How to Get Published in a Literary Magazine

The below is the transcript of a talk given on the Wisdom app. You can listen to it on the Wisdom website or app here. It can also be found on the Speaking Cat podcast.

 

Transcript 

Hey everybody, as my first proper talk today, I thought let’s get right into it. I’ve got my publisher hat on my editor hat on, so we’re going to talk about all things literary magazines. How do you get published in a literary magazine? So we’re going to answer all of the big questions, we’re going to have a chat about what editors want to see, what do you want to submit to a literary magazine, where to submit, how to submit, when to submit? So let’s dive right in. 

Let’s start first of all, just by thinking about literary magazines as a kind of platform for your work, and I think it’s really interesting because I always wanted to be a writer. I was a huge reader when I was a kid. I used to take like 10 books out of the library every week and I think at one point my ambition was probably to be like the youngest published novelist, which did not happen, and I think I got it into my head that at 13 I would be like the youngest published. No idea if that was even ever a thing or not. 

And when I had this vision as a kid of being a writer, that was it. The novel was the thing to aspire to. You know, I didn’t know as a kid that literary magazines existed. I don’t even know how many of them existed way, way back then. Obviously now there’s thousands of them, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. You’ve got really big names. You’ve got really small ones. You’ve got some blogs that are just online. You’ve got ones that are in print. You’ve got online versions that have a poem uploaded every day or a magazine that comes out once a year or once a quarter. There’s just so many options now and when I was a kid, like writing a full length book was the only way that I knew how to be a writer and that was all I knew that I I wanted to do so. There’s just so many more options now available for us as writers to get published and also so many opportunities for people to become editors. Because I never particularly thought that I would be a magazine editor. That’s not anything that I ever aspired to be. I first got into doing this way back. I was in my early 20s I think, and I was a member of a writing website for children and teenagers. Well, I was a member of a couple actually. The first one was very old, it was more of a message board and it was called The Young Writers Club. I spent an awful lot of time there because I had absolutely found my tribe. Here’s just a load of young people and we just want to write and have a chat with each other and share our stories and our poems and give each other feedback and support each other and joke around. And that was such an amazing platform to be part of. I think that that really helped with keeping me interested in writing, to know that there was a community there for me. 

The Young Writers Club eventually shut down, but one of the members decided that they would create their own writing forum, which was a lot more up to date than The Young Writers Club, and it’s still going now. And that’s Young Writers Society (YWS). 

Now I have well aged out of it but I was a moderator there for a while and I think I probably still could be a moderator there if I want it to, so I’m sure that there’s a lot of people who I grew up with there and who still still moderate and write there. 

Yeah, that was a really, again very supportive environment that I’m sad in a way to have aged out and just kind of drifted away from over the years. 

But one year the admin of that site decided that they would create their own literary anthology and they self published it using a website called Lulu.com. 

That was when I realised, hey, I can be an editor too. What’s to stop me from creating my own books, my own magazines and jumping on this idea and doing it as well? 

So I’ve just seen that I’ve got my first guest request and I’m brand new to Wisdom as of today, doing my first talk, so I’m just going to have a look and see. 

Right, and I’m going to accept. 

And I think that we have a guest with us now. 

Sam: Otto, hello. 

Otto: Bravo, hello Sam, how are you? 

Sam: Hi, I’m good. Thank you how are you? 

Otto: I’m great, so you know, with the accent, are you calling from across the pond? Or are you stateside? 

Sam: I’m in England. 

Otto: Yeah, yeah, so I I saw the, you know, how to get published in a literary magazine. I’m a chef by trade. Been cooking for many decades. I am now a best-selling author on Amazon with a memoir cookbook and pursuing to try and get paid as a writer, so when I saw the title of how to get published in a literary magazine, it worked my attention, so I thought I’d chime in. 

Sam: Great, well welcome. So what is your experience, is that book your first venture into publication? 

