Publishing in Literary Magazines: the best first step an emerging writer can take toward a great writing career
As a showcase and high-level creative space, literary magazines enable emerging writers to establish their street cred. and provide a place where you can matriculate in and amongst a community of peers.
What is a literary magazine?
Literary magazines are paperback or online collections of short works from emerging and professional writers.
The primary readership of literary magazines is writers and those who operate in literary circles, who engage with the work to see what creative ground their fellow writers are covering and to identify up-and-coming new voices.
Nowadays, there are thousands of literary magazines that range from venerable and well-funded such as The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, or Puerto del Sol in the U.S. or Geist, The Malahat Review, or Acta Victoriana in Canada to grassroots underground zines, with new magazines cropping up continuously.
Each magazine has its own preferences, character, and purpose. Some like to publish a general swath of literary styles, voices, and writing and life experience.
Others have specific mandates such as publishing new or historically marginalized voices or focusing on a single genre or topic, but most are a general mixture of voices, writing and life experience, and literary styles.
Publishing in a quality literary magazine is the best first step for an emerging author’s writing career for a number of reasons:
- Having passed through several editors, the published pieces (and the writers) are seen by the readership as meritorious and the work as valuable additions to the canon.
- Writers see some of the best pieces from their peers, and literary agents use literary magazines look to magazines to find emerging voices to represent
- Publishing in a literary magazine often leads to further opportunities
- The preparation for submission and collaboration with the magazine’s editor provide an incredible training ground for the emerging writer’s future in publishing other short or book-length works.
Need more reasons publishing in a literary magazine is a fantastic first step for any emerging writer? This blog cites 33 of them!
You and Your Work: Being Seen as Valuable from Publishing in a Literary Magazine
In order to be published in a literary magazine, your work must pass through several gatekeepers: first an intern or a reader who sources the gems in the slush, then an editor who will present your work to their editorial board and fight for your piece to be included in their upcoming issue.
As a result of this filtration process, any work that makes it onto a literary magazine’s pages is seen as valuable. The literary community then reads it (and passes that value onto you as a person) with commensurate respect.
While fellow authors read literary magazines to see what their peers are publishing, literary agents regularly haunt them to find new voices to represent.
It is not uncommon to be approached by a literary agent after placing a story, personal essay, or poem in a literary magazine and asked if you have a novel or memoir you can share with them.
*If you don’t have a book on the go, don’t worry; you can let the agent know you’re working on one and will reach out as soon as you have the requisite first chapters or whole manuscript in good shape.
(If that’s a white lie, let this be the best kick in the rear for you to start a book project or revise the one that’s been languishing in the drawer!)
If you already have a longer work and have published selection from it (either as an excerpt, or as a self-standing piece) you’re getting double benefit out of the literary magazine experience: establishing or furthering your publishing record while gaining visibility for the greater project for when it’s published.
Talk about warm leads; anyone who likes the short work will be far more likely to buy the full book. *And as for the agent who reaches out? You can capitalize on that inquiry by sending them the project right away!
Joining an Elite Community: Published Author
Where being published in a literary magazine may not offer much in the way of monetary currency (most pay anywhere from nothing to a couple hundred dollars per piece), the real value is having gotten your work a seat at the table.
A publication is often a golden ticket to jobs requiring a publishing record, entry to higher level writers groups or accredited programs, and being more readily published (or even courted for publication) elsewhere.
It’s not just your work that is seen as valuable; once you’re a published author, you’re part of an elite community. People look at you differently. With respect. That respect opens wonderful doors to all sorts of further opportunities.
Even a single publication in a reputable magazine shows peers and institutions that your work and you are contenders, worthy of note, and that you have the chops, acumen, and necessary skills to have gotten to this point in your writing career.
Skill Training to Prepare for a Promising Publishing Future
It’s no easy feat to get your work to the point of publication. To prepare yourself for a promising publishing future, you must spend a lot of time and effort developing, training, and becoming adept at a number of higher-level skills not only as a writer but also as a business professional to prepare yourself and the work to get it through the right doors.
Learning how to revise and edit your work is a skill that deepens your abilities as a writer every day.
You must dig into this labor for the pieces you submit to magazines so they are successful on their own creative terms.
You must also curate your content to match each magazine’s parameters and word count (editing a 2,500-word piece into a 1,500-word piece to meet a magazine’s criteria is a rush and one of the most exciting creative efforts a writer can do).
Creating a business persona in order to “sell” you and your work and uphold a professional non-personal awareness about the process is key.
Writing clean, clear cover letters gets you through the first important door, and developing a business sense by finding and using organizational and mindset strategies benefits you for the often protracted and difficult challenge of staying positive while getting rejection letters and sending out your work over and over until it finds the right home.
*Click here to access our free literary magazine submission spreadsheet (Literary Magazines is the third tab at the bottom of the sheet)
When you’re serious about beginning your writing career, publishing in literary magazines is the first, best, and most natural step toward an exciting future. You may be emerging now, but soon enough, after putting in the work and care, you will start to see your name in print over and over. And that’s when the real magic for you as an author begins.
National Magazine: A Guide to Canadian Literary Magazines
Oldest Literary Magazines (U.S.), Litmagnews
How to write a cover letter, Jane Friedman *Note: the blog’s author’s literary magazine, 2 Elizabeths, is no longer in circulation
33 Great Reasons Why You Should Submit Your Writing to Literary Magazines, Writers Relief
Game Changers: Literary Magazines as the Gateway to Your Career, Laura Maylene Walter, Poets and Writers Magazine
Databases of Reputable Literary Magazines:
Before you hit “send” to submit your manuscript, make sure it’s been read by an editor. Only the truly best manuscripts go on to publication, so give yours the best chance at success by ensuring it’s clear, clean, and ready for the big time!