How to Start a Literary Magazine
Declan Meade in Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
In the latest “Craftwork” episode, Declan Meade talks with Brad about starting and editing a literary magazine. He is the founding editor and publisher of The Stinging Fly, one of the world’s premiere literary magazines, based in Dublin, Ireland. You may have read about Declan and The Stinging Fly in the New York Times back in April 2023, in a feature story by Max Ufberg.
Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!
From the episode:
Brad Listi: What about for people listening who might want to submit, but also people who might have an interest in starting their own magazine? I’d be interested to hear you talk about the editorial process when somebody gets a yes, and what in general the editorial process entails at the Stinging Fly. I have to believe that it’s lovely to get a story where you feel like it’s almost all done. And usually I think when a writer is in command of the work, there usually isn’t a ton to do. But are there instances where the work is like 75 percent of the way there, and in the editorial process you get the rest of the way? What does it look like for somebody who gets a yes to work with you in an editorial capacity?
Declan Meade: I would say that in my experience, most of the work that we publish would probably be 80 to 90 percent there. I would say if it’s any less than that, like if it’s 60 to 70 percent there, I’d be saying to them, “I think you need to do another run of this yourself. Come back to us with it.” We could be very excited by work we read that is 60 to 70 percent there, but we would probably pass it back to the author to have another go. Or we’d have a conversation with them and see where they are in their thinking of the piece—if they have ideas about how they could develop this and that, if they might be a person who needs mentoring as well.
But then the 80 to 90 percent ready, that’s going to be less about the story needs something some major work done, we just need to do several rounds of line edits on this and then a copy of that to proof. It would be just suggestions that we’re making. I mean, that’s certainly how I operate. I hope at that stage you’d have a Google Doc or Word document that you are passing back and forth with comments on them and queries of the text. It can also help to show the writer the text and layers because their attitude might change once they see it as well. We do occasionally encounter a writer who says, I don’t want to be edited. It’s very few, but I’d say possibly one hand that I can count them all in 25 years.
There have been those writers where we’ve had to let the story go because we think they just don’t want to be edited. But for the most part, it’s a process where we are making suggestions and they come back to us with responses, and I feel like I have a very light editorial touch outside myself in terms of, you know, I don’t want to turn the piece into something that doesn’t sound like this writer has written it. I want, first of all, to tune in to what the writer is trying to do. And then I’m kind of suggesting points where I’ve been taken out of the story for whatever reason, and has the author considered this before this?
Sometimes it’s something they’re aware of, that they tried to fix themselves or maybe hope they might get away with or that they have tried to fix but they couldn’t figure it out. So then we can talk a bit about that, to try and come up with something. I love line edits myself. It really is, I think, about tuning into what the person is trying to do and of following the sentence and taking out any interference. So I still get to do that when we’re publishing books.
The Stinging Fly Magazine was founded in 1997 by Declan Meade and Aoife Kavanaugh. The first issue appeared in March 1998 and the magazine now publishes twice annually, working to give new and emerging writers an opportunity to be read, with a special emphasis on the short story form. Since its founding, The Stinging Fly has expanded its operations to include an independent press, writing courses, and an online platform. The magazine is celebrating 25 years of existence. Over the decades it has featured some of the best new writing from Ireland and around the world, offering readers an eclectic mix of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.