The 10 Biggest Challenges of Running an Online Publication
Updated: Jan 18
By Helen Scheuerer
As much as I love my job, running an online publication isn’t easy. Having run Writer’s Edit for about two years now, and Writer’s Edit Press for a year – I’ve definitely come across my fair share of challenges along the way. So, in order to give you a glimpse behind the scenes of our magazine, check out these ten challenges our editors and myself face when it comes to running our online publication.
1. Balancing Literary Ambitions With What Works Digitally
Our publication is an online literary magazine – therefore our ambitions tend to be more on the ‘literary’ side of writing. This means we want to review literary fiction, talk to award-winning authors, publish in-depth feature articles on the nature of our industry and provide memoir-style advice pieces for our readers…
Unfortunately, for the most part – these kinds of content don’t draw a huge audience if presented traditionally. One of the challenges we face is manipulating the content we love and value to appeal to a mass audience. This means changing what could be a clever, subtle title to one that might read ‘X Reasons Why You Should Read Every Day’.
Why do we do this? Simply because it’s more clickable, and it tells the reader exactly what they’ll get in the article. This is an example of choosing what works digitally over our more ‘literary’ ambitions. We need to make these kinds of compromises in order to get people reading our articles. It’s no good having a killer piece if no one clicks through to read it.
Remember that we’re competing with not only huge publishers, but huge sites like Buzz Feed and Book Riot… In order to compete, our titles have to be equally as clickable, and our articles easily as shareable. This usually means an avalanche of ‘How To’ articles, and list formats.
Although it’s certainly challenging balancing the vision of our publication with what works best digitally, if we do it well, it means that we reach a much larger readership, and that Writer’s Edit has a better chance of success.
2. The Lack of Writing
The bigger your publication gets, the more time you’ll spend doing tasks other than writing. When I first started Writer’s Edit, I wrote most of the articles. At this early stage, I just wrote what I was interested in and published away – the more content we had, the better!
Two years on however, with over 15 regular contributors, plus editors and editorial assistants, my time is spent doing things like replying to emails, editing, social media, sourcing images, coordinating and scheduling content and training new writers. Sometimes, I find the fact that I am writing less quite challenging, because for a while there – writing for Writer’s Edit was a huge part of my writing routine, and really helped with being disciplined. There were deadlines involved, people counting on me, and if I wasn’t going to write for my site – who would?
However, the lack of writing for the site can also be a blessing. It means I have more drive to write creatively, and not a day goes by where I don’t learn something by working with another writer on their article.
3. Balancing Other Work Commitments
When you start your own online publication, it’s most likely that at first you’ll be balancing the work you do for your magazine with other work that helps you stay afloat financially. This means you may work full time or part time for another company, and run your site in your spare time, or you might have freelance work on the side.
Currently, I do both: work part time as the editor of another online publication, and do freelance writing for other websites. The challenge in this is twofold: 1. Having to prioritize work that gets you paid, and 2. Having your mind always on your own publication, even when you’re working for someone else’s.
It’s a stressful situation to be in, and one that takes a lot of perseverance. Over time, you learn to focus your energies on your own goals, and to keep the anxieties of other jobs at bay.
4. Managing Others
I’ve always very much enjoyed this part of the job – particularly as managing others for Writer’s Edit means managing other creative writers. I’ve been extremely lucky in terms of who I work with, for the most part everyone is receptive to feedback and show real respect for the publication and what we do. However, that’s not to say this aspect of the job is without its challenges.
Training writers is a big part of running an online publication. Ensuring our team is familiar with the house style, and uses our style guide consistently can be difficult, especially as writing for online purposes can be rather different to writing for print and writing fiction/poetry.
Training writers in this, as well as teaching them to use content management systems is massively time consuming. This means I spend less time writing, editing and promoting articles for Writer’s Edit, which can sometimes feel like taking a step backward.
Emails are another huge factor in managing others. As an online publication, this is our main form of communication, and it certainly has its challenges. For someone who is as obsessed with their emails as I am, waiting for responses can be incredibly frustrating. Not everyone has their inbox as their number one priority, and that can sometimes make my job a lot harder than it feels like it needs to be.
As with any big goal, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day for everything that needs to be done. With this particular job, there’s never an end point – it’s an ongoing commitment, and there’s never a point where you can sit back and say ‘I’ve done enough’.
