How to start an online journal

With the recent release of its fourth issue, Will Cudlipp from Grouch Publishing chronicles the experience and shares the ingredients for taking your creativity online.
How to start an online journal

Image: by Leeroy via

In university they told me print was dead, as was the author: so far they’ve been wrong about both. However, the online landscape has proved to be a highly functional domain for building and sustaining new creative communities. So if you’re creatively driven and ready to go rogue, approach this ‘how to start your own online journal,’ as more a chronicle of my experience starting Grouch than as a dogmatic manual, after all, there’s more than one way to skin an online journal.   


Firstly and most importantly you need passion to start an online journal. I promise this is as esoteric as I’m going to get, but passion is really the only prerequisite, because if you possess it, it’ll drive you to figure everything else out. ‘Passionate about what,’ you ask? It goes without saying that you have to be passionate about reading and writing. You have to love words and sentence structures, punctuation and grammar. You have to love stories and poems and have an open mind for the different varieties in which they can be constructed. You have to love proofreading until your eyes are bloodshot. You have to get excited about graphic design, plugins and SEO. You have to be willing to triple check that the “Contact” button doesn’t link them to the “Submissions” page, that the font doesn’t look like it was designed on Kid Pix, and that you’ve spelt all the author’s names correctly. So as you see, starting a journal is not all about discovering and publishing the next George Saunders, but your passion will get you through the more tedious aspects of the journal’s procedures: it’s the fuel that feeds the fire.  

Find a gap

The second aspect you need to address is finding a gap in the industry. Part of the reason I started Grouch was that I was fed up with established journals not publishing mine and my friend’s work. Our prose was by no means of Dickensian stature, but I believed that people would get something out of our work if only they had a platform to access it. It then occurred to me that there were others in the same situation, so I launched Grouch as a platform for unpublished writers. Do you see a gap in the online journal community that you could fill with literary goodness? Do you live in an area or city with a vibrant creative scene just yearning to be represented online? If you see an avenue to add something fresh and unique to the online landscape, go for it. Online journals and zines come and go all the time, so don’t just be another villain in Gotham City, be the hero that sets us all free!   


In terms of practical, ‘get your hands dirty in the traditional how to fashion,’ building a network is by far the most important thing you can do to kick-start the success of your journal. Whichever way you quantify success, your network and how effectively you communicate with it will determine your results. Given that the only writer’s I knew were three close friends, I had to branch out to find submissions for Grouch’s first issue. I started by contacting the heads of university creative writing departments around Australia. Then we discovered we could post free advertisements on the Pedestrian TV website. Since then we’ve tried to network and support other journals, paid for Facebook advertising, liaised with book clubs and book reviewers, and every week we try to offer valuable content on Twitter worthy of re-tweeting. You have to do whatever it takes to find where writers “hangout” both online and off and get on their radar.    


Another great way to build your network, as well as learn more about publishing in general and the people who make it operate, is to get involved in your local and or national writing community. Grouch is based in Melbourne where there’s no shortage of writing events all throughout the year. The Wheeler Centre, a community hub dedicated solely to literature, provides fantastic events all year round. We have two annual writing festivals, one for emerging writers and one for established, both with a host of stimulating events. We also have launch parties and readings hosted by the several Melbourne based literary magazines, two of which include The Canary Press and the Lifted Brow. These launch parties usually provide free alcohol, I mean, talk about incentives to get involved! They provide the perfect opportunity to meet the editors, writers, bloggers and fans who make up the entire lit journal matrix. You’d be hard pressed to get as many valuable people in the same room for any other endeavor.

Well, that’s the broad-strokes of how to go about starting an online journal. All I can say is that it has been deeply invigorating, inspiring, educational and most importantly, fun. I wish you all the best in your venture if you decide to start your own, hopefully we’ll share a free beer or vino at a launch party!