Submitting to Literary Magzines from Poets and Writers
* The World of Literary Magazines—Determining Which Are Right for Your Work
* Submission Guidelines
* Simultaneous Submissions
* Cover Letters
* Other Resources
Most writers get the attention of editors, agents, and other writers by publishing first in literary magazines. (Many magazines will pay you for the work they accept, sometimes by giving you a free copy of the issue in which your work appears.) When beginning the process, it is essential to do some research to determine which publications are right for you. Your publishing success rests on one axiom: Know your market.
After you’ve narrowed down a list of magazines you feel might be interested in your work, find out what the submission guidelines are for each publication, and be sure to follow those guidelines carefully. Keep in mind that submissions to literary magazines do not require an agent.
The World of Literary Magazines—Determining Which Are Right for Your Work
There are hundreds of literary magazines that publish creative writing, but each has a unique editorial voice, tone, viewpoint, and mission. It’s important to read the literary magazines in which you’d like to publish before you submit your work, so that you can evaluate how good a match they are for you.
Bookstores often have periodicals sections that include literary magazines you can browse through. Your local library may also carry a variety of literary magazines, and used bookstores sometimes sell past issues. Many literary magazines have Web sites where you can read current or archived content and get a general feel for the print publication. Be sure to peruse recent issues of several publications to see where work similar to yours is being published. Read contributors’ notes to compare your own background and interests to those of the writers whose work is included in those particular magazines.
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When you submit your work, always be certain to follow the guidelines of each publication. Some magazines specify genres or themes in which they are or are not interested. Some accept submissions only during certain months. Some set word limits. Some set page limits or limits on the number of poems per submission. Some specify whether you should include a cover letter or self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).
Many publications refuse to read work that is not submitted in accordance with their guidelines, so it is crucial to know what the rules are, and to stick to them. Often, they’re spelled out somewhere in the pages of the magazine; you can also usually find them on the publication’s Web site or by contacting the publication.
The literary world is divided in its opinion about simultaneous submissions—that is, about submitting the same poem, short story, or creative nonfiction piece to multiple publications at the same time. Many literary magazines discourage the practice, as it can complicate things for them: If you withdraw a submission from one publication because another has accepted the same work, the one from which you’re withdrawing might already have invested time, money, and staff resources in reviewing your work, and might have been interested in publishing it as well. Some publications explicitly forbid simultaneous submissions.
However, because many publications have a long review period—it can take months, and in some cases a year or more, for a literary magazine to accept or reject a piece you’ve submitted—many writers want to submit the same piece to more than one publication at a time. The best practice is to follow individual publications’ guidelines. If they don’t specify their stance, call to ask them, or indicate in your cover letter that you’re submitting the same piece to other magazines at the same time.
If you do make a simultaneous submission and a publication accepts your work, immediately contact the other publications to which you’ve submitted to let them know that you’re withdrawing your submission.
It’s customary—and sometimes required—to include a short cover letter with each submission you make. Avoid using the letter as a platform to discuss the merits or themes of the work you are submitting or to summarize your writing as a whole. Instead, keep it simple and straightforward, including a brief bio that lists places you’ve published in the past, if applicable.
Books that list literary magazines are a good place to begin learning about what’s out there and how to submit to publications that interest you. Writer’s Market, Poet’s Market, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, all published by Writer’s Digest Books, give detailed contact information and submission guidelines.
You can also learn more about the literary market from CLMP's Literary Press and Magazine Directory (Soft Skull Press, 2007), Literary Market Place (Book-mart Press, 2007), and The International Directory of Little Magazines & Small Presses (Dustbooks, 2006). For information on hundreds of literary magazines and small presses, please visit our Literary Magazines database.
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