Literary Magazine Wishes


This may open me to accusations of being lazy, picky, snobby, or not snobby enough, but here’s what I wish for in a litmag I’m going to submit my work to:

1) Submittable. Not your own submission program that is awkward and I have to re-fill all my info (and create a new password to forget) every time I use it. Not paper only (unless you pay a BUTTLOAD or can get me 15 minutes face to face with Colin Firth).

2) Simultaneous submissions allowed. I don’t always simultaneously submit, but I want that option. Given the usual percentage of rejections, I just can’t afford NOT to simultaneously submit sometimes. I know, you long for the “good old days” when your friend Jim or Ted or Bill would just send you some poems to look at, and you’d say, “Oh, these are good. I’ll publish them.” But it’s not those days. 15,000 writers go to the AWP Conference, and that’s not all of us. Wish for a reduction in writers if you must (I don’t—I figure the more writers, the more humanity in the world), but unless you’ve got a time machine, don’t forbid the simultaneous submission.

3) If you’re online–and I love online mags–don’t use Issuu. Sorry, but I just can’t read in that format; I can’t get the print to be large enough on my laptop. Also, don’t make me download a whole pdf. I like to click on an author’s name and go to a page with that author’s work on it.

4) A human-sounding “about” page. Pretentious = no. You don’t have to deride other branches of the literary world in order to do what you do. If you like experiment, something closer to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry than to sonnets, list some of the poets whose work you like. But don’t pick on the one or two poets who might actually be making a little money at this thing, just to illustrate how highbrow you are. There’s a lot to love in contemporary poetry, and a whole lot of people doing it in different ways. Show me what you love in your sample works.

5) A main page that I can figure out easily. You know, where to click to read some of the stuff you’ve published. Where to click for submission guidelines. A masthead. Some of y’all have a really cool intro page with animations and such, and that’s just fine—I’m happy for you and impressed that you managed to get someone with actual knowledge of web programming to work for you for free. But once I click on that “enter” button, I want to be able to figure out, easily, where I’m going.

6) If you’re publishing a variety of genres, including “hybrid” genres, then categorize your table of contents page so I know when I’m reading cnf or fiction or poetry. If your authors want it labeled as both poetry and flash fiction, then list it in both. Or make a note. Especially don’t make me guess whether something is fiction or creative nonfiction. Boundaries are slippery, but I still want to know–unless the point of your journal is to be uncategorized (new journal idea for some of my experimental friends?). Oh, and if it makes me uncool to want to know whether the writer considers something fiction or creative nonfiction, then mark me uncool. I’ve got my own reasons for why genre matters to me, and you should respect that, even if you disagree. I’m a reader as well as a writer. I’m not uninformed or ignorant. I’ve thought through genre issues and will continue to re-think them, but in order to do so, I want to know.

7) If you are accepting a piece on the condition that I make certain revisions, make that clear at the beginning of your acceptance email. More importantly, BE SPECIFIC about those revisions. Be honest with me! If you won’t publish my piece unless I make the precise changes you want, tell me that. If you’re open to negotiation, let me know that as well. And don’t fob me off on some grad student who hasn’t even taught a creative writing class yet, someone who will write, “Make the ending stronger” without any hint of what a “stronger ending” might look like. If you’re paying me $500 or more for a piece, then just maybe it’s worth my time to go back and forth several times with drafts. But consider that I charge at least $50/hour for my freelance time, and 10 hours is often far less time than I spent writing and revising a piece before I sent it to you.

8) If you’re running a contest, give me a subscription for my entry fee. (And if you’re running a book contest, send me a copy of a previous winner.) I’m not buying a $25 lottery ticket, but I will support independent publishing. If I win, then woohoo! If I don’t, at least I’ve got something good to read.

9) Recognize that we’re all part of the writing community. We’re in this together. I’m not sending you my work to make your life harder, and if you feel that way about writers, you might consider giving up the almost certainly volunteer job of editor to nurture whatever does connect you to the community.

10) Lists really should have ten items. I think the last thing I want to say is thanks to the many people who make literary magazines go—editors, preliminary readers, webmasters. What I wish for you all is more time to do what you do, and more compensation for it.





9 replies »

  1. This is refreshing and honest. I think perhaps my only difference stems from my attitude as a poet, who rarely writes fiction. I don’t accept payment , when offered, from journals because I know they need the money for operating costs. I appreciate the gesture, but it’s not necessary, And if it’s a non- U.S. journal, it won’t be practical. I won’t, by the same token, submit to a journal whose reading fees are exploitative: Tweed’s is #1 on my shit list, with a $20 fee per entry. Entering a book for a Pulitzer is only $50.
    I’m beginning to chafe at, and ignore the idea that a poem published in one journal cannot be entered in another. I did not devise this ethic, and I think it’s foolish. There’s no money paid, and thus no real ownership: and every journal has different reading circles. If my poem is accepted by a British journal, should I not submit the same to an American journal or journal in Stockholm or the Philippines? My only obligation, that I see as genuine, is to acknowledge all , when the poems are finally published in a collection.


    • Interesting points. I’m primarily a poet too, but at the moment, so broke I’m happy to accept the rare $25 or more check. And I’m intrigued by the idea of publishing the same poem in different countries–yes, why not? Different readership, and I’d love to see the literary community become more international.


  2. Great post, Katie! I’m the Publishing Editor at Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and am proud to say we pretty much get a tick next to most of your points here. 🙂 However, you say, “don’t make me download a whole pdf. I like to click on an author’s name and go to a page with that author’s work on it.” At Vine Leaves we do require readers to download the PDF, or it can simply be viewed online, but this is for a very good read. We pay avid attention to our design. We don’t just want to post the writing under a permalink. We want the writing to be accompanied by art, and we like to blend the artwork with the writing to create some sort of artistic/literary synergy. It is pretty easy, however, to look at the contents page, locate the author name of choice, and click to go directly to that page.

    Re your comment “(And if you’re running a book contest, send me a copy of a previous winner.) I’m not buying a $25 lottery ticket, but I will support independent publishing. If I win, then woohoo! If I don’t, at least I’ve got something good to read.” Boy would we LOVE to be able to afford that. We have just surpassed our three year anniversary, and still have not yet broken even, and the expenses just keep building up. But when we do have enough money, we will definitely be giving away books. All we want is for you all to be read, and we are doing our best to make that happen, even though we have to dig into our own pockets to do so. I hope you can understand that the best of intentions cost. And if there’s not enough money, we have to compromise. This is one of those situations. However, we hope that the prize we are offering for the book award is enough to compensate for that. Fingers crossed! 🙂


  3. Great post! I completely agree about Issuu. I won’t submit to journals that publish that way, though I recently did with a new journal that had no past issues to peruse. I was so disappointed with the outcome. I also agree about downloading a pdf. I just won’t do that, so the journal can cross me off as a reader. If you want a #11, I’d add that the addition of Share buttons is really useful for spreading the word. Every online journal should now have them.


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