I originally got the idea to start a literary magazine after getting a few years’ experience advising the yearbook at the high school where I teach. I was beginning to enjoy the process of layout, that feeling of receiving freshly printed books in those boxes (they should bottle the smell), and I felt like being in the driver’s seat for once instead of constantly hitchhiking, hoping an agent would pick up my manuscripts.
I’d been obsessed with Virginia Woolf for a while, having been exposed to her work for the first time at the New School while in the MFA program, and in particular I loved her essay, “Professions for Women,” in which she urges female writers to kill their angels–those “be nice” social pressures on women of the time that discourage honest expression. Back when I would routinely apply for every literary job I’d find online, I’d pitched a literary column to a startup magazine with the title Killing the Angel. I never heard back from the magazine, the title remained mine, and so it was decided.
I estimated that I’d be able to produce the first issue for around $2,000 and organized a Kickstarter campaign that was successfully completed by the end of 2011. Friends, families, fellow MFA-ers, co-workers, and a few anonymous strangers helped me the goal a reality.
Once I had the funding, I had to cultivate submissions. Flyers in coffeeshops and campuses, Craigslist ads, MFA newsletters, and social media helped spread the word. Using a Google form for submissions helped keep everything organized, and I sent paper contracts and checks to accepted writers. We pay writers $20 for each accepted piece and ask them to sign on First North American Serial Rights, which allows for the rights to revert back to the writer after publishing with us, allowing them to publish the same piece again elsewhere (we do ask them to acknowledge us if they do publish again, which they do).
I realize that $20 isn’t a lot, and I’d love to be able to pay more eventually. I can’t say strongly enough how important it is to pay writers, and artists in general, for their work. It’s one of the strongest values that I want KTA to embody. Let’s abolish “great for exposure” from our vocabulary as editors. Exposure alone is not compensation. I think art is often taken for granted, yet in many ways it is what gives meaning to our lives, whether it’s reading a great poem, watching a ballet, or viewing evocative paintings. These are things that we value and we should show it by compensating the artists.
One of my co-workers used to run a literary magazine, and I picked his brain a lot for different questions I had about everything from rights to printing specs. I actually modeled many of our specs off our high school’s literary magazine. For the first issue, I worked with a graphic designer on the cover and interior, and she generously gave me the templates so that I could do all of the art and layout myself for subsequent issues, which saves a lot of money! CLMP was helpful as well regarding questions I had about ISSNs.
I’ve been asked a lot if I’d ever move to an online model, and I always say no. It’s not that I dislike online magazines; rather, it’s more about what print journals can offer. I take pride in creating a beautiful product, and I enjoy the process of mailing them out, often internationally, and getting those emails from people in Australia, the UK, France, saying, “It arrived, and it is wonderful!”
Once the first issue arrived in its boxes, we were ready to distribute. I reached out to several bookstores, and three of them agreed to carry the journal, one of them being Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France. I also sold the issue online. For the first issue, I also got a lucky break with the company Indie Gift Box, who purchased 100 copies at a heavily discounted rate for their “Stories & Lyrics” themed box. This helped spread the word about the issue as well. Shakespeare & Company has continued to carry each of our issues, and it doesn’t get much cooler than that–what a fantastic bookstore. One of the bookstores that carried us eventually stopped stocking literary magazines, so we’re down to just two stores that carry us.
Once our first issue arrived, I planned a launch event at the KGB Bar in Manhattan, and it pretty much the most amazing night ever. Eight of the first issue contributors came and read, including one author from the DC area, and the venue was so packed that people had to stand in the hallway. I remember standing at the lectern, giving the opening speech, and seriously trying not to cry from all of the emotions I felt.
Since that first issue, a few things have changed. I hired a copy editor for the next issue, and I did the layout myself working in Word, as opposed to InDesign (which my graphic designer used for the first issue). Working off of the template, I also did the cover myself with some help from my tech-savvy husband (then-boyfriend–I know, a critical detail for this essay). By the third issue, I switched from offset to digital printing, a move that would ultimately save me hundreds of dollars on printing costs, and had learned enough about Photoshop to do the cover myself.
Another thing that’s fluctuated are our submissions. Depending on the needs of a particular issue, I might reach out and solicit submissions from specific people. There was one issue where I felt there was a dearth of short prose pieces, so I set up a flash fiction contest with prizes of cash and publication, and that helped flesh out the issue. Being listed on Duotrope, the Grinder, and The Review Review has also helped increase our number of submissions more recently.
At this point in the summer, I’ve accepted the work for our fourth issue, contracts have been signed, and writers have been paid. All that’s left is for me to format the issue, edit it, create the cover, and send it to the printers. A typical yearly cycle for Killing the Angel will have the annual issue released in the fall with some sort of accompanying event (in addition to the KGB Bar, we’ve held issue launches at Small World Coffee in Princeton, New Jersey and Hidden Grounds in New Brunswick, New Jersey). Submissions are open from fall to spring, and then in the spring we have our reading period. Acceptances and rejections go out around May. We put the issue together in the summer, and the cycle continues. It’s a very non-hurried way of doing things, and as someone who refreshes her inbox a lot, I do have moments when I think the cycles should move a little faster, but I also like the slow and steady pace of it all.
There have been surprises along the way. I’m always surprised at how many international submissions we get. Word gets around, even for print magazines. I’ve also met different writers and have become really invested in them. Each issue, for example, has multiple poems from one author that submitted to us the first year and we just fell in love with her work. One of my most staggering moments was Naomi Shihab Nye personally responding to a request for a writer interview. That was truly a moment to remember! Her thoughtful and insightful interview is featured in the second issue of Killing the Angel.
Depending on the crowd, the title of the magazine gets mixed reactions. I usually sum it up by saying something along the lines of, “It means losing your artistic inhibitions and writing honestly.” I remember opening an account for KTA at the bank and the look on the teller’s face when I told her what I wanted the account to be called. She looked somewhat horrified. When I explained Virginia Woolf’s metaphor to her, though, she said, “Oh, that’s cool!” So I think the title is a good conversation starter and instantly garners interest.
I think the magazine has also allowed me to continue on my own creative journey. For me, “killing the angel” is a concept that I believe in philosophically, but personally struggle with sometimes in reality. It’s been a wonderful learning experience to live out these principles and confront the incongruities between the abstract and the concrete, and to make sense of them, as both a person, an editor, and a writer. I continue to write and submit my own creative work to other publishers, though I haven’t yet published myself in Killing the Angel. Who knows? Maybe this will be the year. For as much responsibility and commitment as the magazine brings, it’s incredibly inspiring to have something to mold freely and change through time, and it’s extremely rewarding to be able to inspire readers and writers along the way.