Make Literary Magazines Work For You

As a freelance writer in the world of copywriting and web writing, your passion for writing might extend to the world of literature.

Hoping to publish a novel or memoir? Or a collection of poems/stories/essays?

The great news is that writing in the world of literature doesn't just indulge your interest; it can also further your professional freelance career by diversifying your portfolio and demonstrating the range of your talents.

The first step is to submit your writing to literary magazines.

What is a lit mag?

Typically, a literary magazine or journal is a print or online periodical of creative writing (poetry, stories, and personal or academic essays). Many lit mags are associated with colleges and universities, boasting distinguished editors and great reputations for cutting-edge thought (The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner). Others are privately published, but even those that don’t have academic affiliations can be popular and well-known among writers (Tin House, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train).

While literary journals rarely rack up the kinds of subscription numbers as, say, Vogue or other commercial magazines, some of the larger lit mags have vibrant, dedicated followings.

Few literary journals can afford to pay their writers more than a modest honorarium. But the payoff comes later because literary journals can advance your career in other meaningful ways.

  • When a freelancer demonstrates that he/she has a talent for literary writing, potential clients can see that they’ve found a writer who is capable of crafting narratives that go a step beyond “Copywriting 101.” Literary journal publications enliven a portfolio by showing that a writer understands the importance of a compelling story (in prose) and an economy of language (in poetry). These high-concept skills aren’t easy to come by and can be key to breaking away from the pack in a competitive industry of freelancers.
  • Reputable literary journals carry a lot of prestige (and when you publish in them, you do too!). It’s about building your reputation by association.
  • Lit mag editors regularly nominate their writers for nationally publicized anthologies, such as the Best American series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and The Pushcart Prize (Pushcart Press). Prestigious literary awards might not pay a lot, but they are priceless in terms of bragging rights.
  • If you ever plan to publish a book, having creative writing publications in lit mags can go a long way toward finding a literary agent (who can then submit your work to traditional, paying publishers). Agents like to see literary journal publications, particularly for writers of literary novels and memoirs.
  • Publishing industry insiders read lit mags. We’ve seen many of our clients approached by literary agents (who want to represent their writing) simply because of a story published in a lit mag. Being published in a literary journal is a great step toward bigger publication opportunities.

Where can you find and submit to literary journals?

As with commercial magazines, each literary journal will have its own editorial preferences and submission guidelines. For the best shot at an offer of publication, find journals that tend to publish work that reflects your voice, style, themes, and concerns.

There are a few different ways to find markets:

  • Head to the bookstore. Pick up a copy of a book of writers’ markets. Or buy a few lit mags from the magazine section (there may not be many, but you’ll find a few; most sales are by subscription).
  • Visit a literary magazine or small-press festival near you. Check out BookFestivals.com online.
  • Search online. There are some databases out there that offer lists of literary journals. However, we recommend writers always cross-check listings against various sources since guidelines can be unreliable on private websites. Guidelines and reading dates change often.

The bottom line:

A freelancer won’t get rich by publishing in lit mags. But the payoff in terms of literary street cred can be huge, especially for writers who want to demonstrate diversity in their abilities or who hope to publish a book someday.

About Writer’s Relief: Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service that has been managing the submission process for creative writers since 1994. Although we don’t work with freelance nonfiction, we do work to get our clients’ books, poems, stories, and personal essays placed with reputable publishers. Go to www.writersrelief.com for more details.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: April 29, 2013

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