Otto: Yeah, it’s a memoir cookbook. It did very well. Like I said, it became an Amazon bestseller. It’s ranked 77th out of 99 Best Chef written books of all time by the book authority. You know which is a, which is a valid, you know, organisation and I’ve done a Ted talk. I’ve got some, you know I got a little bit of celebrity behind me. I was on Top Chef. I’m not sure if you know that show over there in England, but it’s a popular cooking show over here in the States and yeah, so I’m looking to extend my creativity from the kitchen into a writing platform and you know make some money doing it. 

Sam: So when I think of kind of getting publishing in literary magazines I’m thinking of poetry and short stories, and maybe nonfiction essays and things like that. What would you be interested in in getting published in a literary magazine? 

Otto: Well, that’s a great question and not to blow smoke here. But I mean you know if you give me a topic I can write about it. So you know people are always interested in food, obviously, so that’s my main strength is writing about that, but hey, I can write about politics like I’m writing about travel. You know there’s a few things I can pen an article about. Food will be my first choice, but you know again I’m looking to supplement income. 

Sam: Yeah, well, that’s just one of the talents of being a good writer, really, isn’t it? Being able to turn your hand to all of these different subjects and styles of writing. I’m a digital marketer in my day job. So I have to write blog posts and articles and things for lots of different clients. So I kind of have to pretend to be an expert in cars or plumbing and certain things that I’m just not an expert in at all so. Yeah, it’s a real skill, isn’t it? To be able to turn your hand and to do research and things like that. 

Otto: Yeah, well I I think if you have, well first you gotta have the passion but if you have some type of skill where you can do the research. And then you know, and take that research and pin it in some way and make it sound interesting, even if you’re talking about a bloody carburetor on a Rolls Royce for God sakes. That, yeah, that’s a skill set that everybody can’t. 

Sam: Yeah, definitely. So thinking about lit mags, then one of the things that I think is a real struggle is being able to get paid as a writer ’cause I was saying earlier there’s so many different literary magazines out there, you know. You’ve got your tiny blogs and then you have huge names like Paris Review and The New Yorker and it’s difficult because for my magazine, thinking specifically about Peeking Cat, which is which is my lit mag, we’ve unfortunately never been able to pay anybody, and I think there’s quite a lot of those lit mags that do, you know, struggle with income. But there are ways that you can find those magazines that that do pay. Have you heard of Duotrope? 

Otto: Say that again, please the name. 

Sam: Duotrope. It’s really good. I I’m probably going to sound like they’re like sponsoring me to say this was something, but I’m not being paid by them. It’s not an advertisement, I just absolutely love this platform. It’s so useful, and so it’s basically an online database of lots of different literary magazines. There is an annual fee for having the whole access to it. But it is incredibly useful because it lists all of them and you can have your different search parameters. So you can look for magazines that that pay. You can look for if they just pay like a token amount or a higher amount and you can put the magazines in order as well. And you can also arrange them by how long they take to get back to you. Kind of what genre they accept. And so yeah, I I really recommend Duotrope to everybody because it’s just so useful for ’cause I think as well, it’s difficult to find these opportunities sometimes, isn’t it? It’s like where? Where do we even get started? 

Otto: Yeah, and can you spell that please? 

Sam: can, Yep, it’s DUO. TROPE. 

Otto: TROPE. Duotrope OK. Are they based in the UK? 

Sam: They’re based in the US, I believe, but they have magazines from all over the world, so there’s literally thousands listed there. 

Otto: Oh, OK. Well, that’s a good tip. 

Sam: Yeah, that’s that would be my first point of call. 

Otto: I mean. Let let’s face it, out of all these magazines across the globe, they all have to do the same thing – they have to find content to fill their publication. And you know, like. I’m a big fan of reading the New York Times Sunday edition because they have what they call the magazine, which always has a food article in there and it’s obviously evolved over the years and you know, I’ve been reading it for a long time and I always, man, it would be amazing to get just a single page written in the New York Times magazine in the food section. So that was one of my goals. I’m not sure just one of my goals now, but it’s hard to get into Times. 

