Is Submitting to Literary Magazines Worth It?
Let me guess. You finished that short story or poem that you felt like for the first time wasn’t, like, total crap. And you thought, “Maybe this is it. Maybe I can publish this.” So you go to the Internet and find out about literary magazines, which ones to submit to and how one does that.
After going through all the bureaucratic-like bullshit of researching magazines, reading their rules, making cover letters, paying submission fees, and figuring out whatever the hell is a simultaneous submission or considered to be a previously published work, you receive several rejection letters back. But there were a few acceptances in there—maybe one or two. You were overjoyed and thought that maybe this means that I made it. You continue submitting to more. And as you go on with your existence where nobody knows who you are and you receive rejection letter after rejection letter, you begin to wonder: is submitting to literary magazine really worth it? And then what do you do to find that out? You go to the Internet. And that leads you straight here.
I’m not going to tell you whether you should submit to literary magazines or not, but I am going to review the pros and cons. Then, it's up to you to decide whether you think it's the best route, because contrary to thought, literary magazines aren't the only way to put your writing and your name out there.
Let's look first at the pros.
1. Helps Build Your Resume
You can add the acceptances to your resume, and then agents, publishers, schools, and whomever it may concern will be impressed. They’ll know that you put in the effort to write the piece, edit it, submit it to magazines, and most likely get rejected several times. But you kept at it and someone else saw value in your work. They’ll be more likely to accept you for whatever you're applying for over someone who has nothing on their resume.
2. Helps You Become Part of the Literary Community
For one, if accepted, you'll be sharing your work with a community of readers. Second, you'll establish connections with publishers and editors that may come in handy later on. They could help you snag a bigger publishing deal or to join the staff of a literary magazine yourself.
Also, a good way to get published in literary magazines is to read them so you'll understand what type of work they accept. By becoming both a reader and a writer, you'll ingratiate yourself even more within the community that shares your love for writing. And that's what this is all about, right?
Plain and simple. You can't get your name out there if you don't get something published.
4. Helps Thickens Your Skin
You're going to receive a lot of rejections. And often, submitting to literary magazines is just a step down the longer road to publishing something bigger like a book, and the rejections for something like that are going to hurt even more. Being a writer entails a lot rejections. So, submitting to literary magazines is a good way to start thickening that skin. I can verify that though it's always going to suck some, it will get easier with some practice.
5. Helps Strengthen Your Work
This process might reveal to you that your work isn't ready yet. And that's okay. You'll go back and edit, and you'll figure out what works and what doesn't by the feedback from the magazines you receive. Once you start getting encouraging rejection letters, you'll know you're on the right track.
6. Payment for Writing
Some literary magazines will pay you for publishing your work. It's a pretty nice way to make money, but it ain't easy.
7. Personal Achievement - aka. bragging rights
There's nothing like being published and seeing your work appear in a literary magazine with your name beside it. Even if your fandom only consist of your friends and family, you feel more like a legit writer. And this feeling makes all the rejections and the hard work worth it.
As you can see there's a lot of pros to submitting to literary magazines. But what are some of the downsides?
1. Submission Fees
These can range anywhere from around $1 up to 3 or 5. When you're wanting to submit to several magazines to increase your options of acceptance, it can get expensive fast. Now there's tons without submission fees, but sometimes it can be hard to avoid them.
And that brings me onto my second con:
2. Not All Literary Magazines Pay For Your Writing
It's often the ones with submission fees that are willing to pay you. That money has to come from somewhere. So if you're only submitting to magazines without submission fees, chances are you're never going to earn money. However, if you do decide to pay the submission fees, you might never earn back what you put in.
3. It Takes a LOT of Time
It takes time to find and research literary magazines to see if your writing would be a good fit with them. And then you have to weed out the ones with submission fees if you're cheap like me. And you're a writer, so odds are you're broke. Then, there's actually submitting to them, making sure you follow their formatting guidelines and making cover letters.
As I said earlier, most people suggest that you actually subscribe and read the magazines to increase your chance of being accepted, but that takes even more time. While this might help, you're still going to get rejected most of the time, so there’s little payback for all the effort you're putting in.
4. Long Waiting Periods (especially if there’s no simultaneous submission)
Some literary magazines will make you wait six months or more to hear back. Having to wait that long isn't exactly rare, either.
And some do not accept simultaneous submissions. In case you don't know, simultaneous submissions are when you submit the same piece to multiple magazines at once. Some accept this and some don’t. Believe me: it's frustrating when you send your best piece to one magazine and can't send it anywhere else for months only to receive back a rejection.
On top of that:
5. You Can't Expose Your Work Elsewhere
The majority of literary magazines refuse to consider previously published work, and that includes anything that has been posted on the Internet. So why you're waiting months to hear back from literary magazines, you can't attempt to build a following by posting your work online. If you continue getting rejected, it can often feel like you're getting nowhere.
Also, if you publish a work in one magazine, you won't be able to get it published again by another (possibly more well-known) one. This applies to high school and university publications. You can, however, republish it yourself since the rights return to you a little while after the magazine’s publication.
6. One Publication Will Not Make Your Career
Unless you got published by one of the big dogs like The Paris Review or The New Yorker (which is extremely difficult to accomplish), you’ll most likely get published by a literary magazine no one has heard of and continue on living your unknown existence. At best, a publication will be a stepping stone for drawing the attention of an agent which can then lead to a bigger publication further down the road, and at worst, it’ll become an interesting party fact about you.
Certain things are in and certain things are out. It may be that your certain thing is out. This by no way means that your work is bad. Your writing may be great, but if the market isn't wanting it, magazines aren’t going to take it. The literary magazine community tends to lean towards certain genres more than others. While there are ones that specialize in sci-fi and fantasy, they are fewer and far between those that desire literary fiction (literary magazines -> literary fiction, get it?). The same goes for formal poetry. Free verse is all the rage right now.
Now, my last point can be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it.
Whether or not your piece is accepted will ultimately come down to the subjective opinion of the magazine’s staff. Some people consider that to be the way it should be—that they need the approval of others to give their writing legitimacy. And others find this system to be annoying and oppressive.
Those are the pros and cons of submitting to literary magazines, and now it’s up to you decide whether it's worth it. Next week, I'll be discussing the other ways writers can promote their work, and I'll be sharing my personal opinion on whether or not submitting to literary magazines is worth it. If that interests you, make sure to stay tuned by either subscribing to my YouTube Channel or signing up for my email list.
Thanks for reading. What are your thoughts on literary magazines? Do you consider submitting worth it?