How to Submit Your Creative Writing to Literary Magazines
Historically, one of the best ways to get noticed as an author was to have your writing published in literary magazines. While some writers still get agents this way, it isn’t nearly as common. However literary journals are still an excellent way to get your writing read and receive the encouragement and approval many authors secretly crave. This article will walk you through how to tell when your short piece is ready and get it published.
How to Tell When Your Writing Is Ready for Publication
One question I get asked by many authors is how do they know when a piece is ready or right for publication. One way is to have someone else read it. Critique groups and writing partners are excellent ways to get feedback on a short piece, so you can make it the best it can be. I would not recommend hiring a professional editor unless you are working on a collection of short stories or don’t have access to any other forms of feedback. You’re not likely to make your money back on short stories, and some literary magazines do a bit of editing. After you’ve applied the feedback to your piece, you’re likely ready for publication.
Another way to decide if your writing is done is to pay attention to the kinds of changes you’re making. If you’re rewriting whole scenes, descriptions, or dialogue sections, you’re not ready. If you’re changing words here and there or moving commas, that piece is ready.
A good sign a short piece of writing is right for publication is you’re not sick of it. You’ve read it a hundred times to implement suggestions from your critique partners, clean up the execution, and proof read, and you’re still excited by the story. There’s a good chance the literary journal editors will be excited too.
How to Find Literary Journals and Magazines
Your best resource – and most overwhelming one – for finding literary magazines is the internet. Google literary journals and you’ll get more results than you know what to do with. To give yourself the best chance at getting published, get specific. Look for magazines that publish your genre, style, or tone. Two free websites I recommend starting with are Poets and Writers and Freedom with Writing because they allow you to search by category and show when the journals are accepting submissions.
Another great resource is the current Writer’s Market book for short stories. This is a giant encyclopedia-style book of all the literary magazines the authors know of. It includes the type of stories the journals are looking for, their guidelines, and a bit about the editors. I don’t necessarily recommend buying this book. It’s not cheap and will be outdated in a year. Use your local library’s copy instead. Also, double check the information with the magazine’s website. Sometimes submission dates and other guidelines change after publication.
Other places you can look are writing organizations and colleges with writing programs. Often these places have their own publications and lists of other literary journals. You can always put together and publish your own collection or anthology as well. My critique group published a collection of short stories based on the theme proof and are working on getting another anthology put together centered around flight. Sometimes if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you have to create it.
How to Submit to Literary Publications
FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. The most important part of submitting to literary magazines is following the guidelines to the letter. Most publications want standard manuscript format (see that article here), but some will have subtle differences. One big thing to watch out for is whether or not the publication does blind readings. If they do and you put your name on your story, you will automatically be rejected. Having worked for a literary journal, I can say not following the guidelines is the number one reason people are rejected. The editors get hundreds of submissions, so they need a quick way to narrow down their options. If you can’t take the time to read the guidelines, they don’t have the time to read your writing.
You can find the submission guidelines on most literary magazine websites under the submissions tab. Read them carefully, follow them to the letter, and double check before hitting submit. If they want 1500 words, don’t send 1505. If they want Times New Roman, don’t send Calibri font.
You should also research the literary journal before submitting. Read a handful of their submissions. Get a feel for the tone of the magazine, the style of writing they enjoy, and the types of characters and plots they publish. If your piece doesn’t line up, consider submitting it elsewhere.
Don’t spoil your story in the cover letter. A cover letter for a literary journal is not the same thing as a query letter. It’s there to let the editors know why you think your piece is a good fit for their publication and how it meets any themes or specific requests they’ve made. Ideally, your cover letter should be a single, short paragraph.
The same goes for your bio. Keep your bio short and focus only on credentials and life experiences relevant to the story you are submitting. Often writers are limited to 50 word bios.
Read the publishing rights section as well. Know what rights you are giving away. Most literary magazines want first publication rights and a period of exclusivity. Meaning, you will have to say your piece was first published in their magazine if you publish it somewhere else and wait to release other places for a month or even a year depending on your contract. I wouldn’t give away all rights to a story (i.e. I can never publish it again) unless the publication paid me a lot of money. Also, there is a recent trend where literary magazines request audio rights. Don’t give away your audio rights unless they have a podcast. There are many podcasts who read – and pay for – short stories, even if they’ve been previously published in print.
Why an Editor Recommends Writers Submit to Literary Journals and Magazines
Even though literary magazines aren’t as likely to get you a book-length publishing contract as they once might have been, they are still useful. They give you credentials to put in your biographies and query letters. They can be validating and lead to more exposure and book sales. And some are just plain fun. One of my short stories, “By a Child’s Hand,” was illustrated because of a literary magazine. You will get rejected. A lot. Unfortunately, it’s a part of the industry, but it’s worth it each time you get an acceptance.
Also, don’t be afraid of online only publications. If you’re published online, you can not only list the publication as a credential, you can link to your story like I did. It’s easier to share online stories. The same goes for podcasts. Being published in any format is worth it. So polish your short piece, find a handful of appropriate literary journals, follow their guidelines, and submit to Ignite Your Ink.
What are your favorite literary magazines to read? Share them in the comments. For more articles on publishing and a free Submission Checklist, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.