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How To Determine The Quality, Reputation, And Desirability Of A Print Literary Journal

As you know, Writer’s Relief keeps track of countless literary journals (our staff is dedicated to staying organized and up-to-date!). And—of course—we’ve developed a system for tracking literary markets. Our system evolves as the publishing industry changes, and we’ve been getting great results for our clients since 1994.

Our clients sometimes ask: How exactly do you determine the quality and reputation of a literary journal?

And while we can’t give away our “secret formula” (our targeting method is part of what makes our program so effective!), we can certainly offer some advice for judging a literary journal so you can determine if it’s worth your while to submit your writing. You’ll also be able to determine if a given journal would be a strong or weak publication credit for you.

Click the following link to learn how to determine the quality and reputation of ONLINE literary journals.

But if you’re interested in learning how to evaluate print journals, read on. Frankly, the methods used for evaluating an online journal are similar to those used to review a print journal.

Here are some elements that we at Writer’s Relief take into consideration when ranking a journal. We would never look at one single element alone when deciding how strong a journal is or where to submit a client’s work. For us, it’s important to look at all elements together, including the particulars of a client’s writing (level and style), aspirations, publishing history, and practical needs.

Quality of Work. We rank journals based largely on the quality of the work that they publish. We note when journals are publishing well-known or mid-level writers or when they are mostly publishing unknown or unpublished, first-time writers.

Longevity. We look at how long a journal has been around. Older journals that have been publishing quality work by established writers for a very long time are sometimes difficult to get into. That said, we never discount journals—new or old—that are making waves and performing a quality service for the literary community.

Masthead Information. We check out the editors. Are they established writers or newbies?

Nominations & Awards. Literary magazines must meet certain criteria to nominate their writers for Best New American Voices and The Pushcart Prize. Whether or not a magazine makes such nominations factors into our evaluation.

Issue Format. How does the journal look? Is the format clean and error free? Is the overall packaging of the print journal neat and professional? Is the layout mediocre? Or poor? We track all of these things.

Calendar of Publications. We consider the journal’s past publication schedule (Is it consistent? Slightly inconsistent? Very inconsistent?). We also consider any upcoming issues and publications.

Reputable Affiliations. We track all journal affiliates, such as colleges, universities, and CLMP—and if a journal has no affiliates, we track that too!

Submission Guidelines. We track who wants what and how they want it. Given how many journals exist, it’s a huge job. Guidelines must be crystal clear and aboveboard or we will not recommend the journal to our clients. Also, we don’t target literary markets that charge reading fees.

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Striking A Balance: Where To Submit 

So now that you’ve seen some of the criteria that have to be considered in order to determine the quality of a literary journal, here is the same information presented in a different format. Keep in mind that—again—there are no “rules” that make one literary journal more prestigious than any other.

The below is not a fine-tuned analysis of how to make evaluations: this is a rough and basic guide.

Mid- to upper-end journals
Often (but not always) university sponsored
Often (but not always) has some longevity
Good to excellent writing
Often but not always perfect bound
Good to excellent circulation
May or may not nominate for major awards
Good to excellent editors

The best of the best
Very high circulation (rivals commercial magazines)
Tends to favor established or famous writers (exclusive)
Been around a long time

We hope this will help you when you’re deciding where to submit your poems, stories, and personal essays.

Every writer needs to answer these questions:

  • Should I submit to journals that are more likely to accept my writing?
  • Or should I submit to journals that may be beyond my reach or have lower odds of acceptance, but which would be a great credit if I could manage to get in?

Knowing the quality, reputation, and accessibility of a journal will help you make decisions about where to submit. Evaluate your own goals in relation to market forces.

At Writer’s Relief we tend to target our clients’ work to a range of journals for optimum results, and we also work with our clients to be sure our targeting meets their preferences. If you want to join our client list, you’ll need to send some writing samples for Review Board consideration.

One Response to How To Determine The Quality, Reputation, And Desirability Of A Print Literary Journal

  1. I’m loving literary journals! Thanks for this info as well as the awesome Lit Mag Spotlights! I’m still hoping to win a free subscription in the Spotlight contests…

    Thanks for all the attention that you guys are bringing to this crucial part of the literary community!

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