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The Newbie E-zine Editor - Tentacle Tips (GreenTentacles)

Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles

Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror - Web Design, Graphic Design, Interactive Media Development by Greententacles 2014-04-21 GMT

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GreenTentacles > Articles > Tentacle Tips >

The Newbie E-zine Editor

~ by Raechel Henderson Moon (June 2003) ~


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Previously published in Eggplant Literary Productions
Eggplant Literary Productions
http://www.eggplant-productions.com

Planning is the Key

So you want to start your own e-zine? Congratulations! You've chosen a distraction that will suck up all of your time and money, all of your creative juices and will keep you up at night wondering how you can get better listing with web search engines. On the other hand you'll receive a warm fuzzy feeling with each e-mail from readers congratulating you on an excellent issue. You'll receive thanks from authors who have never published before. You'll be exposed to lots of great (and not-so great) fiction.

So what do you need to do to run your own e-zine? Just a free web host and some stories, right? Hold on there partner, you could just sign up for a Geocities page and ask some friends to write stories for you. You may even get a couple of visits a week and a submission or two a month. You'll most likely also get e-mails like "What a waste of web space!" Where's that rosy glow of reading fan letters and comments from writers? Where's the satisfaction of knowing that you've put out a damn fine issue for the discriminating reader?

Obviously you need more than some .html knowledge and a place to park your pages. What you need to do is some basic planning. True, anyone can throw together some writing, post it on Geocities and call it an e-zine. Those kinds of sites usually decay within a few months. You know these sites. They are riddled with broken links, have a couple of pages of content and the front page tells the reader to check back for the April 1998 issue. These sites send readers trekking, searching for an e-zine that provides quality content.

Before you set up your plan for your e-zine, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is/are my goal(s) with this project?
  2. How much am I willing to spend on this e-zine?
  3. How much time can I dedicate to my e-zine?
  4. What niche does my e-zine fill? How is it unique from every other e-zine that is currently published?

Your answers to these questions will help you to plan your e-zine.

  1. What is/are my goal(s) with my e-zine? _ This is the most important question you must answer for it will shape all your policies. Just want a place to showcase (your definition of) great writing? Then a free webhosting site is pretty much all you need. Want to run an e-zine at a pro or semi-pro level? Then you will have to consider the subject of payments. (The sad fact of the matter is that—like in print publishing—non-paying markets garner little or no respect. If you are looking to start a professional e-zine you will want to provide some sort of payment. Even a token $5 will get your e-zine noticed without breaking the bank.)
  2. How much am I willing to spend on this e-zine? _ Setting a budget at the beginning makes it easier to stick to it later. E-zines can suck up your extra dough faster than a black hole. If your e-zine will be non-paying then you only have to worry about paying for web space and your internet connection. If you are paying for content you have to think about how much you will pay and budget for it. Be realistic. Don't fall into the trap of "I can pay five cents a word because I'll make the money in advertising." If you can't afford five cents a word now then don't budget for it. You can always increase your rates down the road when/if advertising dollars start to roll in. Writers don't react too well if you start off advertising five cents a word and end up paying ? a cent a word.
  3. How much time can I devote to my project? _ E-zines also can swallow huge amounts of time from your schedule. And unless you have no loved ones, no life and no commitments to the outside world, you better think long and hard about how many hours a week you can spend on it. This doesn't have to be a hard number. You aren't setting anything in stone. It will probably turn out that later on you'll need more or less time but you need to consider this aspect of things. Again, be honest with yourself. First of all do you have the time to spare? Is all your time booked? Will you be willing to give up TV, your Saturday night role-playing session or your weekly hula-hoop lessons to work on your e-zine? Remember that the time requirement involves more than just reading submissions and coding your pages. Much of your time will involve marketing. If you don't get the word out about your e-zine, no one will know it exists. Plan at least several (five-seven) hours a week just marketing your e-zine (this number will decrease over time, as your notoriety grows).
  4. How is my e-zine unique from the others being published now? _ Before I started Jackhammer E-zine, I considered running a print magazine. I gave up on that idea because I didn't see a niche that I could fill. At the time, there was plenty of space for a weekly, speculative fiction e-zine, however. In order to entice readers to visit and read your e-zine, you need to present something unique (quality content will keep them coming back). Take some time to study other e-zines that cover the niche you want to fill. How can you do it better? What can you offer to readers and writers that no one else can? Why should readers come to your e-zine? Why should writers submit their writing to you? You can also shape this question into a marketing plan that can then be used to make a sales pitch to potential advertisers.

Planning is the absolute first step in running a successful publication (whether print or electronic). If you take some time to sit down and think through what you want to do with this project you'll build a solid foundation for your e-zine. There are, of course, other aspects that should be thought of before you start such as design, guidelines and publication schedule. Write down the answers to the above questions and jot down notes on any other ideas you have for you e-zine so that you can look back on them when you are engaged in creating your first issue. Look back on these notes six months from writing them down so that you can gauge how far you've come and so you can revise your goals, as necessary.

It's the Little Things

You've gone through the previous questions and thought long and hard about your goals. By now you've probably realized that running a quality e-zine is not as easy as some would think. It's time to consider the "nuts and bolts" aspect of your e-zine.

