Why Are Literary Magazines and Journals Important?


“The single biggest reason I got my stories taken in various literary magazines – and I want to stress this – is because I refused to give up. Period

Author: Steve Almond

There are endless posts on social media by poets and authors who have had work accepted by literary magazines or on literary websites. There is also plenty of talk in the writing industry about the importance of such magazines and yet it seems there is a disconnect between the writers’ view of these platforms and the hard reality as it is understood by those who operate them.

Let us take a step back and define what literary magazines are. 
I am not talking about The New Yorker or Time Magazine, rather I am talking about the smaller magazines, often operating in niche areas, that publish the work of lesser-known poets and authors.

These magazine/journals/zine may be printed or online, or more commonly now, a combination of both. They are sometimes funded through grants and others are associated with and funded by a university or an independent press. Some earn funding through subscriptions or through sales.

For many, income is negligible and many magazine owners need to subsidise their magazines from other sources. These other sources, more often than not, will be the operator’s own pocket. 

Most literary journals do not pay their contributors and this is a bone of contention for some writers who perhaps imagine that these magazines/journals are commercial endeavours that make profits and thus should pay for the material they publish.

But heads up. Lit-Mags are rarely commercial or profitable. Why? Because much of the content they publish is not commercial and would struggle to find a home within the mainstream. This does not mean that the work published by Lit-Mags is second rate, it isn’t. But it is seldom commercial.

So what are lit-mags and what is the difference between them?

The difference between a lit-mag and a journal is one of semantics. They are effectively the same thing, however, there are subdivisions within their ranks. Most modern lit-mags will have a website and will offer periodical print issues and this is where they differ. 

Those that focus on print aim at that market, mostly hoping to sell print magazines. For this reason they rarely feature their current issue work on their website, but instead show limited content, or old content to encourage new subscribers. These lit-mags would include the better financed magazines like the excellent Granta, or the equally wonderful White Review 

Those that focus on digital are often at the lower end of the market and in many cases are magazines hosted on free website host such as  WIX or WORDPRESS  which the operator pays nothing for (and actually doesn’t own.)

These smaller magazines are generally run as a hobby and operate on a shoestring. As they are hosted on free sites with little or no investment in SEO or optimisation, they offer contributors little in the way of exposure but, that does not mean that they lack passion or that they are second rate. Among their number are some wonderful operators who publish only the best quality content. 

What do literary magazines publish? 

Literary magazines typically focus on a niche be that short fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews, art and/or photography. Some magazines publish a combination of these things, and the focus of an individual lit-mag can be as broad or as narrow as the operators interests or field of experience. 
Some Lit-mags limit themselves by geography serving only their own locale, others limit themselves by theme, and some operate a broad submission policy. 

Most lit-mags actively encourage submissions by new writers, in fact for many of them, new writers are their bread and butter and their reason d’être is to shine a light on great writing regardless of the writers’ credentials or experience. 

Typically, the work published by a lit-mag will have a literary feel. Substance and insight will carry more weight than plot. The fiction published in a lit-mag will be character driven rather than plot driven. 
There are many lit-mags and they cater for various genres, from poetry, to reviews, to short fiction, even sci-fi, horror and fan fiction can find homes in lit-mags.

What literary magazines should you send work to?

There are so many lit-mags now, ranging from the respected magazines that have been around many years, to the very new and often short-lived that will actively chase submissions and are likely to publish a much higher percentage of what they receive. Worldwide there are thousands of magazines that publish the work of tens of thousands of writers so your field of choice is wide. 

When selecting which magazine to submit to, the question is not which are the best, rather which are the best fit for your work. The key to being successful is in finding the right lit-mag, one that suits your kind of work. 

Selecting the right lit-mag to submit to is down to research, reading content previously published, looking at submission guidelines and sending queries. Sending your work to and having it published by a reputable magazine is important to your own reputation, so when researching the market pay as much attention to finding reputable publishers as you do to their requirements. 
Look for magazines that have been around for some time, check out who their editors are, find out who they are associated with, do they have links to other magazines or publishers? Read back issues and pay attention to the quality of work. 

Often a google search under a magazine’s name or an editor’s name will reveal a lot, and not all of it will be good.

Will being published in a literary magazine benefit you as a writer?

Every publishing credit with a reputable magazine will add to your writer’s CV. You may not gain financially, but publication in a well established magazine is a stepping stone on a path thread by many well respected writers before you. 

Magazines with strong readership will put your work before an audience. So yes, being published in a lit-mag will most certainly benefit your writing career.

Why every writer should support at least one literary magazines?

Literary magazines are not money-making propositions for the owners. Even the most widely read lit-mags do not have the mass market appeal of the latest blockbuster. But that’s OK, the intent of a good lit-mag will never be to cater to the mainstream but, rather to engage those who have specific tastes. 

As a writer, when you subscribe to a literary magazine, you are helping to support and encourage the market for creative writing. So, find a lit-mag that you love and subscribe to it. 

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