Sam: Yeah, definitely, and I think as well it helps if you have kind of experience with the smaller publications to build up your back catalogue of work and then you know. 

Otto: Yeah, that’s what my thing, Sam. I I always go for the top. I don’t mess around with this. You know the 3rd and 4th and secondary publication. 

Sam: You’re ambitious, I like it. 

Otto: Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah so. 

Sam: What is the name of your your food memoir? 

Otto: It’s called a chef is born. 

Sam: Okay. 

Otto: It’s on Amazon and my name is Otto Borsich. And it’s on Amazon. 

Sam: So I see that we have a minute and a half left with you. Do you get kicked out of this when that finishes? This is my first time with a guest. 

Otto: Yeah, it’s only my second time. So I guess I get kicked out, I don’t, I don’t know. 

Sam: I don’t know how it works. All right, thank you for being my first guest, anyway, it’s really nice to talk to you. 

Otto: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure I I wish you all the best over there and in the UK, Merry Christmas to you and thanks for your advice. I appreciate it. 

Sam: Oh, you’re welcome. Merry Christmas and best of luck with all the publishing. 

Otto: That’s it, thank you. Alright, thank you Sam. Have a great day. 

Sam: Thanks, bye. 

Awesome, it’s so, so cool to have a guest and to kind of get to grips with this platform. And yeah, trying to figure out how everything works and so I already gave a first tip there of using Duotrope. 

And there are some others as well, other databases online. I think pw.org is another one, but you can have a little Google around for literary magazine databases. I I believe that one is free as well, so if you want some free alternatives there are some, but I do really like Duotrope just because you can be so specific with the results that it gives you. 

And so just thinking, then you need to think about when you’re wanting to get published. What are you going to submit and where are you going to submit it to? 

And I think that you can approach it in two different ways. It’s really up to you if you want to think okay, I’ve got this piece and I want to submit it. 

Where do I submit it to? Or you go the other way and say OK, I really like this publication. Maybe it’s a magazine that you read yourself and then start thinking about okay, which one of my pieces is going to best be sent to this publication? What are they going to want to see? Because of course it’s not just about you wanting your piece published, it’s about what is the editor going to want and are you going to be a good fit? And it’s really important to remember as well that submitting to a lit mag or any publisher is a bit like dating because if you submit a piece and it gets rejected – which you will, if you’re a writer when you’re submitting, you’re gonna get rejections come among the successes. But it doesn’t mean, when you get those rejections, it doesn’t mean that there’s something inherently wrong with your writing, or that your writing is no good. Magazines get so many submissions, a lot of the time, especially these big names or these paying names. So there’s a lot of competition there. 

I’ve totally lost the thread, which happens to me whenever I do my podcast as well. I start a sentence and then I’m like I can’t remember how I think I was going to finish his sentence and This is why I’m a writer and not a talker inherently by trade. 

But yeah, it is about finding somebody, a magazine, that clicks with you. So having a rejection doesn’t mean that there’s, you know, necessarily something wrong with your work. You know, it may be that they’ve had so many great submissions that they have to start rejecting ones that they really like just because they haven’t got the room anymore, because there’s such a high volume of submissions. 

Or it may be that they like the piece, but it’s not quite right for the magazine, and it’s not quite the right genre, it’s just not, you know the best fit, but it may be perfect for the next magazine that you submit to. 

That’s not to say that you know, sometimes it will be, you know, that maybe a piece needs work, and if it gets rejected and rejected, thenmaybe it’s worth revisiting to see if you can edit it further, but. 

Just to say that a lot of the time it’s a case of finding a good match for you as the author and the publisher. 

Obviously you need to send your best work, so we’re thinking about what will you submit, submit your best work, submit what you’re proud of writing. 

Yes, so submit something that you love and then thinking about where to submit it. 

We’ve talked about where to find places to submit, so you’ve got duotrope, pw.org, all of these other directories. 

