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by Writer’s Relief Staff 8 June 2010 10:40
There is plenty of talk in the writing industry about the importance of literary magazines, but what exactly is a literary magazine? If you are uncertain about submitting your poems, short stories, and essays for publication, the information below will help you improve your submission strategy by shedding some light on the way that literary journals work.
What is a literary magazine?
Not to be confused with commercial magazines like Time or Newsweek, a literary magazine is a publication that focuses on creative writing. It can be print (perfect-bound or tabloid) or online, and associated with a university or an independent literary press. Funding for literary magazines usually comes from monthly or yearly reader subscriptions (which may number a few hundred subscribers or as many as tens of thousands). Many literary magazines are also funded by government and private subsidies that support the arts. More often than not, literary journals are unable to pay their contributors. They exist to showcase writings (and artwork) that would otherwise not find an audience in mainstream, commercial publishing.
In the past, literary journals were confined to the realm of hardcopy and print. But the Internet, along with economic factors, has driven many print journals online. Learn more: Online Literary Journals: The Cutting Edge Of Traditional Publishing.
What is the difference between a literary magazine and a literary journal?
For the most part, the definitions of literary magazine and literary journal are pretty much the same. Sometimes a tabloid-sized publication may be referred to as a magazine, and a perfect-bound publication may be referred to as a journal, but the terms are used interchangeably by most people. You may also see the term lit mag as shorthand.
What do literary magazines publish? Do they publish new writers?
Literary magazines typically publish short fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews, and sometimes art and photography. Some magazines specialize only in poetry; others will publish only stories. The focus can range from mainstream literature to specific topics, such as nature, politics, or Americana.
Many, if not all, literary magazines encourage submissions by new writers. Their goal is to shine the spotlight on great writing, regardless of the author’s experience level. In fact, many well-known writers got their start in the pages of literary magazines.
Overall, literary magazines and journals tend to have a literary feel—emphasis is on style and insight rather than a fast-moving plot intended for escapism. However, some literary magazines do cater to readers of genre fiction (horror, mystery, science fiction, etc.) that have universal appeal.
What are the best literary magazines?
While there are many renowned and respected literary magazines that have been around for decades, it is best to focus less on which are the “best” and more on which are the best for your work. It is estimated that there are hundreds of literary magazines in publication in the United States—including both print and online literary journals. This translates to hundreds of thousands of writers who are getting their work published in literary magazines every year. The key to finding the right journals for your work is your ability to thoroughly research literary magazine markets.
Because there are so many new literary journals popping up on the Internet, it’s important to be able to determine if an e-magazine is reputable and right for you. Read more: Online Literary Journals: How To Determine Quality And Reputation.
Do you need a literary agent to get published in a literary magazine?
Because literary journals don’t pay much (if anything at all), literary agents generally will not submit your writing to said magazines for you. You can submit on your own.
How do you get published in a literary magazine? Why do they benefit writers?
To get published in a literary magazine, you’ll need to research and identify those that are appropriate for your writing. Create a cover letter. Then, mail your submissions or submit online. Here’s an article about How To Submit Poems To Literary Journals And Magazines. The process for stories and essays is similar, except that instead of sending three to five pieces at a time, you’ll probably be sending only one.
Plus, see our free online tutorials to learn to make submissions online.
Why should you support literary magazines?
As stated above, literary magazines are generally not money-making machines because they do not cater to mainstream audiences who have commercial tastes. If you want to see your work published in literary magazines, it’s important that you subscribe to literary magazines in order to help keep the market for creative writing alive and well. Do a Google search to find literary magazines that you might want to subscribe to, and do your part to support what you love!
There are countless market books and websites from which you can determine the best literary magazines for you. If you don’t want to research on your own, Writer’s Relief can help. Our A La Carte services are fast, easy, and affordable for those with a DIY approach to submitting. And our Full Service (invitation only) is for writers who want Writer’s Relief to manage the process of submitting to literary journals.
the author of Baby and Other Stories (Dec. 2010,
Word Riot Press), which O Magazine called a “brilliant,
brutally raw debut collection,” and received a starred
review from Publishers Weekly. Her fiction has
appeared in dozens of journals, including Fiction,
Open City and Nerve. She’s also the co-publisher
of Artistically Declined Press and the supervising
editor of a literary journal, Sententia.
See her website here.
1. There’s a whole wide world of publications out there. Getting published in the big magazines or journals—The New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta, The Missouri Review—is a great goal for the short story writer, but it’s not the only way to gain an audience and build a reputation. Once I opened my eyes to the tons of great small magazines and internet journals out there, such as Word Riot, JMWW, Night Train, Storyglossia (I really could go on here for a long time), I started getting published more frequently not to mention discover a fantastic indie writing scene. This isn’t really setting your standards lower; it’s understanding the diversity of publications out there and the great way the Internet has changed the power structure of the publishing world.
2. It’s OK to be bothered by rejection, but we must move on. I wrote for more than two decades before I got my first book published. Pretty much every story in my collection was rejected around twenty times before finding a home. I used to save my rejection letters—fondle the ones with encouraging notes scribbled on them. And that’s fine—the little hope I derived from tiny words of encouragement! This is a really tough business if you don’t have some sort of in—as in, your father is the head of Random House. I generally don’t pretend to be tough about rejection; it hurts. But, you let it bother you, and then you get back to work. I often wrote some of my best stories after a bunch of rejections. To prove everybody wrong.
3. Have the compulsion to write. You have to really, really want to write. I’d die to be Nora Roberts, or really, Philip Roth, but the reality is that there isn’t money in this, there isn’t fame, so why bother? I love writing. I’m not always pleased with my writing, and I go through terrible bouts of writers block, but I know I’ll do this, write, until I no longer can.
4. Let your work mean something. When I was younger, I often tried to be clever and “dark.” This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it is a youthful thing. I often still like to cause trouble in my writing—as all the reviews of my book will attest—but really, it’s about the heart. Rip your heart out for your work. Clever can be empty.
5. Try not to be precious. This is really hard for me and I don’t always succeed. Do I really need to write only in the mornings, at my desk, after the kids have gone to school? When I can relax and just write whenever—during the baby’s nap, slap down some ideas while cooking dinner, have my seven year old scribble notes for me while I’m driving—then I’m not being precious. It is, after all, just writing, not brain surgery.
6. Read. I don’t trust writers who don’t read a lot. Read books that you wish you’d written. Read the classics—they’ve been around for a reason.
7. Remain positive, even if it’s only occasionally. I don’t pretend to have not gone through some very dark times where I doubted if I’d ever get published. I’ve been through agents, failed book deals, failed attempts at writing a novel. But I wouldn’t have kept doing it if I didn’t have moments where I thought, I can do this. It will happen.
Paula is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail.