Update May 2023
There is plenty of talk in the writing industry about the importance of literary magazines, but what exactly is a literary magazine? If you are uncertain about submitting your poems, short stories, and essays for publication, the information below will help you improve your submission strategy by shedding some light on the way that literary journals work.
What is a literary magazine?
Not to be confused with commercial magazines like Time or Newsweek, a literary magazine is a publication that focuses on creative writing. It can be print (perfect-bound or tabloid) or online, and associated with a university or an independent literary press. Funding for literary magazines usually comes from monthly or yearly reader subscriptions (which may number a few hundred subscribers or as many as tens of thousands). Many literary magazines are also funded by government and private subsidies that support the arts. More often than not, literary journals are unable to pay their contributors. They exist to showcase writings (and artwork) that would otherwise not find an audience in mainstream, commercial publishing.
In the past, literary journals were confined to the realm of hardcopy and print. But the Internet, along with economic factors, has driven many print journals online. Learn more: 13 Great Reasons To Submit Writing To Online Literary Journals.
What is the difference between a literary magazine and a literary journal?
For the most part, the definitions of literary magazine and literary journal are pretty much the same. Sometimes a tabloid-sized publication may be referred to as a magazine, and a perfect-bound publication may be referred to as a journal, but the terms are used interchangeably by most people. You may also see the term lit mag as shorthand.
What do literary magazines publish? Do they publish new writers?
Literary magazines typically publish short fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews, and sometimes art and photography. Some magazines specialize only in poetry; others will publish only stories. The focus can range from mainstream literature to specific topics, such as nature, politics, or Americana.
Many, if not all, literary magazines encourage submissions by new writers. Their goal is to shine the spotlight on great writing, regardless of the author’s experience level. In fact, many well-known writers got their start in the pages of literary magazines.
Overall, literary magazines and journals tend to have a literary feel—emphasis is on style and insight rather than a fast-moving plot intended for escapism. However, some literary magazines do cater to readers of genre fiction (horror, mystery, science fiction, etc.) that have universal appeal.
What are the best literary magazines?
While there are many renowned and respected literary magazines that have been around for decades, it is best to focus less on which are the “best” and more on which are the best for your work. It is estimated that there are hundreds of literary magazines in publication in the United States—including both print and online literary journals. This translates to hundreds of thousands of writers who are getting their work published in literary magazines every year. The key to finding the right journals for your work is your ability to thoroughly research literary magazine markets.
Because there are so many new literary journals popping up on the Internet, it’s important to be able to determine if an e-magazine is reputable and right for you. Read more: Online Literary Journals: How To Determine Quality And Reputation.
Do you need a literary agent to get published in a literary magazine?
Because literary journals don’t pay much (if anything at all), literary agents generally will not submit your writing to said magazines for you. You can submit on your own.
How do you get published in a literary magazine? Why do they benefit writers?
To get published in a literary magazine, you’ll need to research and identify those that are appropriate for your writing. Create a cover letter. Then, mail your submissions or submit online. Here’s an article about How To Submit Poems To Literary Journals And Magazines. The process for stories and essays is similar, except that instead of sending three to five pieces at a time, you’ll probably be sending only one.
Why should you support literary magazines?
As stated above, literary magazines are generally not money-making machines because they do not cater to mainstream audiences who have commercial tastes. If you want to see your work published in literary magazines, it’s important that you subscribe to literary magazines in order to help keep the market for creative writing alive and well. Do a Google search to find literary magazines that you might want to subscribe to, and do your part to support what you love!
There are countless market books and websites from which you can determine the best literary magazines for you. If you don’t want to research on your own, Writer’s Relief can help. Our A La Carte services are fast, easy, and affordable for those with a DIY approach to submitting. And our Full Service (invitation only) is for writers who want Writer’s Relief to manage the process of submitting to literary journals.