14 magazine

Mike Loveday has an MA in creative writing from Kingston University. The 14th and final issue of his poetry publication, 14 magazine, was published in November 2012. Today, he writes about the good, the bad and the ugly of eight years running a poetry magazine.

********************

At the end of November, 14 magazine published its final issue, and I must confess I have a small feeling of relief to be writing about it in the past tense.

Running a poetry magazine on my own for 8 years presented me with a number of challenges, and I have immense admiration for those independent editors who keep publications going for decades, through thick and thin.

I first had the idea of setting up a magazine as a little side project to indulge my interest in poetry. I had read and loved an anthology called 101 sonnets from Shakespeare to Heaney edited by the poet Don Paterson, and I wondered if there was a magazine devoted to the form. There wasn’t, I discovered, and I thought: what about setting one up? (Eventually the idea morphed into a magazine for 14-line poems, not just traditional sonnets).

So what was it like to run a poetry magazine, Sinéad Keegan asked me?

THE GOOD?

  • Chatting by email with poets, getting to know regulars over time, bumping into them at poetry events, making new friends and really feeling I was part of the poetry community.
  • The pleasure of the creative object, producing a magazine twice a year and feeling a growing pride in the quality of the production as time passed and the magazine improved. The first issue had only 20 poems and about 30 stapled pages. By the end it was a spine-bound 88-page book with interviews and essays as well as poems and artwork. It provoked good reactions and was something I was proud of, creatively speaking.
  • Getting to publish many well-known poets on the poetry scene; especially being an early publishing outlet for young poets who later became more widely recognised.
  • Collaborating with artists to produce illustrations to ornament the finished magazine – in a different way, there was as much pleasure to me in the “look” of the magazine as from its poetry content. It’s sometimes seen as controversial to include illustrations in a poetry magazine but I think it helps to give a magazine a more unique feel.
  • Learning the technical skill of how to assess a poem, to consider its merits and form judgements about it. I really grew in “poetry confidence” during the 8 years of being in the privileged position of judging other people’s work, and this helped my own writing. It’s a bit similar to how giving workshop feedback develops you as a budding writer, and I appreciated the chance to learn.
  • Debating poems with friends who were working as co-editors. Relatively late into the project I had the idea of editing in a team rather than alone. Monthly editorial meetings with poetry friends (a different team on each issue) were entertaining debates. It led to a better magazine, as well as a shared experience to treasure.
  • Learning how to run a small publishing business – the accounts, the website, administration, production (with the help of a printing company who were paid to get the electronic content into hard copy form), distribution, marketing.
  • Holding launch events – I only decided to introduce them at a late stage (issue 13) but a buzzing poetry reading wraps a warm atmosphere around a print magazine and helps build a sense of community. I wish I’d started them sooner.

THE BAD?

  • Far too much solitude for my liking – time spent at home facing the computer, dealing with emails, working through admin, or reviewing poems. I’m naturally someone who needs human contact so it got a little frustrating sometimes.
  • Proofreading – what a painstaking headache! Each poet cares keenly for their particular page or pages, and I was desperate to ensure they weren’t disappointed by typographical errors. It was slightly easier and safer when I had other editors who could proofread with me, but for the first 6 years I was wading through pages on my own, fretting and having to be perfectionist about the minutiae of commas, apostrophes and spaces. It’s just like how it is with MA/MFA essays, with the added risk of upsetting my poets if I got it wrong. Never upset a poet.
  • Wading through what eventually became an inbox of about 250-300 poems a month, most of which were worthy, but knowing that only 1% would be truly exciting; having to make decisions of yes or no, black or white, when usually reactions are fifty different shades of “hmmm”. It felt overwhelming quite often, and I think to really thrive as an editor you probably need to be more ruthless than me when forming judgements. I have no idea how editors of big magazines, who are receiving thousands of poems per month, live with the workload. Since the submissions window for the magazine closed I can feel my enthusiasm for reading returning – I’m reading novels again, big Victorian rollercoasters for example, and actually enjoying it again.
  • Posting out copies. The distribution process was a bit of a nightmare. There were contributors, current subscribers, new subscribers (who got a thank you letter), lapsing subscribers (who got a subscription reminder letter), overseas readers with individual postage costs (and their own individual letters of subscription renewal, because of differences in postage price in Europe, America and overseas). When the magazine was printed, I often had about ten different types of envelope pile spread out across my living room, fussing over which letter went with which envelope and getting very confused. It was one of those tasks where the potential benefit of a second or third pair of hands was never quite worth the time of explaining the detail of what had to happen. Somehow I needed a simpler system but I never found one – sending out covering letters is time-consuming but the alternative seemed too impersonal for me.
  • Time. At its peak, 14 was averaging 15-20 hours of my working week, depending on the publication cycle. If I got behind, the admin would just pile up oppressively.
  • It’s not really a “bad” thing but a regret – I dearly wish it had occurred to me to include interviews and essays sooner than issue 13. The material was really fascinating and made for a more sophisticated magazine. By the time issue 14 came around I really felt the magazine was doing something interesting, and I wish the magazine had achieved more in this respect.

THE UGLY.

  • Hardly any, actually.  I got an angry ansaphone message once from a poet whose work had been rejected and it was uncomfortable because the poet was also a friend. They didn’t understand why I wouldn’t publish their poem and the atmosphere between us was spoiled for several months. You often got frostiness or resentment in response to sending rejections or the rare, accidental instances of typos. But generally there was little about editing 14 that was ugly. No death threats, or bullying. I’m glad the project has found a natural sense of completion after 14 issues. I’m ripe for a change, and I’ll be able to focus more of my energy on other work, plus my own writing. But overall it was an amazing experience to have the opportunity to do and I came out the other side a much better writer, with some good memories and a lot of creative satisfaction.

If anyone out there is thinking of doing something similar, I’d say – find yourself a team from the start to share the workload. Be prepared to lose money on it; and only occasionally to tear your hair out.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rommers
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 17:25:32

    I’m actually relieved that you didn’t come up with more bad things – as editors of Antiphon, which is at present only online, we avoid most of the ones you list. I can see the attractions of a printed mag, but also the extra time needed and worries over cost. Thanks for sticking with it as long as you did, and I wish I’d found you earlier!

    Rosemary Badcoe
    http://www.antiphon.org.uk

    Reply

    • mike loveday
      Jan 24, 2013 @ 14:24:00

      Rosemary – interesting to hear about the differences online vs. printed, though I wonder if there are additional frustrations specific to an online mag in your experience? Thanks for the feedback. It was a pleasure to publish you in issue 13. Good luck with Antiphon.

      Reply

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