Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles
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:
Your answers to these questions will help you to plan your e-zine.
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.
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.
http://www.w3.org/MarkUp - Learn HTML basics.
http://www.htmlcompendium.org - An intermediate reference to HTML.