There will always be more you can do, more articles, more promotion, more outreach marketing and this can prove to be rather stressful. I find myself feeling guilty if I have an afternoon off, or if I choose to focus on my novel instead of tending to my inbox.
As Writer’s Edit has grown, I’ve realized how important it is to keep a sensible work/life balance. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the fast-paced nature of online publishing, and your desire to push and push yourself. For me, this inevitably always leads to a burn-out stage.
In order to avoid burning out, set yourself two types of goals – long and short term. Your long term goals could be what you want to achieve in the next twelve months, while the short term may be as immediate as your ‘to do’ list for the day. I find that being able to follow a list makes me far more productive, and nothing feels quite as good as being able to tick things off as you go.
6. Negativity Does Better
There’s a reason why this article is about challenges, and unfortunately it’s because negativity gets more traction than positivity. Let’s not go into whether or not this says something inherently depressing about human nature, but skip straight to why this is a challenge…
While I do my best to make sure Writer’s Edit offers readers a balanced view of the industry and the craft itself, sometimes you do need to focus on the negative aspects in order to get your content shared at a higher rate. This can be damaging for the writers and editors of the publication, because we’re constantly thinking about the negative aspects.
Depending on the day, and often how I’m going with my own creative writing, I can find focusing on the negative quite upsetting and de-motivating. That’s when I have to revisit the Meet the Team page and see how many writers believe in our vision, I check out social media and see how many followers are engaging with our content and encouraging us.
7. When Technology Fails
For the most part, when everything you do is internet/computer based it results in a fast turnaround in terms of working with others, writing, publication and promotion. However, technology – as amazing as it is, sometimes fails…
Your screen freezes, your internet drops out and suddenly – you can’t get anything done. Unfortunately this tends to happen when I’m most stressed and have a truckload of things to get done. But it’s part of the job – these things will happen sometimes and you just have to deal with them.
I always make sure I’m constantly saving my work, and if the internet drops out or the computer freezes, I have a backup plan. I try to take those opportunities to get my eyes aware from the glare of the screen and go outside with a notepad, or go for a walk.
8. Monetizing Your Art
It’s the age old question isn’t it? Something that all artists have been struggling with since the beginning of art – how do we get paid for what we do? Art in the online sphere faces the same dilemma, perhaps more so in fact, as internet users are so accustomed to free content.
How to make your publication financially viable is something that depends on the individual publication – what are you offering your readers? Services? Products? News? You have to figure out what your readers are after, and if they’re willing to pay for it.
Alternatively, there are affiliate partnerships, google ad-sense and advertorial coverage, but you have to work out what works best for you, and be sure that it doesn’t compromise on the integrity of your brand.
9. Choosing a Niche
I know of so many good publications that could be brilliant but for their lack of focus. So many sites are too concerned with encompassing a variety of different fields and trying to reach a broad audience that they forget what really matters: incredible content.
I’m of the belief that the more specific your target audience is, the better your content will be and the higher the likelihood that your publication will do well. It will also equate to a more loyal and dedicated following, as opposed to people who just stumble upon one article on your site and never return.
It’s a mistake I see all too often in online publishing, and one that results in mediocre content and a poorly engaged readership. While sometimes, having such narrow niche can be challenging in terms of how lucrative your market is (particularly when it’s writers and writing), in the long term, choosing the right niche for you can only benefit your career.
10. The Lack of Accountability on the Internet
In the past, we’ve had a small number of individuals who behave appallingly online. We’re talking about harassing and bullying our writers, threatening our site and reputation and just recently, posting slander on our Kindling review page on Amazon.
To be completely honest, this is the challenge I find the hardest to deal with, because often the only possible course of action is: to do nothing. Unfortunately, the inappropriate conduct of individuals online leads to far less severe consequences, if any at all.
If someone were to graffiti the front of a bookshop, police would be called, reports would be made and the vandal would be sought out and fined/arrested. For online businesses it doesn’t quite work like that. Cases that should be a police matter, particularly in the realm of things we’ve experienced so far, are often left for the victims to deal with, leaving the perpetrator to get away with it and repeat their offenses.
Despite the numerous challenges us editors and writers face when it comes to running an online publication – the benefits far outweigh the bad. The sense of community, the learning experience and the incredibly articles you come across are just the tip of the iceberg. If starting an online publication is something you’ve been mulling over for a while, the best thing to do is jump right in.
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