Sub It Strategies: Literary Magazines

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We spend a lot of time at Sub It Club discussing submissions to agents and book publishers; however, agents and publishers aren’t the only way to get your work in front of readers. Long before they became best-selling authors, the likes of Steven King and Elizabeth Gilbert honed their skills in magazines. Long after they become successful, many novelists still enjoy writing and submitting short stories. You can too.

Literary magazines vary widely, but generally speaking, they provide writers with an opportunity to practice their craft, while earning a little cash. At a minimum, literary magazines provide a writing credit that can boost your bio paragraph for a book query.

The best advice before querying a short story is to read and study the literary magazine you want to write for. Ask yourself, How many stories appear in each issue? How long are they? What genres does the magazine include? What’s the overall tone/bent of the magazine? Who is the audience? Targetting your submissions carefully is important, as some literary magazines discourage simultaneous submissions.

Lists of literary magazines can be found in Writer’s Digest’s NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET. This book is updated every year, and many libraries carry it. Even if you can get your hands on the latest issue, be sure to confirm submission information before you submit. Poets & Writers also has a fantastic searchable list of literary markets.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating literary markets:

  • Does the magazine allow simultaneous submissions?
  • Is there a set reading period? Many literary magazines are tied to universities and only read submissions during certain times of the year.
  • Does the magazine take snail mail or email submissions or use a submission system like Submittable?
  • Does the magazine charge a submissions fee? Granta, a well-regarded literary magazine, began to charge a nominal fee after it moved to an online submissions system and was deluged with stories. The $4  fee is equivalent (they say) to the cost of printing and mailing your story. Beware of magazines that impose hefty fees for submissions, as that could be a red flag that you are dealing with more of “pay-to-play” publisher than a legitimate magazine. As with agents and publishers, it pays to do your homework.
  • Finally, what are the word count requirements for the magazine? Aim for no more than 5,000 and 10,000 words, as the Indiana Review explains.

As you submit to literary magazines, know that getting a short-story published is competitive. Many talented writers, including published novelists, compete for a limited number of opportunities in each issue. As with all submissions, don’t get discouraged. Keep calm, and query on.

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