*Also see my post here: Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines*
Recently serenitysearcherii asked me “how do you know which review or journal to send your work to?”
It’s a good question, and one I feel relatively qualified to answer since I taught a workshop called “Getting Published in Literary Magazines” at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and participated in a similarly-themed panel at the Burlesque Press Hands-On Writers’ Conference.
So, the first thing you need to ask yourself is this: WHY DO YOU WANT TO GET PUBLISHED IN LITERARY JOURNALS?
1. To see your name and words in print (and/or impress friends and family).
2. To feel encouraged or validated. (This is no small thing. Writing is a hard, lonely slog, and sometimes getting a story or poem published in a journal can be just the pick-me-up you need to keep working at it.)
3. To possibly catch the eye of an agent. (This does happen — I had an agent contact me after reading one of my stories in Talking River Review.)
4. To put on your resume, CV, or list of “published works” on your website.
5. To sound professional when you send a query letter to an agent about your book. (Some agents care that you’ve been published before; some don’t.)
6. To help you network and build platform.
If your motives are mostly #1 or #2, you might want to consider submitting to newer journals, online journals, and less popular/prestigious journals, as they are going to have fewer submissions and will be more likely to accept your piece.
If your motives are mostly #3, #4, or #5, you might want to focus on more popular or prestigious journals. In this case, you should submit to a lot of places because these magazines have ridiculously tiny acceptance rates. Even really stellar stories are often rejected.
If your motive is mostly #6, you may want to consider focusing on online journals. It’s good to have a link where followers can go to read your work online instead of telling them to purchase the paper copy of the journal your piece appears in. With online journals, you are also more likely to get feedback from readers, thus helping you network. I’ve had people send me messages or leave comments on my blog because they read a story of mine in an online journal.
Jeni Stewart of Burlesque Press
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE JOURNALS?
To find new journals and magazines that are actively seeking submissions, check NewPages, The Review Review, the AWP website, and Poets&Writers, as well as blogs, twitter, and facebook. Poets&Writers has an excellent search system where you can type in the specifics of the journals you are looking for, and The Review Review does just that: reviews literary journals to help give you a sense of the types of pieces they publish.
To find those fancy, prestigious journals, check the Pushcart Rankings, Every Writer’s Resource Rankings, Web del Sol Rankings, and look at short story and poetry collections such as Best American, O’Henry, Pushcart, and Flannery O’Conner — somewhere at the front or back of the book they will tell where each piece was first published. Also tweet at your favorite literary agents and ask them what lit mags they like to read.
To find online journals, do all of the above, and check the Every Writer’s Resource Ranking of the fifty best online journals. (I’m sure there are other lists of this sort as well — google it.)
WHAT ARE SOME BEST PRACTICES?
• Submit as much as possible! In a way, it’s really a numbers game. Of course you should submit your best work, but the more you submit the more you increase your chances of hitting the right editor at the right time and getting an acceptance. Don’t take rejections too seriously. God knows I’ve gotten a ton of them.
• Keep track of your submissions. Create a spreadsheet with the name of the journal, what you submitted and when, and what the response was. I’ve made the embarrassing mistake of sending a piece to a journal that I had already sent them — and they had already rejected! Don’t let that happen to you!
• Read literary magazines. Most journals are going to suggest that you read a few back issues first to get a sense of what they publish. In an ideal world, you would do this, but chances are you don’t have time to read multiple back issues of every single journal you’re going to submit to. So just make it your goal to read more lit mags than you currently do. Maybe subscribe to one or two a year. Maybe get your writerly friends to subscribe to different ones and then trade. Read the free online ones when you have a few spare moments. I submitted stories to Fence for years without reading it. Finally I got a subscription, and suddenly I understood why they weren’t accepting my stuff — Fence is super modern and experimental, and my stories just weren’t what they tend to publish. Reading the magazines doesn’t always help you understand the editors’ tastes, but it can.
• Be SURE to follow submission guidelines. It sounds silly, but double check everything — Is there a word count requirement? Do they not want your name on the piece? Do they require a cover page? Do they not accept simultaneous submissions?
• Speaking of simultaneous submissions… A lot of magazines accept them, and if they don’t say that they don’t, then you can safely assume that they do. This is good. This means you can send the same story to multiple journals at one time. And you should do this. It takes forever to hear back from journals, and remember, this is a numbers game. But if your piece gets picked up by a journal, you must let the other journals you submitted it to know. The worst is when a reading committee debates over a story for a long time, decides to accept it, and then finds out it’s been published somewhere else. Basically, they will hate you forever after that. Remember, common courtesy goes a long way, and editors have long memories.
• Submit to your top choices first. If you are going for the more prestigious journals, submit to your top tier journals first. If you get rejected from those, submit to your second tier, and so on.
• Research a few journals a month. There are so many journals. It can seem totally overwhelming. Take a deep breath. Just research a few a month. Read what they’re looking for, or read pieces from a few of their issues if possible (no need to read cover-to-cover). In your research, you might find that a magazine has a theme issue coming up, or a special contest with a prompt. These themes and prompts might spawn new ideas! So even though creative writers tend to hate research, your creativity could be sparked from it.
• If you have genre pieces, research where to send them. There are magazines that specialize in horror, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, romance, LGBT, YA, and other genre pieces. Dark Markets is a good resource to find horror, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and other genre magazines and anthologies. Also, be aware that some literary magazines will NOT accept genre pieces.
• Make a submission goal. Whether it’s to submit twice a week, once a month, or five times by Christmas, making and keeping a goal can be helpful. I’ve also known writers who get together for “submission parties” every so often to do research and submitting together with a platter of snacks.
Trust me on this. I taught a class on how to get published in lit mags.
Eva’s Journal Picks:
•The Burlesque Press Variety Show (online) — they publish often, so they are always looking for short submissions of all kinds — stories, essays, poems, recipes, etc.!
•Brevity (online) — extremely brief essays and book reviews
• Café Irreal (online) – absurd, irreal short fiction (think Kafka)
• Carve (online and print) – “honest” fiction inspired by Raymond Carver… literary short stories
• Crazyhorse – consistently wonderful fiction and poetry; quite prestigious
• Compose Literary Journal (online) — short fiction and poetry; super supportive editors
• Fail Better (online) –poems and stories
• Front Porch Journal (online) –nice people, nice journal; check out their video and audio archive of famous authors reading and discussing their work
• The Indiana Review – I love their poetry, and their fiction is good, too; highly ranked
• Literary Juice (online) – fun, fast fiction
• Narrative (online) – One of the best and most populat online magazines. I love their Poem of the Week
• The Normal School – eclectic fiction, CNF, and poetry
• The Sun –both personal and political; CNF, poetry, and stories
• Zoetrope – hip and edgy with celebrity guest editors
• All the magazines in which my work has appeared. I mean, if they published me, so they gotta be good, right? (Ha ha.)
And of course there are many, many, many, many more magazines than the ones I mentioned. There’s a place for your work, you just have to be tenacious to find it. Good luck! And happy submitting!