11 Things you need to understand when submitting to literary magazines

I think this week I passed 100 hours of reading random literary magazines as part of my submissions project, and have now passed the 100 submissions mark as well. These are the pieces of information I think fellow writers may want to know:

1. There are 9000 plus literary magazines on Submittable alone.

2. By my count, about 2 out of 3 literary magazines are on Submittable.

3. A good half or more magazines now charge a submission fee, typically $3.

4. Annual contests are not uncommon, with entry fees from $3 to over $30.  Anything more than $20, that’s a lot. Maybe too much, unless, like some folks in Vegas, you’re feeling lucky.

5. The quality and character of published work varies widely. Literary quality is, as agents always say, subjective, and subject matter and speaker characteristics do count. That means if you share the editor’s political ideals, geographic location, hobby … it helps to get your work a positive reading.

6. When you see a magazine and you think, now these people get it, they are more likely to respond positively to what you send them.  If you get them, they will more likely get you.

7. When you match your work to their editorial focus, the same thing.

8.  Most literary magazine editors are also writers.  Who knows why they have started a magazine.  Probably not so they could publish their own work, come on people.  Don’t be that way.  It’s probably so that there would be a magazine that represented their own artistic and philosophical ideals.

9. They had to do this because it is not easily possible to just find someone else’s magazine that shares your ideals and tag along.  Literary magazines are exclusive.  They don’t let you join the editorial staff easily even if the job doesn’t pay.

10.  Would you fit in?  Refer to Sylvia Plath’s poem, The Applicant. The First two stanzas only.

11. That said, running a literary magazine is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and relatively thankless job which requires dozens of hours of largely volunteer labor monthly, weekly, maybe even daily.  So if editors send form rejections, don’t get back to you for three months, and are likely to respond not at all to pleas for substantive reasons for rejection (no, I am not stupid enough to write an email asking them for this, but I’ve heard stories) you now know why.  Their editorship is their service to the universe, being open to discussions with writers about rejected work is simply not realistic.

12. Persevere and you will find your warm spot in the literary magazine universe.  If you keep writing, I don’t think you can avoid it.  Refer to Charles Johnson on Writing Fiction if you want to see more of what I mean.