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Online Literary Journals: How To Determine Quality And Reputation

If you’re planning to submit your writing to online venues in order to stay current in the publishing industry, you’ll need a system to help you determine whether or not an online literary magazine is reputable. Online publishers of poetry, short stories, and essays can appear and disappear overnight, so it’s important to know whether or not a publication is reputable and appropriate before you upload your writing and click Send.

Use these criteria to help you determine whether or not an online literary magazine is a good publication for your writing. Note: Don’t depend on one or two of these characteristics to indicate quality; look for a mix of strong attributes.

Quality of Work. Look for high-quality writing. Also, scan for the names of familiar and established writers. If well-known writers are publishing in a particular online literary magazine, the publication is probably reputable. If you don’t recognize the names of any writers, Google a few.

Parent Print Magazines. If the online literary magazine is an offshoot of a reputable print journal, the online literary magazine likely maintains the quality established by its parent magazine.

Masthead Information. Look to see who is editing the online journal. If you Google the editors’ names, what do you find? The biographies of established and well-published writers? The more experienced the editor, the more likely the online journal is reputable.

Nominations and Awards. Literary magazines must meet certain criteria to nominate their writers for Best New American Voices and The Pushcart Prize. If you see that a magazine is making such nominations, it’s likely that it meets the criteria of those organizations.

Copyright Dates. Don’t assume that the existence of a website means that the journals are active. Check for the most recent issue, calls for submissions, or if in doubt, send an email to confirm that the journal is still publishing.

Issue Format. Look for eye-pleasing publications that feel like print literary magazines. Issues of an online literary magazine are often compiled the same way that print literary magazines are compiled: with multiple authors or works in each issue. If a website posts one poem or story at a time, it is probably not a true literary magazine; it’s a blog. (Editor’s note: Of course, blogs dedicated to creative writing should not be dismissed by default. Many reputable literary magazines also have reputable blogs.)

Calendar of Publications. Look for publications that publish on a regular schedule.

Reputable Affiliations. Look for online literary magazines that are affiliated with colleges and universities. Check to see if the online publication in question is funded by reputable government, state, or scholarly grants. CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) icons indicate that the magazine is a member of the trade organization for literary journals.

Governing Organizations. If the online literary magazine is a publication of a specific local writing group that publishes only the work of its own members, then it’s probably not a widely known literary publication.

Good Page Layout. Look for a clean, easy-to-read page layout. Be suspicious if you see junk ads, pop-ups, typos, and broken links.

Number of Published Issues. How long has the online magazine been around? Because some literary magazines open and fold so quickly, you’ll want to be sure you’re submitting to a literary magazine that is going to be around for a while.

Mission Statement. If the mission statement says, “I wanted to create a magazine for my friends and me to showcase our work—oh, and other writers can submit as well,” then you are probably not looking at a magazine that is highly reputable in the literary community.

Print Editions. Occasionally, online journals will print anthologized editions of their best online publications. If the online magazine is putting out an occasional print publication, it may work in your favor.

Guidelines. If you’re submitting regularly, you know what typical submission guidelines look like. Submission guidelines are meant to help writers, so they should be clear and above-board. Watch out for magazines that charge reading fees.

The Writer’s Relief database contains many online literary magazines, as well as print journals. To take advantage of our research, visit Writer’s Relief Overview.

Questions for WritersQUESTION: Online literary journals are changing the entire publishing industry. What do you think is the biggest impact that online publishing has had on traditional publishing?

10 Responses to Online Literary Journals: How To Determine Quality And Reputation

  1. Dear Megan, In the five years since this article was written there have been changes in the publishing industry, and some journals are charging submission fees to offset their online submission manager costs. We recommend that you review all aspects of a journal and watch for other red flags before submitting and paying those fees.

  2. When you say “watch out for magazines that charge reading fees,” are you saying they aren’t ever legit?

  3. While it’s true that literary journals rarely pay for work, being able to list one’s publications on a cover or query letter is a great way to garner attention before the editor (or agent) in question has even read the work! We do know of many journals that send out contributor copies upon acceptance/publication, but with the rise in online journals, it is indeed true that tangible rewards are becoming fewer and farther between. Still, a healthy resume puts a writer one step closer to literary notoriety, and receiving acceptances can become easier if editors not only know your work, but you as an author.

  4. The biggest difference to me has been that in most cases, writers receive nothing tangible. In the past, writers weren’t paid because of the expense of producing the issue, which was in turn given as 1-2 copies to the authors. Now authors get a weblink that they hope stays active forever and credit for their vitae or bio and that’s it.

  5. Funny, I was thinking of Camille’s spectacular Every Day Fiction as I read this article. Their submissions protocol is also a stunner in the sector, with feedback comments to the writers from readers in the process.

    From the tone of the article, the issue being addressed is the status of a journal in the literary community, and that’s fine. In one important respect, Every Day Fiction potentially changes the conversation a bit: few litmags, regardless of reputation, have many readers other than writers considering submitting to them–by offering one brand-new short piece every day at midnight, Every Day Fiction has broken through to non-writer readers as well, who enjoy incredibly good storytelling, and make a habit of reading the latest story every day. In effect, right in their delivery design, Every Day Fiction succeeds in making large numbers of readers wonder, “What’s going to happen next?”

  6. I have to agree with Camille. Your guidelines here are pretty great with the exception of that one. You’re right in that many blogs use this format, but it is incorrect to say anything that publishes in a different style than the traditional issues is not a legitimate literary magazine.

    I edit matchbook, around since early 2009. We post one story and one author’s note every two weeks (on Mondays) and have since our inception, not missing a beat for holidays or life events. We’ve published Stephen Dixon, Maura Stanton, and Blake Butler among others. I like to think we’re legitimate.

    Nice work on this list, though. Many useful tips for writers just starting out.

  7. Camille,

    Thank you so much for bringing up this exception to our suggestion. Obviously what you are describing definitely sounds legitimate. Having an online presence for five years is a big deal!

    We were referring to blogger sites that tend to post work randomly without the cohesion of a lit mag (e.g. without guidelines being visible or a masthead, etc.)

    We appreciate you bringing up this great point.

  8. Quote: “If a website posts one poem or story at a time, it is probably not a true literary magazine; it’s a blog. (Editor’s note: Of course, blogs dedicated to creative writing should not be dismissed by default. Many reputable literary magazines also have reputable blogs.)”

    I respectfully beg to differ.

    Every Day Fiction (ISSN 1918-1000) has been in publication daily since September 1, 2007. We meet magazine criteria such as a regular publication schedule (which happens to be daily), no publication of editors’ own work, a clearly displayed masthead and submission guidelines, payment for authors, and a large community of regular readers who consider us to be an online magazine.

    We are not the only daily literary magazine, nor the only one that uses WordPress to streamline the publication process. There must be better reasons to dismiss something as “not a true literary magazine” than a daily schedule and easy-to-use publishing tools.

  9. There are so many online lit mags now, run by everybody from major well known authors to people who have never been published in their lives, that if you want to get published, you pretty much can. The trick is getting in a good online lit mag that’s going to be around for a while and that’s well known.

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