Many of us — especially writers — find ourselves buried beneath a growing pile of books we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t been able to find the time. More depressing is the even longer list of book titles we know we need to read. The pile gets higher, the list gets longer every day. There’s always another seminal classic we haven’t gotten around to. It’s difficult to keep up, but as with any artistic medium, writers need to be aware of their surroundings.
Enter the literary journal
Journals are wonderful resources for writers for a variety of reasons. Literary magazines are where aspiring writers usually have their work published for the first time, and journals can also expose you to new writing, giving you an idea of what kind of work is being published in the here and now. Almost universally, journals recommend that writers who would like their work published read a copy of the journal to get an idea of what kind of work they’re looking for. With that in mind, subscribing to one provides the added benefit of preparing you to eventually submit your work. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are five of our favorite literary journals for you to check out.
1. Glimmer Train
Our first two journal recommendations are meant to send a few groups of writers in different directions. Glimmer Train only accepts short stories, so it’s a great magazine for fiction writers. Poets and nonfiction writers, not so much. Every journal has their own submission schedule (some will take submissions all year, others only accept them only during certain months), and Glimmer Train’s schedule is among the most specific. They have contests, categories like “flash fiction,” as well as standard submission periods. Here’s something that makes Glimmer Train truly stand in a class of its own where literary magazines are concerned: they pay extremely well. Their rate for a standard submission is $700, and their contest prizes are even more valuable. As you can imagine, rates like that attract a lot of good writers, which is partially why Glimmer Train consistently publishes some of the best short fiction you can find. It isn’t hard to see why we love this journal.
2. The Believer
For those who aren’t fiction writers, there is The Believer, which accepts nonfiction prose pieces, poems, illustrations, and reviews (of books and other items with “a linguistic quality”). It doesn’t hurt that The Believer was co-founded by one of the most well-regarded authors of our generation (Dave Eggers), but what makes it really stand out is its sense of humor and aesthetic sensibility. This is one of the best mags around.
3. Oxford American
The Oxford American publishes what it touts as the best of “Southern writing.” We don’t necessarily know what defines Southern writing, but the pieces that Oxford American chooses to publish are consistently among the best contemporary writing available. The magazine accepts submissions for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction as well as pitches for feature articles. Aside from being a literary journal, the Oxford American seeks to explore the Southern United States and document its culture. They also release a special music issue every December, which focuses on unique music and culture from one Southern state each year.
4. The Paris Review
The Paris Review (or TPR, or The Review) is probably the best and certainly the most well-known literary magazine currently being published. It also might be the last literary publication to accept submissions exclusively by snail mail (you can decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing or not). Part of what sets TPR apart is its extraordinary series of interviews. Over the years they’ve published interviews with Ernest Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg, Lorrie Moore, Joan Didion, and Hunter S. Thompson, just to name a few. These interviews often go into uncommon depth and provide a level of insight into writing and the writers who produce it not readily available in your average magazine profile. The Review also has a reputation for finding the best undiscovered writers, having once published a short chapter by a scrappy upstart writer named Jack Kerouac that would later be included in his seminal work, On The Road. We can’t say enough good things about The Paris Review. It is arguably the hardest magazine to get your work published in on this list, but it is the one you should always aspire to be featured in.
5. Your Local Review
For a lot of writers, this is your starting point. If you attend a university, there’s a good chance that it has a student-run magazine or review that you can submit to. These tend to have less funding than your typical national magazine, so many of them only come out once or twice a year and have very specific schedules during which they accept submissions. If you’re submitting work somewhere for the first time, a student-run review is a great option. They tend to receive fewer submissions, and if you’re younger, they are usually being edited by people close to your own age, which can mean that their interests are similar to your own, especially where subject matter and aesthetics are concerned. If your submission is selected, it can be a great jumping off point for you to submit to another, bigger magazine. There’s nothing quite like seeing your writing in print for the first time.