Editor, me? Starting and running a Literary Magazine by J D Smith

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Friday Guest

I’ve long frequented writing forums and message boards, exchanging niceties with other writers, critiquing and being critiqued in return, listening to other people’s tales of sorrow and success … laughed aloud at some of the first class wit that easily lives up to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross (god, but I’m glad he’s back on, even if I do have to fast forward the ads).

Over a couple of years the suggestion that some of the more humorous contributors to the forums should start blogs or write books full of their anecdotes became frequent, and if I’m honest that’s when I had the idea of starting some sort of magazine for writers by writers. I might correct that in a later article, editor’s note or blog post, so please don’t quote me, but looking back now I’m sure that’s where the concept first took hold. That and the fact that a lot of other literary magazines are (quite rightly) all about the literature. I enjoyed the ‘fun’ aspect of message boards, and I wanted to carry that through into a format that could be enjoyed by a readership far greater than the members of a particular site. Some of these writers deserved to be read, and the writing world at large deserved to share the laughs.

So with a bit of begging, borrowing and a huge amount of generous input (so generous I’m still astonished and delighted by it) that in December 2009 we released the first issue of Words with JAM for public consumption – a mere 80 readers. Once out there, the word soon spread, and within a week or so of its release, the issue had a few hundred readers. It was our mix of humour and irreverence as well as serious guidance and opinion that appealed most to our readers. Oh, and we were free. I suppose that helped.

Running the magazine since then has, in fairness, been relatively easy and pain free. There’s a great team of people who commit a lot of time and energy to each issue. They all write informative, witty, funny, useful, resourceful articles each issue, and they all seem, even after two years, as excited about the magazine as they were when we released our first issue – more so. It’s the enthusiasm of the team and not just the readership, together with professionalism and supply of brilliant content that keeps the magazine going.

There is no shortage of published authors willing to participate in interviews, dedicate their time for articles, or let us have freebies to give away to readers either. And alongside the big names we commit to featuring both unknown and up-and-coming writers, plus we have our regular columnists, satirical magazine items like horoscopes and reader letters, writing exercises from OU tutors, and the latest on the UK’s library closures, so there’s a great balance that readers won’t tire of. We do need to keep feeding our readership and pushing our online presence, so we run various competitions including an annual Short Story Competition and our most recent in which a reader can win a £500 Cornerstones General Critique – it’s even free to enter! And articles from back issues are currently being uploaded to our blog.

Having worked as a graphic designer for over ten years, I knew an important aspect of the magazine would be a good, clean layout, enticing people to read and make us appear professional. It’s not easy, getting the layout done in such a short space of time. Between deadline and sending files to print (yes, we have a print version of the magazine now too), there’s around a week to get everything set, proofread, and ready to go. But it’s been worth getting it right.

In June 2010 our  exclusive interview with Jo Rowling was probably (okay, definitely) our single biggest draw yet, increasing readers to over 13,000, with websites from all over the world linked to the issue – in multiple languages – and not just in literary circles.  (I never expect to see us featured on IMdB. Not to mention the Newspaper That Shall Not Be Named ripping off our exclusive without permission.)

I won’t speak for the rest of the team, but I was extremely concerned after featuring Jo’s interview that we’d peaked, reaching a point where we’d plateau or have to finish on a high. Instead, it seemed the interview moved us up a notch in the eyes of the literary world. We were no longer just a free magazine by a bunch of wannabes. We had a serious readership and we were getting noticed.

These days I have to turn down a lot of articles and fiction. It’s not my favourite part of the Editor’s role, but we have 56 pages and only 56 pages (and yes they are only A4 sized), so we can’t cram everything in, even though we try. I’d say the best part of running the magazine is the rush after pressing the ‘send’ button on launch night. The whole world turns eerily quiet, like when you’re hosting a party: The food is on the table, you’ve Dysoned all the cobwebs off the ceiling and wiped your son’s pee off the toilet seat, and all that’s left is to wait for the guests’ arrival whilst nervously downing your third glass of red. That’s how I feel after the ‘send’ button has been pressed and I’m alternately checking Facebook, the mailing system’s stats page, and my Editor’s Inbox for the first sign of receipt.

As I type, the October 2011 issue featuring an interview with Jasper Fforde is being proofread. We’ll also be announcing our December cover star that is guaranteed to cause a stir as big as JK.

We get a bit excited on launch night, so why not join us at the beginning of October for our live (and not particularly sober) Facebook countdown.


 JD Smith is a Graphic Designer and Editor of the literary magazine, Words with JAM. She lives and works in the English Lake District where she spends much of her time reading historical fiction and inventing projects to avoid actually writing.



  1. marlathome says:

    What a brilliant publication Words With Jam is – cutting edge, fresh, informative and, often, extremely funny. I’m not surprised you have popular authors beating a path to your door, Jane – Respect to you and all your team.

  2. JD Smith says:

    Thanks, Marlathome. It’s always lovely to hear what people think of the magazine. It’s all been extremely positive so far. Jane

  3. A great success story and a great magazine. Can’t wait for October’s to arrive.

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