There are many wonderful literary magazines that are actively publishing creative writing—more than we’ve ever seen since Writer’s Relief started helping writers get published back in 1994. So it can be hard to determine which literary journals will be a good fit for your poetry, short stories, and personal essays. What’s a writer to do?
Key Elements That Confirm A Literary Magazine Is A Match For Your Writing
Word count: If your poem or story is too long for an editor’s submission guidelines, then that’s it—game over. Your piece is not a good fit. That’s why we recommend keeping your submissions as short as possible to ensure you’ve got the biggest number of potential literary markets available for your writing submissions.
A connection with the editor’s published material: If reading through the pages of a literary journal leaves you eager to connect with the editors, then you may have a great match on your hands.
The company you’ll be keeping: A glance at the biographies suggests you would be proud to have your author bio listed among the published bylines—whether that means you’re among promising new writers or talented veterans.
Format: Both print and online literary magazines have their advantages. Some writers treasure the feel of a print journal in their hands. But keep in mind: If you’re hoping to build your reputation as a writer, there are many practical advantages to earning a spot in an online literary journal.
Also, consider the layout. Does the literary magazine’s aesthetic speak to you? Would you be proud to showcase your work in this format? Your preference is part of your decision about whether a literary magazine is right for you.
The literary journal is well maintained and up to date: Literary journals that haven’t published in years, or that feature poor web design and broken links, or that don’t appear conscientiously cared for are lit mags you might want to skip. Learn more about how to assess a literary journal’s reputation.
Editors who regularly nominate for significant awards: Many literary journals nominate for awards like Best of the Web, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and the Best NewAmerican anthology series. Even if a literary journal’s circulation is modest, the rewards of earning a nomination from an editor are priceless.
Your spidey sense isn’t tingling: Unfortunately, bad literary journal contracts do exist. There are editors who neglect their responsibilities and leave you in the lurch. Some editors have even been known to publish submissions without securing the author’s permission first. If you don’t have a good feeling about a given literary magazine, skip your submission. There are plenty of reputable literary journals to choose from if you know where to look.
Caveat: Don’t Overthink Your Submissions
If you’re too nitpicky, you run the risk of rejecting every literary magazine that isn’t “perfect.” If the publication is trustworthy, you’ve got nothing to lose by making a submission. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard one of our clients say, “I’m not so sure that my work is a shoe-in at this literary magazine” or “I don’t know if this lit mag is impressive enough for my writing,” only to receive a fabulous acceptance letter from the editor or a nomination for a very well-known literary award from a “small” magazine.
Remember, if you receive an acceptance letter and you’re not thrilled about it after further conversation and consideration, you can always decline the offer of publication. Learn more about the advantages of casting a wide net when making submissions to literary magazines.
Question: What do you look for in a literary journal?
Poets and short story writers rarely fill their bank accounts by publishing their writing in traditional literary journal markets. But there are some ways to make money on your poetry, short stories, and personal essays without sacrificing the quality of your writing. Just how much money you’ll make as a writer is up to you. Check out our tips!
How To Make Money Writing—And Publishing—Poetry, Short Stories, And Personal Essays
Enter creative writing contests offering cash prizes. Many writing contests hosted by reputable organizations offer cash prizes. Although you might have to pay an entry fee, winning could reward you tenfold. And guess what—it may be easier to win a writing contest than you think! You can find an unmatched list of writing contests in our Writers Classifieds.
Search for paying markets for your short stories, poems, and narrative nonfiction. While most don’t have the budget to pay writers, there are a number of literary journals and magazines that are able to pay writers for poetry, short stories, and personal essays. However, it will take time and lots of research to find them. Read through submission guidelines to see if the literary markets you’re targeting will pay to publish your work.
Think outside your genre box. Poets can make money by submitting their work to greeting card companies. Story writers and essayists can submit to niche magazines that accept freelance queries. Just remember: If you want to entice an editor to publish your creative writing in a magazine that isn’t solely dedicated to creative writing, the shorter your submission, the better!
Apply for grants. The government and some philanthropic organizations regularly offer grants to writers of both fiction and nonfiction. Learn how to apply for a grant.
Teach/tutor. If publishing your short stories, personal essays, or poems isn’t earning you any extra cash, consider teaching. You don’t need to hold a masters degree to teach: You can organize workshops for local community groups; teach at writing conferences; or instruct a continuing education course. You can also tutor private students in language arts. Find out more about paying jobs for writers.
Publish (or self-publish) a collection and actively market it. When you have a collection of stories or poems to sell (rather than just a single story or poem ready for submission), you can create a product that readers may want to buy. Just be sure your production costs (if you have any) don’t eat up your potential profit. And just like every published author, be prepared to market your book and work to boost sales.
Get speaking gigs. If your reputation as a writer is strong enough that audiences are excited to hear you read and speak, then you might be able to garner speaker’s fees from local organizations. Consider connecting with a local publicist to help you book paying gigs. And—of course—have copies of your story or poetry collection ready to sell.
Consider commentary. While fewer and fewer online outlets seem to be actually paying their writers for commentary and opinion pieces, there may be a market for you if you’ve got a quirky perspective and voice. Consider pitching a commentary column to your local newspaper about regional life. Or approach paying markets online.
And Remember: Making Money On Your Writing Doesn’t Always Happen Immediately
Publishing your writing in traditional literary journals probably won’t result in your needing to fill out a 1099 tax form at year’s end, but you might be surprised by the incredible things that can happen to you if you publish in a literary journal. Your short story that didn’t earn a dime could attract the notice of a literary agent who wants to represent you and sell your full-length short story collection for thousands of dollars. (Believe it or not, success stories like this happen all the time: Here are just a few of the incredible true stories of things that happened to our clients after publishing in a lit mag.) So don’t shortchange yourself: Failure to make money now doesn’t mean you won’t make money with your writing later on.
QUESTION: Have you ever made money publishing a story, poem, or personal essay? Tell us about it!
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