followers, get hundreds of submissions, and have published a few dozen writers. We’re proud of how it all looks.
But there is no certification program, no supreme court of editors that gave us the green light, no authority beyond how many people it resonates with. That, I think, is what makes editing for creative works so special, and literary magazines so diverse and beautiful. If you’re someone who appreciates good writing and wants to help other writers grow and get published (and learn a lot along the way), you can.
I think every writer could benefit from working as a reader or editor. And hell, if you’ve got the time, energy and passion for it, start your own.