The Submitter's Dilemma: Choosing the Right Literary Magazine for Your Work
By Becky Tuch
There are over 600 print and online literary magazines today, not to mention dozens of new journals starting up all the time. If you are new to submitting your work, the sheer quantity of literary magazines can be quite terrifying.
How do you even begin to sort through the wealth of offerings? How do you know a prestigious journal from a less established one? How do you find the journals that feature the sort of work you like to write? What are your odds of being accepted in one journal over another? Do literary agents read literary magazines, and if so, which ones? In short—how can you, a writer with a burning to be published and recognized, find the literary magazines that are the right match for your work and your ambition?
The first thing to do, as in any endeavor, is to take a deep breath and begin at the beginning. Accept your lack of information as a useful starting point. Then, use your curiosity to guide you along. The good news is that you do not, in fact, need to become an expert on all 600+ of these journals. In fact, if you can get to know just fifteen literary magazines, and know them well, you will make great progress toward getting published in one of them.
Here are some tips that may help you in narrowing your search:
* LOOK FOR THEME ISSUES. Creative Nonfiction recently ran an issue about animals. Florida Review was recently looking for graphic narratives about the creative process. A year ago, Bosphorus Art Project Quarterly was looking for work about memory. With editors actively seeking fresh and relevant submissions, your theme-related poem, essay, or story might have a better shot of being published by the right journal.
* LOOK FOR THEME LITERARY MAGAZINES. Alimentum is a food journal. Bellevue Literary Review does illness, health, and the body. Brilliant Corners does jazz-related literature. Mome does graphic narratives. Calyx, Mom Egg, and TORCH all publish work written by women. If you or your work fits into a relevant category, you are targeting a specific journal, and this increases your chances of being published.
* ENTER CONTESTS. When I was brand new to writing and submitting my work, I entered contest after contest, with not a thought to who the literary magazine editors were or what sort of work they liked. Some contests I won—woo hoo!—but most I did not. The overall outcome, however, is that I am much better acquainted with these journals. I feel I have a connection to them, a personal investment. Additionally, when you enter a contest, the reading fee usually pays for a subscription. At the very least you will see the way this journal looks and feels each time it arrives in your mailbox.
* READ CONTRIBUTORS' BIOS. If you find one journal that you like, read the contributors’ list. Look where the authors have been published. It's probable that they have been published in journals similar to the one you like. Track these journals down and see if you like the work that is being published in them. Is it similar to your own? Is it more experimental than your own? Better than your own? Take note.
* LEARN FROM STORY COLLECTIONS AND ANTHOLOGIES. The fine print at the beginning of all short story collections and anthologies lists the places where the book's stories were originally published. If you are reading a short story writer whose work you love, or a collection of "Best of..." take a peek at the book's fine print. Take note of the literary magazines mentioned there. Then, track down those literary magazines and see what kind of work they tend to publish and/or what sort of work they hope to publish more of in the future.
* LEARN FROM YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS. Where did they get their start? Where do they publish now? Do they read literary magazines? Which ones? The internet abounds with author interviews providing this sort of information. You can also look at the websites of the authors themselves. Most writers now publish their resumes online, so you can see exactly where they began their publishing careers.
* USE SOCIAL MEDIA. Follow journals on Twitter and friend them on Facebook. Learn about their calls for submission, theme issues and contests. Also, discover how they promote themselves. A journal that tweets, “Yo yo party people! Brand new work by Snooki!” may not be right for you, so move on to the journal that is.
* READ LITERARY MAGAZINES. Once you identify a handful of journals that interest you, read them! Study them like you would study anything you want to understand. What sort of work do they publish? What are the writers' bios like? How often do they change editors? What does their artistic vision seem to be? Many journals now have websites so you can get a fuller feel of their aesthetic, as well as read their published work on-line. Or else, go ahead and buy a subscription. It can't hurt to support the people you hope will one day support you and your work.
Do you have other ideas? Frustrations? Questions? Please share them with us!
Becky Tuch is the founding editor of The Review Review.