Bag of Tricks (Tools of the Trade)

Literary Magazines: Are You Utilizing This Creative Outlet?

Literary magazines - whether in print or online - offer opportunities for non-fiction and fiction
Image by kconcha from Pixabay

What’s the ultimate goal you’ve set for your writing? I’m going to go out on a limb and say publication. (Maybe you want to hoard those stories and essays in a closet, destined for discovery by a distant relative decades in the future. I’m not one to rain on your parade) But not everyone’s publication dreams look the same. Any more than their writing is similar. (How droll) That’s why so many options for getting your work to readers exist. Including literary magazines.

Getting Literal

Despite what common rumors might lead you to believe, not everyone wants to see their name in the New York Times. (Frankly, the editorial staff are kind of jerks) Some people are happy burying themselves in investigative reporting, tracking down interviews, and (hopefully) sourcing authentic facts. A dusting of color to gather human interest is okay, but they’re not interested in diving into the human psyche.

There’s nothing wrong with that kind of writing, either. Anyone who spent time in a science program can spit it out with little trouble.

But it doesn’t engage all of the muscles in your writing brain.

You won’t find personal essays (outside of Modern Love), poetry, or creative non-fiction in the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. The big names in NEWS exist to report the minutiae of the day, distilling human existence into bite-sized moments. With critics thrown in for those who aren’t capable of making their own minds up.

For deeper explorations of topics we actually care about (or didn’t realize we NEEDED to consider), we need to turn to other outlets. And that’s where humble literary magazines were born.

Literary Magazines: Something for EVERYONE

Don’t let the “literary” throw you. While you’ll find plenty of magazines (journals – the word’s interchangeable) that DO discuss books, the outlets serve as a catchall for “literary” work:

  • Essays
  • Poetry
  • Fiction (non-speculative)
  • Creative non-fiction (such as my beloved hermit crabs)
  • Experimental
  • Mixed media
  • Author interviews

Everything that engages the brain’s creative side and causes a reader to pause and think is worthy of a spot in one of these “books.” And it’s a chance to break out flowing language, metaphor, and breathtaking imagery the average mainstream editor will hack to pieces.

Journals often have central mission statements related to the university that birthed them (assuming they’re attached to one) or the organization that came together to create the first issue. Throughout the year, they set themes (and with a subscription, you receive notice so you can prepare your submissions appropriately).

It’s the perfect chance to exercise the imaginative side of your brain – outside of dragons, wizards, fairies, and castles. (Okay, castles might be allowed)

A SHORT List of Literary Magazines

Attempting to provide a complete list of literary magazines would be impossible. There are THOUSANDS available. All it takes is a little seek and find. (And if you’re determined, you’ll find the one that works for you)

All I’M going to do is drop a quick list of some of my favorites:

(And, yes, of course, I’m on their newsletter lists. I highly recommend you do the same if you have any interest in writing any of the above categories)

The Tragedy of Submittable

Not everything’s wine and roses when it comes to literary magazines, though.

You get a response within a week when you pitch a story to Huff Post. And then you can take it to the next magazine or newspaper on your list. Timely pieces get faster turnarounds and keep you moving.

The staff of literary journals are much smaller, and they work with lower budgets. Rather than pitching an idea, you complete a finalized (reviewed, edited, POLISHED) piece. And it goes into the black hole that is Submittable.

Anyone who works in speculative circles knows Submittable well. It’s where creative work disappears for months at a time. And unless you have a tracking system, you tend to forget it exists. (Or you can always log in and stare at the queue as it – well, does nothing)

That’s just how the literary world works.

If you’re willing to exercise patience, though, you can see your piece navigate the bumpy voyage of Submittable and land a coveted spot in the magazine of your dreams. It’s all up to you.

That’s (Literally) Me!

I never thought I’d consider literary journals. To be fair, other than reading interviews on some of them, I never paid much attention to the pieces until late last year. But there’s stunning work in the outlets.

And I found myself with more and more ideas that fall squarely in the literary category. (Don’t worry, I still write my speculative fiction) So I decided to start submitting my work.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I have a personal essay coming out in the summer edition of Open Minds Quarterly. I also have an essay forthcoming on Electric Lit.

You have a giant creative brain. Letting part of it fester and wither away because you haven’t considered an alternative outlet is a downright shame. These magazines exist, and they’re hungry for quality work.

What do you have to lose by trying?

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