First you should ask yourself whether your e-zine will be distributed through e-mail or the web. I'm not going to get into the details of creating and maintaining an e-mail or web-based e-zine. There are plenty of other sources that can help you with the basics(1). What I am going to cover are the hidden rewards and pitfalls of the two distribution systems.

E-mail e-zines carry one huge advantage over web-based e-zines: subscribers. Subscriber numbers can turn into advertising revenue much faster and more reliably than banner advertising. A niche publication (such as a horror e-zine) can be attractive to advertisers, presuming that your numbers are good enough(2).

Before you start counting your chickens, however, there are some drawbacks to e-mail e-zines. How are you going to distribute your e-zine? There are several services that provide free web-based mailing lists to distribute your e-zine (such as eGroups and Onelist) but you better read their Terms of Service Agreements (TOS) before you sign up. What? Wade through all that legal mumbo-jumbo? You're darn right you better wade through it. Why? Because some TOS Agreements, such as with free webspace providers, have clauses that allow them to seize the copyright to material published on their sites or to hold you responsible if anyone should sue the company over the content of your e-zine(3). Some mailing list services might sell your subscribers' addresses. Make sure you understand the agreement and how it applies to you before clicking the "I Agree" button. There is also software available that helps you manage a distribution list. As with the TOS, make sure you know what you are getting into before you use the software(4). Don't put a lot of time and effort into your e-zine just to find that the company you use to distribute it have grabbed rights to the content or are invading your privacy.

You also have to deal with the problem of spam when you run an e-mail e-zine. The first rule of thumb is to run an opt-in only list. While it might be tempting to sign up friends and family, even perfect strangers who you think would like your e-zine, it's not worth the headache of dealing with accusations of spam. Not only will you have to deal with potential angry e-mails, some ISPs have a zero tolerance policy and will suspend accounts first and ask questions later. Place instructions on how to sign up (and sign off) in your signature file, on your website, and wherever else you think potential readers would see the instructions and let them decide if they want to subscribe or not.

Design-wise, the web has a lot more to offer than e-mail e-zines. You can have graphics, sounds and java to entertain your readers. While I won't give advice on the design of your webzine, I will advise that you know your stuff. No one likes a butt ugly website and readers don't stick around very long if the site is impossible to read or navigate.

Again, with e-mail e-zines, you better read the TOS for your webspace provider. Be extra vigilant if you use a free space provider like Geocities or Xoom.

Lack of subscriber numbers is another drawback to running a webzine. Yes, you can add a counter to your site but those numbers, unless they are in the thousands a day, will not attract advertisers. If you do decide to try to generate some revenue through banner ads and other web advertising, do your homework. Know the difference between a "hit" and a "unique visitor (5)." Take some time to put together a page that potential advertisers could visit. On this page list information about your unique visitors, your reader's demographics and contact information. If advertisers like what they see on your information page, they'll contact you about buying ad space.

Hand in hand with deciding to run a webzine comes the dilemma of "Do I need a domain name?" That question can only be answered by looking at the level of commitment you are investing in your e-zine. Ideally, every e-zine would have it's own domain name. It helps people find your e-zine, it makes moves from one service provider to another easier, and it adds a layer of legitimacy to your publication. However, I don't feel that you should shell out $100 for the name and another $10 a month for hosting, if you don't think you'll be running your e-zine for at least a year. If this is a hobby, or something you are experimenting with, a free service or the space on your ISP works just as well. Of course if you buy a domain name and your e-zine folds after two months, you can always recycle the domain name for another project.

There are a couple of other things to consider when you are setting up your site.

Set up a separate e-mail account for your e-zine. Publishers often complain that three years after their magazine has folded they still receive submissions. The net moves a little faster than postal mail, but market listings have a habit of hanging around for years. If your e-zine folds, you could continue to receive submissions. A separate e-mail address can help get the word out that you are no longer accepting submissions. Disable the account and after a few bounced messages writers will get the hint. Of course you should do everything possible to let interested parties know that your e-zine is dead when you close up shop. Just folding and disappearing in the middle of the night, while not uncommon, is unprofessional.

Finally, take some time to create a house style and to proof your work. Nothing delights readers more than to e-mail an editor, pointing out grammatical errors. Run your work through a spell checker and enlist a friend to help copy edit. Not only does a proofed e-zine look professional but it will show readers that you care enough to put your best foot forward. I'll go over creating a style sheet in the next article. This is enough information to get you thinking about how you want your e-zine to look.


  1. http://www.zinebook.com - This page does a better job than I ever could of covering basics.

    http://www.w3.org/MarkUp - Learn HTML basics.

    http://www.htmlcompendium.org - An intermediate reference to HTML.

  2. 200 _ 500 subscribers is good, 500 _ 1000 is even better, while 1000+ subscribers is where the real money is at.
  3. http://publishing.about.com/arts/publishing/library/weekly/aa070199.htm - Article which outlines the controversy Yahoo created with their TOS and which points out other free webspace providers that use similar TOS.
  4. http://grc.com/optout.htm - A site that discusses spyware. Don't know what that is? Well go look at the site.
  5. http://www.pr2.com/webads1.htm - A quick overview of site traffic measurement and what the terms mean.

  6. Send to a friend | Printable version |


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