And so many different options as well between big name magazines, brand new tiny blog posts or blog websites, online PDF format websites and then everything kind of in between the huge and the tiny, so there’s so many options there, so the most important thing to think about is “is the place that I’m looking to submit right for me and for my piece?” 

Firstly, what do they accept? Say you have a poem that you want to submit somewhere. Obviously the first question is going to be “Does this magazine accept and publish poems?” Which sounds really obvious when you say it, but I used to run a non-fiction magazine called the Creative Truth. 

I don’t run it anymore, but when I did I still used to get people sending me poems. People sending me fiction, which is really difficult actually, being a creative nonfiction magazine, I didn’t know whether or not something that was sent to me was true. So I remember accepting somebody story and then they replied to me and said, oh, actually, sorry this is fiction. Which, you know, it wasn’t fantasy or anything. It was a perfectly reasonable story that could have happened to somebody. But I didn’t know. 

It’s obvious to say, make sure that the magazine accepts what you’re submitting, but at the same time, as editors we still get things that we’re like, why have they sent us this? This is not something that I’m looking for. 

Just make sure you read really thoroughly what the submission guidelines are or what they do accept. 

And a database like Duotrope will tell you all of this as well. 

What else? So have a look at what they’ve previously published if you can. I know sometimes that’s difficult if the magazine is a print publication only and you don’t have a copy. 

I’d say if you really want to be published in that magazine, get yourself a copy if you don’t have one already. Just so that you can have a look and see what kind of things they like. Because it may be that your writing style doesn’t fit in with the things that they’ve previously published, and so your efforts are going to be better spent trying to get into a magazine that is suited to your style so you know you’re doing yourself and the editor a favour just by making sure that the magazine, as best as you can tell, it’s going to be a good fit for your work, So what have they published before? What are they looking for now? 

And then different types of magazines as well. We spoke to Otto about how there’s small magazines and these much bigger names and how it can be good to build your publishing experience by going for the smaller ones. 

Not always, because it’s not necessarily true that in the literary magazine editor is going to look at where you’ve been published and decide from that whether or not to publish you, I mean, when I’m working on Peeking Cat, I don’t really care if somebody has been published in The New Yorker or they’ve never been published ever. In fact, it’s actually really cool to be able to publish somebody for the first time. I absolutely love having the honour of a good writer coming to me and saying this is my first time submitting or trying to be published, would you like this, and to be the first magazine to publish them is really cool to be a part of the beginning of somebody’s publication journey. It’s great. 

Yeah, so there’s a benefit of getting a few more publications under your belt before going for the big ones. Just ’cause it gives you more experience as well. 

And then there’s some benefits as well with which magazines you choose to go with. On Duotrope, you can also see if a magazine has been listed with them for less than six months and these are called fledgling publications and on a similar kind of vein from talking about being the part of the start of somebody publication journey, I also quite like the idea of being a part of a publication’s beginning of their journey, so I do quite like to submit to the magazines that are just starting out and just start starting to ask for submissions for their first issue and possibly being a part of the beginning of that. And the downside of that is that you don’t have as much information on what these publishers are going to want because you can’t look at the things that they’ve published before because they haven’t published anything before, so that’s just worth noting. 

And then also, if you want your work to be in print, particularly, or if you are happy for it to be online, some of the online publications do have a faster turn around, not necessarily all of the time, but you can find some publications that could get back to you in a week or two or even a couple of days – I’ve had answers back from publishers who have a really speedy turnaround. 

So yeah, that’s also worth thinking about because on Duotrope, the good thing about that is that people submit their experiences so you can log into your Duotrope account and say I submitted to this magazine. This is when I submitted. This is when they replied to me. And whether or not the piece was accepted and then that kind of feeds the database. Everybody is kind of compiled. Results will tell you about a specific magazine, how long it takes them to get back to people on average, and how approachable they are, so approachable on Duotrope is what their ratio is of acceptances to rejections, how difficult it is to get published by them. 

So these are all things that you can think about when you’re choosing to submit and then as well, you might want to go for articles that offer a payment, whether that’s a small token payment or something bigger. Some might offer free contributor copies of print copies. 

