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We at Duotrope have a unique perspective on the publishing world. While we've seen it from the editor's side and from the writer's side, managing Duotrope's thousands of listings has given us a complete overview of what succeeds and what doesn't. Since we started Duotrope in 2005, we've seen 5,996 journals perish. That's staggering!

The first section is written primarily for people who are considering starting up a publication or have recently started one. The second section is for all editors, both new and established. Much of this article is simply advice, to accept or discard.
Important: For information about our rules for publications, please read about our Criteria for Listings and our Policies for Editors.

Advice for Editors
(or "Why publications fail and how not to share their fate")

Dreaming of starting a journal? (Photo by Sandis Helvigs.)

Be Realistic

Let's get real here. We've seen hundreds of newborn publications fail within a short period of time. This is the primary reason why publications fail: Their founders severely underestimated the amount of work it would require. The bottom line is if you don't have a significant amount of time to devote to a publication, don't start one. (If you want to be involved in editing and publishing but don't have the time or resources to devote to founding your own publication, find a different way to participate, such as becoming a reader for an established journal.)

Be Professional

Editors have responsibilities to their readers and to their contributors. If you are dreaming of becoming captain of your own literary vessel, consider whether you'll be able to meet deadlines and respond to possibly hundreds (or even thousands) of submissions in a timely and polite fashion. Also, do you have the skills to present a polished package — a nice-looking website and/or a well-designed print publication? This is the second reason why we've seen projects fail: They seem amateurish. (We've seen some with typos in every single sentence on their about page. Truly.)

Titles are important. Put a lot of thought into the title of your publication. You'll be investing time and money in the title, and changing the title down the line isn't as simple as it might seem.
  • One of our pet peeves with titles is when a periodical publication calls itself "Somesuch Press." Please don't call your project a "press" unless you publish book-length works (or you use an actual printing press). There's nothing wrong with creating a "journal" or "magazine."
    Also, "literary" is not a noun, so if the name of your project ends with "Literary," we won't be able to tell what it is: a journal, a book publisher, an agency? Nouns are good. Use them.
  • Unless you are deeply committed to a certain schedule in perpetuity, don't include the frequency in the title, like "Saison Quarterly" or "Moon's Monthly." That might be a bit awkward when you change to a biannual schedule later on.
  • Don't be generic. A publication called "The Fiction Journal" will not be easy to search for and find at a behemoth like Google or even a dedicated resource like Duotrope.
  • Finally, check that other publications haven't already used that title or a similar title. At a minimum, that causes a lot of confusion, especially with submission reporting and tracking. The worst case scenario could be that you get sued for trademark infringement. No one wants that!

Be Different

If you have an idea to start up a poetry journal, for example, before you go through all of the trouble of founding it, consider how your poetry journal would be different from the hundreds of other poetry journals that are already established. Maybe you have a unique background or perspective, or you see room for improvement on previous efforts. We've seen new journals that are exactly like hundreds of others succeed, but most of the successful ventures offer a little something that's new.
That said, we've seen many publications try hard to be something completely new, when in reality they're not even close to the being the iconoclasts they think they are. Do your homework and make sure your brilliant new idea hasn't already been overdone.

But Not Too Different

If you can't come up with a mission statement that will appeal not just to you but to a wide range of people, you might want to put more thought into it. This is third reason why we've seen projects fail: Not enough people are interested.

Be Outgoing

Do you have a plan for how you will promote the publication? You'll need to be "out there," drumming up interest for the project. Sure, you need contributors, and Duotrope will help with that. But you'll need readers, too, and that's all on you. This is the fourth reason publications fail: Not enough people know about the project.

How to get more submissions...
  • DO write an About or Mission statement. This statement should convey what your publication strives to achieve. New listings at Duotrope that don't have an About statement don't receive as many submissions as those that do.
  • DO NOT charge fees for all submissions as a new project. On average, new publications that charge fees for all submissions receive half as many submissions as those that don't (and sometimes none at all). We highly recommend not charging fees until your project becomes more established (a "tip jar" is fine in the interim). Many people are understandably wary of paying money to a publication that they haven't heard of before. Look into other ways of supporting your project initially, such as crowdfunding.
  • DO pay your contributors, if possible. The single best way to maximize your submissions is to pay your contributors, even if it's just a small amount. We understand that not all new projects can do that, but if you can, it will make a world of difference.

A note about Cover Images: There is a misconception that Duotrope listings need cover images for the biggest impact. Our data shows that cover images don't have any statistical impact at all on the number of submissions received, so don't fret if the listing has a placeholder image until your project becomes more established.

Be Brave

We wrote this article to give you food for thought, not to scare you away. At Duotrope, we are truly excited about new publishing projects. If you are passionate about your idea for a publication, go for it! We can't wait to hear about it and watch that fledgling take flight!

