Submit to Lit Mags: How to Build Your List

lit mags publishing Jun 13, 2022

Do your research and SUBMIT!

I’ve been talking about literary magazines for a few months now on this blog, and I’ve already sold you on why you should be submitting to them and how to format your manuscript and cover letter

A lot of you are probably thinking, okay, great—now where the heck do I submit my piece to?

It’s a good question, and it’s one that a lot of emerging writers struggle with. Most people have heard of the really big magazines that publish creative writing, like the New Yorker or the Walrus, but there’s a massive market of literary magazines out there beyond the big guys!

I mentioned last month that I’m going to share my own list of recommended magazines with readers, but I’ve decided to do something even better.

I’m going to teach you how to build your own list, custom-tailored to your needs. 

After all, I don’t know what your goals are, but you do. So keep on reading to help figure out how to turn those goals into a submission strategy, and build your own list of magazines to submit to from the bottom up!

Heads up: some of you might leave this post feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are a LOT of lit mags out there, and this is going to be a link-heavy post. You might leave it feeling a bit like you’ve just walked into a Baskin Robbins when all you ever knew existed was vanilla. 

Remember a few things before you keep reading: 

  • Take this one step at a time. You don’t have to build a complete list sitting at your computer in one afternoon. 
  • In fact, you’ll never have a “complete” list. Your list will grow and evolve as you do. 
  • See the last section of this post for some tips on building a manageable list of your own.

To Start: Clarify Your Goals

Ask yourself this question: why do I want to submit to literary magazines?

You want to get published, obviously. But why?

Are you trying to win awards? To build up a CV? To attract the attention of an agent? To build buzz for your writing or generate a new following online? Maybe you just want to see your name in print or pixels—which is a great goal in and of itself!

Once you’ve figured out what you’re looking for, you’ll know what sort of magazine is a good fit for you, and I’m sharing some links to other lists that would be best suited to writers with those same goals. The best way to approach this is to categorize and prioritize lists according to your own goals.

Submit to Lit Mags: The “Prestige” Lists

Look, let’s get this out of the way—there’s a lot of snobbery in literary communities, and some people think that these magazines are the only ones that count. 

Those people are wrong. 

But just because the prestige mags aren’t the only game in town doesn’t mean they’re only for your uptight university professor who scoffs at the word “genre.” Prestige magazines earned their reputation through years—decades, sometimes—of producing consistently good, artistically rich material that engages and delights readers. 

(And usually, these magazines pay well, too!) 

If you’re hoping to attract some attention as a serious literary writer, submitting to the prestige mags is a reasonable priority. These magazines often nominate their writers for various exciting awards, and they have a strong readership that’s on the lookout for new talent. 

Clifford Garstang’s the best name in town (that’d be the internet town) for writers looking to build a list of prestige magazines. He publishes annual rankings of magazines based on their awards history. Here are his latest rankings:

Can we just take a moment to appreciate Clifford’s hard work on our behalf? Amazing, right? If you use his resources and have the means, hit the “Donate” button on his site and buy him a coffee, or hey – a magazine!

Rejection: Learn How to Handle It

A word about submitting just to the top lit mags as a strategy. In the course of your writing life, you’ll experience a lot of rejection and you’ll need to know how to deal with it. If you’re determined to start your publication journey with the top literary magazines, you’ll probably rack up rejection more quickly. But getting a hit in one of these could really be worth it!

In my experience, some of these magazines (not all of them) can also take a loooong time to get back to you about your submission. So don’t get too attached to the outcome – good practice for a lifetime of writing in any case – and if you don’t hear back in 3 months, submit elsewhere.

Oh, and unless a magazine says you shouldn’t submit elsewhere at the same time, consider multiple and simultaneous submissions.

Submit to Lit Mags Devoted to Emerging Writers 

Just about all literary magazines say something along the lines of “we publish work by both emerging and established authors.”

And that may be true, but not all such claims are created equal. Some magazines actually build it into their mandate to publish at least a few first-timers in every issue. 

Some of them brag about their “slush” publication rates—that is, the number of pieces they publish that come from unsolicited submissions.

These magazines are a great bet for any writer that’s worried their “unpublished” status is going to hurt them. Consider putting together a list of magazines that look at new writers as their bread and butter, rather than a liability. 

Here’s a couple great lists of magazines that often feature new writers. Note that many of these magazines can sometimes be as prestigious as the ones ranked by Clifford Garstang above; just because they focus on new writers doesn’t mean they’re easy to get into! 

Submit to Lit Mags by Country

You might have noticed that most of the magazines in the lists above are American. There’s no surprise there, of course; the United States is the biggest, richest country with an English-speaking majority. 

Because of the size and financial clout of the country, it’s got a massive lit mag market—which means that a lot of people are submitting there. It can be harder for writers who work in English to cut their way through the giant slush piles at American magazines, so many writers prefer to navigate the lit mag market of their own home countries. 

Like many other Canadian writers, I’ve published most of my work in Canadian magazines. So here’s a list of some of the most well-known lit mags in Canada, and a similar list for my readers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. 

I haven’t included one for American readers, but most of what you’ll find in the other lists above and below are American journals.

Bonus: Serial Rights

When you live in one country, you tend to try to publish there, which is GREAT – by all means, become known in your own country. But keep in mind that when most lit mags accept a piece of your work, they are contracting for First Serial Rights – the right to publish it for the first time in a magazine. 

Often these serial rights are jurisdiction-based…which is great, because it means that a poem or story accepted with First North American Serial Rights can also be submitted to mags in the UK, Australia, New Zealand – anywhere outside North America. Double win!

Copyright always stays with you when you’re published, in case you're wondering.

Watch your rights and use them to your advantage.

Submit to Lit Mags Published Online

While there’s nothing quite like seeing your name on the contributors’ list on the back of a printed book cover, online magazines shouldn’t be discarded as less relevant—in the 21st century, online mags are flourishing as important and exciting members of the literary community. 

Plus, online mags offer a huge advantage to writers who want to easily share their work with friends or family—or link to it on their own author websites or social media platforms.

Here’s a few different lists of online mags that can help get you surfing:

Nix the Overwhelm

I told you this post would be daunting. There are hundreds of magazines included in these links, and few writers could ever put together a list that includes them all. I don’t expect you to do so!

Just remember that your list of lit mags will grow with you, and all you can do for now is get started. Pick one of the lists above, whichever one you think is best suited to your needs, and  when you’ve got time to spare—an hour or so—start putting together a bare-bones list of a handful of magazines. 

Then, build some time into your schedule to add a new magazine, or a couple of magazines, to the list as you go. This could be as little as 20 minutes per week.

I recommend starting with a list of 10 and submitting to those, then adding another 10 every couple of weeks. Soon you’ll have a list you’ve personally curated that works for your own personal publication goals.

Once you get started, you’ll realize it’s easier than you think, and soon you can start submitting away! 

Literary Magazines, Demystified

This is the third blog in a series on publication in Literary Magazines. For six months throughout 2021-2022, I’ll be posting one blog each month that covers different aspects of lit mag publishing, to offer you some support as you submit to lit mags. 

And if you’re able to join me on Fridays at 5pm Eastern, I’ll be going Live each week on my Facebook page to talk about all things writing. Once a month when I post a new blog about lit mags, I’ll also be giving away a gift subscription to a new literary magazine so do follow me there and join me LIVE for a chance to win.


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