Online Magazines: What’s Hot, What’s Not, What’s Right for You
By Becky Tuch
The past five years have witnessed an exponential growth of online literary magazines. For writers, this is great news. Not only are there more markets for your work, as well as more specific markets that cater only to flash fiction or flash memoir or cross-genre work, but online magazines create more opportunities for writers to share their work with others.
Think about it: If you publish a story and announce that it’s in such-and-such a magazine, how many of your Facebook friends or family members will go out and buy that magazine? But if you post the link through social media or email the link to your aunt Sally, there’s a much higher likelihood the piece will be read. And, of course, if you’re trying to build your platform to attract agents and the like, publishing great work online can only help your cause.
That said, among online journals, there is a broad range in terms of quality, reputability, and staying power. If you are looking for a good online magazine in which to showcase your work, here are some criteria to consider before submitting:
Is “Wordpress” in the domain name?
If you come across a journal called GreatNewMagazine.wordpress.com, this should give you pause. The journal may be extremely high quality and I wouldn’t automatically rule out any lit mags that use this format. Just beware—it costs under $20 to take out the “wordpress” from a domain name. If a magazine has not shelled out that twenty bucks, it might suggest that they’re not fully invested in the project and they’re not sure how long they’ll stick around. This could be perfectly suitable for a one-off anthology, something like “PoemsToGetObamaRe-Elected.wordpress.com”. But if you’re trying to find a magazine to last through the winter, consider the domain name.
Can you scroll down infinitely into oblivion?
There are a handful of terrific lit mags that don’t have a border around their edges. (If you don’t know what I mean by a “border”, simply look at this page. Note how there’s a limit to how far you can scroll. Also note the blue background framing the page’s content.) If you encounter an online magazine with no scrolling limit in sight, it does not necessarily mean that journal is a bad place to submit. On the other hand, take a look at online magazine Cerise Press. Note how the journal’s homepage is neatly contained above the electronic fold. In other words, you can’t scroll down into infinity. This adds an air of professionalism to the site.
Are there advertisements?
A few thoughtfully placed advertisements, such as you’ll find at BULL Magazine, are not a bad thing. It can even look attractive. But when the ads are strewn about the page helter skelter, when the ads feature products ranging from books to diet pills to Viagra, then it might be time to think about submitting elsewhere. And watch out for Google ads. Though some highly respectable magazines may indeed have Google ads on their site, you might want to consider how this looks before you submit your work. Will your poem be crammed up against ads for self-publishing services? Will your story end with bright blue font directing the reader to shop at Amazon? This may not be how you want to present your work.
Does social media dominate the homepage?
Just about every blog and most new online magazines now have a Twitter feed on their homepage. This is a useful way to make the site appear dynamic. However, I get turned off when I see a whole list of social media contacts along the margin of an online journal. Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Linked-In, Tumblr…Too much of this and it can look like the editors are less interested in showcasing great talent and more interested in showcasing themselves on social media. If you visit the lovely magazine apt, you’ll see a Facebook link and a Twitter feed on their About page. But it’s tastefully and neatly compartmentalized. Plus, there are only two social media links, not seven billion. The former allows a reader to suspend the outside world and enter into the world of the literary magazine. The latter feels like a hastily thrown together blog where the reader is constantly distracted from the site’s content.
Have past contributors been anthologized? Won prizes?
Have past writers won or been nominated for any awards? Puschart, Best of the Web, Best of the South, Best Non-Required Reading, etc.? If so, this is likely a strong journal for you to submit your work to. Look, for instance, at Apple Valley Review’s hearty list of congratulations on their home page. The journal boasts Best of…winners, as well as authors now publishing books. Toasted Cheese is also very clear about the anthologies for which they nominate writing. If you want to find magazines with a high acceptance rate in the Pushcart prize, check out Glifford Garstang’s Perpetual Folly blog. Sundress Press also puts out a yearly Best of the Net Anthology. Dzanc Books has also been running a Best of the Web series for several years now.
How far back does the archive go?
That a journal has been around for a long time may not mean it will continue to be around for the foreseeable future. Still, submitting to Memorious, which has been in operation since 2004, is a safer bet than submitting to that new journal which just cropped up this year. On the other hand, Memorious is a high-caliber lit mag and a tough market to break into. A brand new journal such as ARDOR may be just the thing for you, as they are likely eager for submissions. Bottom line here is whether you feel more comfortable submitting to a journal that has withstood the test of time, or if you’re willing to take a risk on a newer mag and let the chips fall where they may.
Do you like the editors’ vibes?
If you’ve read any of my other articles on finding the right lit mags for your work, and if you’ve taken my advice, then by now you are an active follower of lit mags on Twitter and you’ve liked or friended as many lit mags as possible on Facebook. You read blogs by and interviews with a variety of journal editors. In the midst of doing your homework, you may have found a handful of editors that seem friendly, warm, and approachable. Or if that’s not your thing, you’ve honed in on those editors that are edgy, sassy, and delightfully world-weary. Whatever your ilk, there are editors out there that fit your style and share your literary tastes.
Is your work right for the magazine?
Obviously, if you’re submitting to a journal, you should at least be somewhat familiar with what they publish. If you write conventionally structured, character-driven stories, don’t submit to The Destroyer, which prefers “poetry, prose, texts with no determinate genre”, or Diagram which seeks “poems that masquerade as stories; in stories that disguise themselves as indices or obituaries.” But if your story is compelling and narrative-driven, it might be a great fit for Digital Americana, which likes “thoughtfully-crafted and immersive literary experiences—with special attention being paid to work that conveys a modern American theme.” You might also check out A River & Sound Review that seeks stories “driven by a compelling narrative voice, dynamic characters and a plot that makes the story worth reading.” This sort of information should be available in the submissions guidelines of the magazine’s website.
Do you like the magazine?
In the end, this will be the most important question of all. You can safely disregard every bit of advice I’ve given here if you simply love the journal. Maybe you just enjoy the fiction they publish. Maybe you think their poetry is first-rate. Perhaps the white space on the margins doesn’t bother you at all. You think—Google ads, what Google ads? And you could scroll down the page ‘til the cows come home because you simply love what this magazine publishes. If you have a strong connection to the content of a magazine, you like the way the content is laid out, and you would would be proud to be featured alongside other writers published there, then, dear hard-working writer, this is the right online journal for you.
Becky Tuch is the founding editor of The Review Review.