When most people decide that they want to be a writer, they dream of seeing their book on the bookshelf. They picture a freshly printed book, a beautifully designed cover, and their name in the perfect font. That may happen right away for the lucky few, but for many writers, the study of craft is a lifelong endeavor. Most published books have been edited by developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. Usually what ends up on the shelf is very different than the first draft submitted by the author. Publishing a book is a long process and often not the easiest way to build publication credits.
One of the things editors look for in a pitch is publication credits. A great way to get them is to submit your work to literary journals. Literary journals or literary magazines are periodicals devoted to publishing literature. There are many literary journals. Some focus on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or all three. Some focus on concise nonfiction, flash fiction (a few hundred words or less), nano-fiction, and so on. The one thing that all literary journals have in common is that they are looking for well-crafted material.
This is the world in which devoted students of writing hang out. This is the world where many well-known writers got their start. Sometimes a piece in a literary journal will gain so much momentum that the author will get a book deal. Most of the time, writers slowly build their writing credits by consistently submitting to their favorite literary journals.
Now, most literary journals use an online submission tool called Submittable. Submittable allows writers to create a free profile that makes it easy to submit to the literary journal of their choice. Because literary journals do not have a team of editors, they are looking for polished, professional work that will fit well in their magazine. It’s important to read through a few issues and carefully read the submission guidelines before submitting your work. Often journals are not open for submissions year-round. It is imperative to submit a thematically-appropriate piece that is the right genre and word-length.
Although literary journals are highly competitive, studying the craft, polishing your piece, and carefully researching the appropriate journal to submit to is the recipe for acceptance. There are hundreds of literary journals and magazines. The top ones are ranked yearly, and the rankings are worth considering. Here is a general ranking of the Top 50 Literary Magazines. There are additional rankings online separated by genre.
Another way to potentially get your foot in the door is to submit to writing contests, grants, and awards. Poets & Writers is an invaluable resource when submitting to contests. They offer a list of upcoming contests and deadlines in each genre. Most contests require a submission fee and have a short submission window.
What we don’t see when we flip through a new release on the bookshelf is all the hours the writer spent studying craft, researching, writing, editing, and submitting. We don’t see their list of publication credits. But if you take the time to wander over to the magazine aisle and flip through some of the literary journals, you will find stories that are as good as anything in a book.