Submitting to Literary Magazines
Literary Magazines, or LitMags, are—you guessed it—magazines exhibiting literature.
They vary in type and size, catering to different audiences. Some can be found online, while others are exclusively in print. Some include long works, and some stick only to short poetry and prose.
Reading LitMags can expose you to a variety of pieces you wouldn’t traditionally find in a book (because of their genre, length, style, or something else). And most LitMags are open to submissions from anyone, which means you can enter your own writing!
Pros of Submitting to LitMags
Submitting to LitMags can teach you a lot about the traditional publishing process for novels and other longer works. Having to revise and edit a piece until it is worthy of publication takes a lot of time and dedication, and it can be good to warm up with short works first. Additionally, writing a cover letter can prepare you for query letters. Of course, there are differences between the LitMag submission process and submitting to agents or publishing houses, but it’s a good place to start.
On a similar note, submitting to LitMags shows you how to deal with rejection. The writing industry is (unfortunately) full of rejection, and handling rejections from LitMags can prepare you for rejections on longer works you may write.
Thankfully, it isn’t all dark and gloomy. Many LitMags give you feedback on your submissions, which can show you how to improve on your work.
Additionally, when your piece does get accepted, you get a confidence boost. It’s wonderful to have your work validated by other people and see your piece published.
Different LitMags have different submission processes, so you should always read the website to make sure you follow the steps correctly. However, the general process is below:
Submissions Open. Some LitMags (especially those with an online gallery) are open for submissions all the time. Others are only open at certain times in the year in preparation for their next issue (which is usually a printed magazine).
Submit. You might have to email a pdf or upload a submission to Duotrope or another online submission platform.
Wait. Most LitMags tell you how long a response takes. If that time slot passes and you don’t get a response, you might want to send a polite query email to make sure your piece didn’t get lost or forgotten in the shuffle. Be careful with these, though, and don’t query a LitMag if they explicitly say they do not want queries.
If your piece is accepted, you may have to make edits (depending on the LitMag and your piece).
Wait again. Yes, there’s a lot of waiting involved. Designing takes time, and it may be weeks before your piece is published.
Read. When your piece is published, congratulations! Be sure to read the other amazing pieces published alongside yours.
Submissions Guidelines: What to Look Out For
Genre: Not all LitMags accept the same genres of writing. Some are specifically for certain genres (literary, science fiction, etc.). If a magazine is not looking for genre fiction, it is looking for literary pieces. These often take place inside the head of a single character and are not plot-driven. Many LitMags accept poetry, prose, and art, but you should always check if a particular LitMag accepts the type of writing you want to submit. Make sure you look at the pieces a LitMag typically publishes. Your piece is more likely to be accepted if it matches the theme and tone of the magazine.
Word Count: Most LitMags have word count guidelines. Make sure your piece stays strictly within these limits. Generally, magazines prefer shorter works, but this is not always true.
Cover Letter: Most LitMags either require you to write a cover letter or give you the option to do so. Unless a LitMag specifically says they do not want a cover letter (which is really rare), it’s always a good idea to send a cover letter with your submission. This should answer several questions. What is your piece about? Unlike traditional query letters, you can talk about themes and the purpose behind your piece. You should show why you wrote this piece. Also, include general information like the title and word count. Who are you? Different LitMags have different requirements for things to include in a cover letter. Some want third-person bios and others don’t mind first-person. Some want to know your age and home state. Some look for your writing credentials. Be sure to look at the LitMag’s website and see what they want you to include in your cover letter.
Simultaneous Submissions: Magazines either accept simultaneous submissions, or they do not. A simultaneous submission is a piece that you submit to multiple LitMags at the same time. If you submit a piece to several LitMags that allow simultaneous submissions and your piece is accepted in one, you must inform the others and withdraw your submission. If you submit a piece to a LitMag that does not allow simultaneous submissions, you must wait until you get a response or the response time has passed for that LitMag before submitting elsewhere. Read the submission guidelines for every LitMag you are interested in before submitting a piece.
Reprints: Some magazines accept previously published pieces. Others do not. Others only accept pieces that have been published in print. Some only accept pieces that have been published on a personal blog or website. Again, you must read the LitMag’s submission guidelines to determine whether your piece meets its rules.
Formatting: If your LitMag asks for a certain font, font size, spacing, or document type, make sure you adhere to those restrictions. The last thing you want is for a really good piece to be rejected for formatting reasons.
Payment: Very few LitMags pay you for your pieces. If you are looking to become rich, LitMags are not the way to go. However, some (especially the bigger ones) do offer compensation for pieces. These can vary from a certain number of cents per word to a certain amount per piece.
Rights: Check and know what rights you give up and retain when you submit a work to a literary magazine. If your piece is accepted and published, most LitMags require you to credit them as the original publisher if and when you republish your short story. This is usually the case with LitMags that ask for First North American Serial Rights, which means they must be able to publish your piece first in the continent. Some don’t allow you to republish the piece at all. In that case, you might want to reconsider submitting to that magazine, especially if you really care about and want to keep the rights to your piece.
Getting Involved in Other Ways
You don’t have to limit yourself to just submitting to LitMags. You can also keep an eye out for LitMags seeking members of the masthead, or leadership team. You can help out with public relations and marketing, submission reading and editing, design, and so much more. If you prefer writing, you can also become a permanent writer for a LitMag’s blog.
Smaller LitMags often are just looking for an avid reader and writer as opposed to someone with a lot of writing credentials. You can also consider starting a LitMag of your own at your school or in your town.
This is a great way to gain insight into the publishing process from the other side, and you get to meet many writers like yourself.
Submitting to LitMags can be exciting and nerve-racking, but it will be worth it. Whether or not your piece gets accepted, you will learn a lot about the publishing process and your writing style.
Of course, when submitting to a LitMag, it’s important to follow the submission guidelines listed on their website. If you do plan on submitting to a literary magazine, good luck!
Have you ever submitted to or gotten involved with a LitMag? Let me know in the comments!