I’ll start this off by saying: I am not a master of getting published in literary magazines. Rather it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m an expert in getting rejected by them. But there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that may be of use to you. Reading the fine print, familiarizing yourself with your chosen venue of publication, drafting cover and query letters—all of these things will bring you one step closer to seeing your name in print.
And besides, there are a ton of opportunities out there for writers—you just need to know where to look.
Most literary journals require a cover letter. I’ve noticed that some of the speculative fiction magazines are more lenient about this, but as a habit, I send them one, too. Cover letters are not as daunting as they sound. In general, magazines want something simple—a few sentences that state who you are, any previous notable publications (don’t list every single one; they don’t care), the title of your piece. That’s about it.
The Review Review gives a good overview of how to write a cover letter: Your Perfect Cover Letter
Take the time to address the editor by name
Having a cover letter template to use as a basis is fine. But I have a suggestion: take the time to individualize each letter. Try not to just address it to “Fiction Editor” or “To whom it may concern” unless specified by the magazine. In general, when you specifically name the editor, it shows that you have at least read through the guidelines and the magazine’s site.
Follow submission instructions
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many stories get rejected simply because the author didn’t follow the magazine’s submission guidelines. There is a submission standard, and many magazines do follow this, but always, always check to see if they require something more (or less). Some magazines have a strictly anonymous reading procedure, for instance, which means your name shouldn’t be anywhere on the story.
Here is the typical standard formatting as written by William Shunn. If there aren’t any specific guidelines for the magazine, follow these: Proper Manuscript Formatting
Familiarize yourself with the magazine
The easiest way to familiarize yourself with a magazine is to read what they publish. Naturally most writers can’t afford subscription fees for every magazine on the market, but many magazines release a story or two from back issues for public consumption. Look for these on their websites and do take the time to decide whether your story will fit the magazine’s mission.
Prepare yourself for the rejection
You will get rejected. A lot. It’s inevitable. But eventually you may just get that acceptance letter, so keep trying. DO NOT GIVE UP!
Don’t expect to pay your bills
You probably already know this, but literary magazines don’t tend to pay. You may get a little compensation; you may get a free copy of the journal with your publication in it. But that’s about it. Mostly your reward will be seeing your name in print.
If you’re new to the literary journal game, then here are a couple of resources to get you started:
Poets & Writers is a great resource for new and established authors alike. They have a listing of literary magazines HERE and offer a plethora of information—from schools that offer programs in creative writing to small presses to literary agents.
Be a Better Writer: One of the things I love about this site is that the author takes the time to list upcoming writing contests (including deadlines and how much they pay the winners). I highly recommend checking it out.
The Review Review: This site hosts a great database of calls for submission and writing contests. Additionally, they offer reviews of magazines, which is invaluable information for getting familiar with the literary publication world.