When is the best time to request a Duotrope listing? New Duotrope listings get the most amount of exposure in the first 7 days. If you are closed to submissions during that glorious 7-day period, it won't be as beneficial as it would've been if you had been open. For most projects, we recommend requesting a listing on the day you open to submissions. The only exceptions to that are projects with very short (less than a week) submission periods; those should request listings a few days in advance of opening. (Note: We accept New Listing Requests from anyone at any time, and we process requests promptly, so we cannot guarantee that listings will only be added at the optimum time.)
How to request a listing? Please read our Criteria for Listings and Policies for Editors before submitting your publication. The information there will help you understand what we do and how we work, and how you can help the process go as smoothly as possible during the lifetime of our listing for your publication. If you believe the publication meets all our criteria, go to our Request a New Listing Form. We will add all qualifying listings as soon as we are able, generally within one business day.

Guidelines for Guidelines
(or "Where submission guidelines often go awry")

Take care in crafting your guidelines. (Photo by Tamarcus Brown.)

Be Detailed

Your submission guidelines go a long way to establishing the identity of your publication. We recommend being as detailed as possible. Duotrope's minimum requirements for submission guidelines are simply mentioning the types of material you accept (fiction, poetry, nonfiction, art) and providing instructions on how to submit. However, if that's all the information you provide, your listing with Duotrope will be very generic, and it won't stand out among the hundreds of other identical generic listings. The more information you can provide on the types of pieces you want to publish, the better.

Some publications are reluctant to provide detailed guidelines because they're afraid they won't get enough submissions or that they will stifle creativity. First, it's better to get a few of the right submissions than too many that are just plain wrong for your project. Second, if your project is unique and it excites people, you don't need to worry about stifling people's creativity. You'll be sparking it!

But Concise

The longest submission guidelines we've seen at Duotrope are just a smidgen shy of 29,000 words. That's novella length, folks! Do not expect your potential submitters to read a lot of text. The longer the text, the less likely people will read and comply with your guidelines.

A Note on "Prose": When you describe what you accept as simply "prose," we will not be able to tell whether you mean fiction, nonfiction, or both. The definition of "prose" is essentially "not verse." That's not very descriptive.

Be Obvious

Make your information, especially your submission guidelines, easy to find and as readable as possible. Don't be too clever with your interface and menu system. People are used to menu entries labeled "About" and "Submissions" or "Guidelines." Straying from those conventions isn't usually a wise move.

Be sure to state the current submission status (open/closed) prominently towards the top of your submission guidelines page. People shouldn't have to read your full instructions before finding a little footnote at the bottom of your page that says you aren't currently accepting submissions.

Be Consistent

If you have submission information in more than one place, make sure that information is in sync and in agreement at all times. Mismatching information on submission dates, length limits, etc. can be confusing to potential submitters. Make the effort to get this right. We've seen contradictory information between home pages, guidelines pages, and submission managers, and even sometimes within the same page. Be especially vigilant about displaying open or closed status consistently. Keeping that information accurate is one of the requirements for maintaining a listing with us.

We highly recommend not allowing visitor comments on your guidelines page. Comments can make it much more difficult to find the important information quickly, and older comments may contain outdated instructions.

Be Timely

If you say you're going to open on a certain date, open on that date (automate this if possible). Not doing so frustrates people who had set reminders. Most of the complaints we receive about publications are because they did not open as scheduled. Also, if you set a deadline, don't close to submissions early unless it's absolutely unavoidable. Most people wait until the end of a submission period to submit. You're selling yourself short and missing out on some great submissions by closing early.

Be Accessible

Duotrope checks the submission guidelines of each active listing once a month on average. We have a harmless little pet bot that assists us humans with this process. To ensure that our bot can parse your guidelines page and that it includes all the information that we need, please read the Guidelines Web Page Tips on our Policies for Editors. (Following those tips may also help visually impaired people access your information.)

Be Safe

Unfortunately, we see a few online journals fold every year because they were hacked and lost everything. Use smart usernames and strong passwords (never keep the defaults, like "Admin" and "password"). Secure your website. Many blog platforms offer SSL (secure socket layer) certificates for free or a small fee. It's worth it. If you have control over your domain, look into the security service Cloudflare. We highly recommend it for all websites. It's free for basic security (and even better for the paid options, which Duotrope uses).

… And now some words on the order of things:

Please, please, please arrange your books/issues by most recent releases first. Or at least give people browsing the option to sort by latest first. Here's a list of the people you will annoy if you use a different order (oldest first, alphabetical, or random):

  • The author, who won't appreciate that their newly published book is buried on page 17 of your store.
  • Your dedicated readers, who just want to see what's new, since they're already familiar with the older stuff.
  • Us here at Duotrope, who need to be able to find your latest book/issue quickly during our routine checks. (We're least important in this list, of course. We'll give you bonus points if you list the date of publication, and you keep pre-releases in a separate list. We will  you for that.)

With best wishes for your success,
The Duotroopers