Sunday, August 29, 2010

Online Journals: What I Want Redux

Back in December of 2008, I posted about online journals. I first blogged on the topic as a result of a conversation that had taken place on the Wompo listserv. Print vs Online was the gist of the conversation. Back then I was doing the weekly newsletter for the listserv—and still am doing—and observed that most of the journal publications each week were in print journals. Now less than two years later, that has dramatically reversed. With that reversal in mind and the continued proliferation of online journals and the demise of a number of print ones, this seems like a good time to revisit the topic. This post will be essentially a reprint of the earlier post but with some revisions.

Some online journals are excellent and some are not. I've  visited a number of these journals and my poems have appeared in a number. I've again been asking this question: What makes an online journal worth visiting and revisiting—and worth submitting to?

Here are some of the qualities I look for in an online journal:

1. In 2008 I said, "I want a real website, not a blog posing as a journal. There are some blogs engaging in cool projects, but they don't seem journal-like to me. Just too easy to set up the blog kind. To my eye, they lack a professional, authentic feel. Usually." This is one idea I now must revise. With the ability of both Wordpress and Blogger, the two most popular blog sites, to create multiple pages, it is now possible for a blog journal to achieve a very professional appearance. That professional appearance remains essential to me. However, a caveat: Since these sites are free, anyone can start one. That means more screening for quality before you submit. But then you always do that, right?

2. Ease of navigation around the site. Don't make me jump through hoops to get to the poems. I like a Table of Contents that's no more than one page in. I want it to be easy and quick to get to what I want to see. I want to be able to move on easily from there. I dislike it when I have to use my back button to return to the main menu. I don't want to have to keep starting over.

3. No scrolling down to get to the next poet. Should be a link to take me there. I'm now adding that I truly dislike journals that make me scroll. In fact, I won't do it. This, to my mind, marks an online journal as amateurish. It also means no specific url for each poet. Bummer.

4. No menu with only picture links that I have to click in order to find out where they go to. More irritating than clever.

5. Menu on each page, at top or bottom or sidebar—and plain, not distracting.

6. No pdf download required. I want the material right there, in the journal. I appreciate that a pdf can achieve a book-like appearance, but I'd prefer that the publisher be less fancy and make my life easy.

7. I like it when a journal puts all of one poet's poems together or at least gives me a forward button. I want to read, not spend my time pushing buttons and hunting for things.

8. Bios with the poems or with a link to Contributors' Notes. I'm adding that just as I want contributors' notes in print journals I want them in online journals. I want them.

9. Links to author's website in each bio. Just in case I want more of a particular poet. But I don't want a plethora of links which can get like flies at my eyes. Some publishers go bananas with links. Why send readers away from the journal? Keep them right there, reading what's in the journal.

10. Archives. One of the benefits of publishing in an online journal is the long-term availability of the work. I think a journal should capitalize on that.

11. Inclusion of some reviews. A nice addition and a great way to promote books.

12. Eye appeal. It has to be good-looking. I like some images and I like some colors. Maybe this shouldn't matter, but it does. Dark backgrounds, e.g., black or navy, initially pop and look appealing, but in truth they make for hard reading and should be avoided.

13. Easy to read. No pale gray type in small font size. I dislike small text boxes. Too busy and crowded-looking. I refuse to read an online journal that has multiple font colors. It makes me insane.

14. Freedom from annoying ads. Sorry, but I just can't stand it when the journal is burdened by cheesy ads, especially if they do things like light on and off or move across the screen. More flies.

15. Good submission information. If submissions are now closed, I'd like to know when the doors will be open again.

16. I don't like it when the editor selects favorites from among the poems. That seems like implicit dumping on the others.

17. The editor should not publish in the journal. It's unprofessional. Exception for reviews and essays.

18. I like a mixture of poets familiar to me and ones who are new to me.

19. Of course, the poems should be wonderful and varied. Long poems are always a hard sell, perhaps more so online.

20. An audio element is nice. It's one benefit that the online journal has over the print one.

Next post I'll list some of the online journals that I especially like. This list will include some additions since 2008.


  1. Thank you for this updated repost; I was not in the blog world when you first issued this.

    You offer many excellent pointers, with ease of navigation being one of the most important design tips. Not being able to get from one to another page easily or to find information intuitively is a huge negative. I also dislike sites that do not allow you to go "Home" or return to a previous page.

    Many publications indicate they are online but what I'm finding is that some offer no more than a table of contents to view or an Editor's Note on the issue's content. I understand the need for paid subscriptions; if content is available online only via paid subscription, then that approach should be stated clearly. Some publications open up archived content, or selections from archived content, which enables one to gauge quality before taking a paid subscription. It's a nice way to win over prospective subscribers.

    I also enjoy reading an occasional interview with a featured poet.

    Audio is a bonus. Poets who are very good readers can make poems come alive to listeners.

    I'll look forward to your recommendations.

  2. Great list, love the details. Poets planning to submit to online journals will benefit from what you say here, as would anyone planning to start one! I have indeed seen lovely online journals that creatively use the blog format. Interesting that some online journals were perhaps cutting edge when they started, but are now behind in the technology, making those sites clumsier. Something to forgive if the content is wonderful.

  3. All very good points. I can't disagree with any of them.

    Another feature I now like is the capability to leave comments. One of my poems just appeared in a new online journal (Mason's Road) and I was surprised and happy to find a comment beneath my poem. It's nice to have little pieces of evidence that other people do occasionally read your pages.

  4. Maureen--There won't be any subscription / fee journals on my soon-to-be-posted list.

    Kathleen--Bird online. Little visual joke.

    Shawnte--I've also seen some comment boxes added. Nice--unless you get a horrible response that not only wounds but also is visible to the world.

  5. That's true and it seems that the editors took that into consideration, because comments don't immediately appear. They have to get approved, before getting posted.


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