For writers who are just beginning a journey in sending out/pitching their work to different literary magazines and zines, the whole system could seem confusing, challenging, and even demotivating (especially after receiving tons of rejections without the feedback). Here are some tips and recommendations to make this process easier and, hopefully, more pleasant.
How do we define a literary magazine? And what is the difference between magazines, journals, and zines? In the Dictionary, a literary magazine is defined as “a periodical devoted to literature in a broad sense.” Usually, literary magazines publish not only short stories, creative nonfiction, memoirs, and poetry but also essays, literary criticism, book reviews, and interviews. Often, literary magazines are “called literary journals or little magazines; terms intended to contrast them with larger, commercial magazines.” For the most part, there is no difference between the terms magazine and journal in the context of literary publication. Zines are more difficult to define, but often, they operate exactly like magazines and Journals. More concretely zines are "independently created and published magazines that tell niche stories for niche audiences. Historically, they have been venues for the counterculture to freely share ideas. They disseminate the voice of people under oppressive rule."
Keep in mind: Unfortunately, most literary magazines, Journals, and especially zines do not/cannot pay their contributions. You can read a New York Times article with the title “Does it pay to be a writer?” to learn more about your chances to make a living as a writer. In short, the chances are quite low: “The median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered. The latter figure reflects a 42 percent drop since 2009, when the median was $10,500. These findings are the result of an expansive 2018 study of more than 5,000 published book authors, across genres and including both traditional and self-published writers.” Still, some magazines and Journals do pay. Please click here to view the lists of such publications.
Most good literary publications accept only approximately 1% of all submissions they receive, so please, don’t get demotivated or too upset when getting rejection letters. Also, don’t take it personally. Look at it as a part of the process. It is improbable to build a writing portfolio and get published without getting rejected at least a couple of times.
In the article of Electric Literature with the title “Lit Mag Submissions 101: How, When, and Where to Send Your Work”, former editor-in-chief Lincoln Michel mentions: “The average short story or poem may be rejected twenty times before it is accepted, and even famous writers deal with rejection daily.” In another article for Buzzfeed with the title “The Ultimate Guide To Getting Published In A Literary Magazine” Lincoln mentions that a lot of the anger is “directed at literary magazines (They don’t publish enough new writers! They don’t respond fast enough! They don’t include detailed workshopping notes with rejections! etc.)” he claims that it is “predicated on the idea that literary magazines’ primary duty is to the submitting writers. Magazines have limited resources and can, and should, focus them on creating a great magazine that people will want to read as well as in getting exposure and hopefully money to their writers and artists.” Please click here to read the interview with the former Paris Review editor about unsolicited submissions and emerging writers.
First, you must find literary magazines and journals that you like and would potentially want to submit your work. Please click here to view the large database, here to view my personal favorite literary magazines, and here to view the list of my favorite zines.
Now that you know or have an overall idea about which magazines or zines you like and would love to submit your text to, we can talk about concrete ways to increase your chances of being noticed by editors:
First of all, I would strongly recommend becoming a regular reader of your chosen magazines and zines. Of course, It can be costly to subscribe to many different publications. If you can't buy subscriptions, you could follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Try to read their free articles regularly, be aware of their voice, and subscribe to their newsletter. This way, you will not only be aware of what kind of text the concrete magazines or zines are looking for but also, you will be updated about their open calls and different opportunities for writers. At the same time, I would recommend choosing at least three to five publications that you especially like and want to be part of as a contributor and investing in subscriptions or ordering the print copies.
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