So there’s quite a few things that you can think about, and again, that’s why Duotrope is cool, because you can have a look at all of these different factors for each magazine and decide which ones that you want to go with. 

And so we’ve covered: What will you you submit? Where were you submit now? How will you submit? We’ve already kind of gone through this a little bit, but how do you submit to a magazine? Well, firstly we’ve said, read what they’ve published before. Read what they’re looking for. Just to reiterate, read the guidelines. It is so important, some of them will just have quite simple guidelines, they might just say send three to five poems to editor@magazine.com. 

Simultaneous submissions, they may or may not accept. So simultaneous submissions is whether or not you can submit your piece to more than one magazine at the same time. So if they accept simultaneous submissions, then you can submit the same poem or story to another magazine at the same time, and then just let the let the other magazine know if it gets accepted elsewhere. 

Which is also really important for editors because I have had instances, not for a long time now, but I I had instances previously where I wrote to somebody to accept their piece and they came back to me and said, oh sorry, this has been accepted already by another publication and they hadn’t informed me at the time because I had such a quick turnaround from sending an acceptance email to actually publishing that threw all of my plans off. So yeah, it’s just really really good courtesy to let an editor know, if they do accept simultaneous submissions and your piece gets accepted elsewhere. 

Just let them know as soon as you can, because they might be about to send you an acceptance. 

So that’s simultaneous submissions. Personally, I really like it when a magazine says that they do accept simultaneous submissions, ’cause I like to send a piece out to multiple places at a time. 

If they don’t accept simultaneous submissions, I hope it’s because they have a really fast turnaround, because if somebody is going to give you an answer within a week, okay, I’m happy to wait a week and not send it anywhere else while they’re making their decision. But if a magazine is going to hold onto my piece for three months and say “No, you can’t accept it anywhere else”. Yeah, as a submitter I’m not pleased with that. 

Other guidelines they might have? They may or may not accept previously published pieces. A lot of them don’t, which I think is fair enough, but some of them do. 

So if you wanted to submit something that had been published elsewhere, just check that they do accept previously published and check what they mean by previously published because it may or may not mean, yeah, I published this on my Facebook page like as a post or I put it on my personal blog. That may or may not count as being published already, so just check in the guidelines what previously published actually means to that magazine. 

And then they might have slightly more specific guidelines, so they might say put it in a Word document with a Times New Roman font at size 12. 

Yeah, I don’t, as an editor I really don’t care what you’re, what font you’re submitting. You know, as long as it’s not Wingdings or Curlies or something, it really doesn’t matter to me because I’m going to format it to match the style of my magazine anyway, so I think there’s always going to be a little bit of formatting to do on the editors side. 

But again, if they have listed these requirements, then you know it’s best practice, it’s courtesy to follow everything, and of course increases your chances of being published rather than annoying an editor because you haven’t kept to whatever guidelines. 

So that may be putting it in a Word document and sending it as an attachment, or using an online platform like Submittable, or putting it in the body of an email. 

So yeah, there’s a few different things just to make sure that you’re following the guidelines as well. And there was something else I was about to mention. And again, it’s slipped my mind. 

So simultaneous submissions. Publications previously publications. It’s gone, I’m sure it’ll come back to me. We’re not supposed to be professional here, right? Because I’m just all over the place, honestly. 

Also, thinking about when will you submit? So do they have a deadline and is it coming up? Is the magazine actually open for submissions at the moment? 

Because you know, they do close quite a lot. You know, have different reading periods and things, so again, it sounds really obvious, but just make sure that the magazine is actually open to submissions. 

Oh, that’s what I was going to say. Sometimes people might ask for a bio and that might have a specific word count, so they might say send me a third person bio that’s less than 100 words or less than 75 words. 

