Navigating Literary Journals
Award-winning author offers guidance
Welcome to the first in our new series of advice columns. Here you’ll find publishing advice, writing advice, and thoughts on literary magazines, all written by Lit Mag News readers.
by Hunter Liguore
The first literary journal, The Athenaeum, was started in 1828 by two brothers in London. What began as a cultural magazine has come down through the centuries as a means for writers to share their voices. For the new writer, literary journals offer the opportunity to showcase your work and make a name for yourself. For the experienced writer, it’s a great way to share your work in community with others who love to read.
How do you go about choosing which literary journal to submit your work to? Read on.
#1: Find Your Tribe
Think of the literary journal like its own community, one with a group of editors and readers and its own audience. When your work is accepted, you become part of the literary tribe: you make friends and experience a heightened camaraderie that can make all those solo hours worth it. If your work is accepted for publication, you not only get new support, but you also get to champion the efforts of other writers. There are hundreds of journals around the world to choose from. Before you submit, ask yourself: would you be part of a community where you didn’t feel like you belonged? Probably not, and literary journals should be no different. To get started, pick a journal that is aligned with your writing aesthetic and with authors that you want to read.
#2. Give Your Work Away Until You Can’t
Writers want to be paid for their work, and rightly so, since it is our profession. But do take a moment to consider that submitting to unpaid markets has many other benefits that aren’t monetary and could be equal or greater to actual cash payment. For instance, literary journals offer opportunities to publish and earn credentials; to gain the peer-review of an editor—one you’re not paying for—and one who is interested in what you’re creating and willing to help shape the work. You also make inroads and networks to an audience. As a general rule, ‘free’ translates to being paid for all of the above benefits and the unknowns that are possible that you may not have even considered, like catching the eye of an agent or industry pro reading your work!
#3. Submit With a Plan and Never Take No For an Answer
Create a plan for submitting that feels right to you. Some writers will start with submitting one story to 5-10 markets, choosing the journals that best fits them. The average time of review can be 3-6 months—even 8 months to a year. If you receive passes the first time out, send a few more. If all pass, give your work a second look. Revise it. Send it out again. Do this for a year or more, but don’t ever take no for an answer. During the wait period, you’ll keep writing and get good at it. Gradually, you will grow to see your own work with clearer eyes and make more changes. Then send the piece out again to a small batch of journals until it finds the right home.
Submitting to Literary Journals: the Basics
Create a portfolio
If you think of literary journals less as a 5-star hotel that only a few privileged people can get into and more of a public park where you can have a picnic, anytime, anywhere, then submitting becomes far easier. But you need material. Whether you’re just starting out or have been writing for a while, creating a revolving portfolio with at least 3-5 pieces, each a different length, and possibly even genre, will be a benefit over the long-term.
For starters, you might have something like this: