Some writers approach literary journals with preconceived notions—and unfortunately, some of those ideas are not only wrong, they’re also detrimental to a writer’s success. We’ll debunk the most common misconceptions writers have about literary journals to help you avoid these potential pitfalls when making your creative writing submissions.
6 Misconceptions About Literary Journals
My bio doesn’t matter. Some writers leave the author bio field blank when filling out online submission forms. Others believe that if they don’t have any publishing credits, there’s no reason to include a bio at all. While there are some editors who don’t put a lot of weight on an author’s bio, many do like to see that a writer is serious about education and craft—even if he or she hasn’t been published yet.
I need to be published to get published (or, literary journals don’t publish new writers). Nothing could be further from the truth! Literary journal editors LOVE discovering and publishing new writers, perhaps more than anyone else in the publishing industry. In fact, discovering a talented, unpublished writer is a point of pride for most editors.
Proofreading and formatting are the journal’s responsibility. Don’t expect editors to do the “pesky” tasks of proofreading, formatting, and editing your work for you. Submit poems, stories, and essays (narrative nonfiction) in the best shape possible. The competition to publish in literary journals is intense, so if you neglect the basics, your work is less likely to be accepted. Learn more about Writer’s Relief proofreading and formatting services.
I don’t need to worry about publishing industry etiquette. Many writers begin submitting to literary journals without taking the time to learn publishing industry etiquette. They assume there’s no wrong way to fill out a submission form, or that it doesn’t really matter what a cover letter says. Veteran writers, however, show their understanding and respect for literary editors by making submissions that follow industry etiquette.
I can bend submission guidelines because my writing is so good. Say a literary journal caps prose submissions at 3,500 words—but your story is 5,000 words and you decide to submit it anyway. While some editors are not persnickety about forcing writers to adhere to every submission guideline, we caution you not to ignore the rules. If you do feel that your submission deserves to be an “exception,” be sure to query in advance for permission to submit. Or acknowledge in your cover letter that your submission falls outside the guideline parameters, and thank the editor in advance for his or her consideration despite the unusual circumstances.
I’m going to make a lot of money. We’ve seen writers use their cover letters to talk about how much money they hope to make by publishing poems, stories, or essays, and that’s a big red flag for editors of literary journals. Most lit mags can’t pay their writers at all; a few offer a small honorarium or a print copy of the issue. If you think you’re going to get rich submitting to literary journals—think again.
QUESTION: In your experience, what other “wrong ideas” do writers have about literary journals?