And they may say what they do or don’t want you to say in the bio. So they might say don’t list your previous publications because, you know, I don’t care about that. I want to hear something interesting about you. What’s a fun fact about you? Or, you know, they might just ask for a regular old author bio. They might ask for a photo as well, they might ask for a cover letter. To me, a cover letter is just: 

Hi Sam. 

Please find attached three poems. 

My bio is below.  

Thanks for your consideration.  

Kind regards  

Emma or whoever. 

But the things I don’t like to see are no cover letter, and by cover letter I literally just mean like a greeting and just like hi, here’s my poems or whatever. 

Sometimes people do send just the poems in the body of an email. Which is fine, but I just like to be greeted. You know I, I just want the interaction. I want people to say hello to me rather than just here’s my writing. 

Also, please, please, please: 

Don’t call me Sir. 

Sometimes people do send in emails and they’ll say, dear sirs, and I’m just like, I’m not a Sir. 

Please don’t assume that every editor or every person is male. It’s really not difficult to find out my name and my gender. A lot of magazine websites do have masthead page so you can see the names of the editors. If there’s different editors for say, poetry and fiction. Then you can see who to address it to. 

If you don’t know the names then “hi editors” is fine or just “hi”. 

But yeah, please don’t call me Sir. 

It’s just not good. And then just be patient. In the guidelines, it might say how long they might take to get back to you. It might say if you haven’t heard from us after a month or three months or whatever, then send us an enquiry at which point you can think “Oh, I haven’t heard from these people”. Just shoot off an email. 

Just politely asking if there’s been a decision or any update. 

And it is hard to wait. I absolutely hate waiting, I’m quite an impatient person. I don’t like waiting for anything. 

But also being an editor, I can see from the other side of it as well that life gets in the way. 

I’m dreadfully behind on submissions myself. Somehow it’s just difficult to get to things and things start piling up so you know, having a day job and do the PhD as well at the same time. Obviously everybody has their different commitments and most of the time, a lit mag is a side project for somebody, they getting little to no income from it. 

So, it’s just kind of being patient and courteous and things. 

Pretty much the bulk of it I think. Also things that you might want to look for in the guidelines are what word count do people accept? Because if they state that they accept stories under 500 words and you’ve sent them a 2,000 word masterpiece, then that’s unfortunately gGoing to be probably an automatic rejection, no matter how brilliant it is, because it’s just, you know, not going to fit in the space that they have in the magazine, for example. 

I also highly recommend that you track where you’ve submitted. Sometimes I get people submitting to me multiple times because they’ve forgotten that they’ve submitted to me already. 

I would definitely forget where I’d submitted to if I didn’t have a record of it. So I keep a spreadsheet of all the places where I’ve submitted things so I can also keep track of simultaneous submissions that way so that I’m not accidentally sending something to multiple places if somebody has said no simultaneous submissions. 

And also it’s nice to see those acceptances build up as well in your spreadsheet if you do kind of keep a record of them. And just to say that my rejections way outweigh my acceptances. Absolutely, but the more you submit then the more likely you are to get acceptances. 

So I I will leave it there for now. I think. If anybody has any questions, I can’t see whether or not anybody is with me at the moment. On my first talk it said that there was nobody listening and then I I finished it and there was eight people there which was a nice surprise. 

So I guess things are a little bit buggy as we’re kind of starting off. I’m still quite new, but if there’s anybody there who has any questions or you want to be a guest and just to give a couple of minutes here while I ramble on if you want to request to join and ask any questions about anything that I haven’t covered, please do feel free. Or if you just want to come and say hello. 

Or share your own experiences or anything. 

Yeah, and just to finish by saying that I do really enjoy being an editor of a literary magazine, and I hope that the information here has been helpful and inspires you to go forth and attempt publication and yeah, the best of luck to any writers out there. I was going to say budding writers, but I’m of the firm belief that if you write, regardless of whether you’ve been published before or not, if you write, you are a writer and we’re all here in the thick of it, trying our best, getting acceptances, rejections, just plugging away, so keep on keeping on. 

Best of luck to everybody and chat to you again soon. Bye for now. 

 

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