Submitting to Literary Magazines: why it’s an important part of any writer’s career

Sending submissions to literary magazines can be a tedious experience, and one that nearly guarantees we’ll see rejection after rejection.

Writers are told that if we want a desert snowball’s chance of ever being published in literary journals, then we must buy the publications we want to submit to, read them, research them, and generally pore over them until we have inky paper cuts where our fingertips used to be. Doing this part can be fun; you get to discover new writers and cool, niche publications. The bad news is, if you want to submit to multiple magazines, none of which you’ve ever actually read all that much (or at all), then you could be in for an all day thing (or an all week thing if you have kids) and lots of subscription fees.

After we’re done with that, we are advised to study and employ the journals’ submission guidelines to perfection. This can mean totally reformatting one’s work and learning how to use new software and websites. Oh, and sometimes you have to pay the editors to read your work so they can afford to keep the lights on.

All of these things can add up to a pretty significant time-suck/expense and, as is usually the case for writers, you’re working with no guarantee of reward or payment. And to make submission even less appealing, not very many people even read literary magazines. So…why do we put ourselves through this again?

A few years ago, Joe Bunting at The Write Practice interviewed a founder of one of the most prestigious literary journals in the country. In that short article are enough pearls of wisdom to make a full string. I have collected three here.

Linda Swanson-Davies founded Glimmer Train with her sister back in the 90s. Since then her publication has grown to become not only one of the most respected literary journals in the country, but also one of the few top magazines that frequently publish new and unknown authors. Linda’s advice is a welcome reminder of exactly why we should collect the rejections, and keep up the noble struggle of trying to get published with a lit mag.

1.)  The pursuit of publication is “a fiery crucible where true soldiers are forged”:

               -Trying to get published in a journal means that you are not just trying to “get your name out there” or make a little pocket change. If that’s all you want, you could just self-publish a billionaire shifter romance, or do some blog posts, or buy ad space on Facebook. You could go straight to marketing yourself. Instead, you are creating multiple short works, then seeking the judgment of professionals, for better or for worse.

The experience makes more durable writers of those who do not break under the pressure of repeated rejection, and writers who try harder to hone their craft. As Glimmer Train’s founder says, “A writer has to be tough enough to bear the inevitable rejections. It’s the only way to have a chance of having your work presented by a well-regarded publication, and read by serious readers.”

2.)  A piece published in a lit magazine gives you instant cred and visibility with industry professionals:

               -Yeah, not many people read literary journals. But you know who does read them? Agents, editors, published authors, and various other types of people who could start you on the path to a solid reputation.

Linda Swanson-Davies has revealed that, “After each issue of Glimmer Train comes out, we are contacted by agents who’ve read stories they loved and are interested in representing the authors. If your goal is to publish a book, having first published fiction in literary magazines gives publishers more confidence in the merit and marketability of an author’s work.”

3.) Times are tough for writers and publishers, and unknown authors are increasingly ignored:

               -Most publishing houses, especially the big ones, want a sure thing. With print sales down and eBooks prices in the gutter, they are seeking, more than ever, to ensure their continued existence by taking fewer risks on unknowns. Nowadays, publishers would rather put the money they might have spent publicizing a debut author into instead publicizing a best-seller, in hopes of further boosting sales with which to support their mid-list authors. But literary publications like Glimmer Train have continued to gamble on the previously unheard voices which they believe in. Many of them operate on a shoestring budget anyway, and are more focused on the quality of literature than sales.

“We are continually stunned by the depth, breadth, and beauty of the work new writers submit, and it thrills us to present the very best of them in a handsome physical publication that will persist in the real world.”

See the full article.

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