The last few decades have seen an explosion in literary journals here in the United States. This proliferation has coincided with a rise in Master of Fine Arts programs and generous government arts funding.
Over the years I’ve picked up a number of print journals that I keep meaning to read—publications from the prestigious to the little-known.
And during the next few months I hope to read a sampling of them.
I’ll look for things I like and try to get a sense for what they like.
I want to be inspired by new writing and new voices, to be awed by the amount of care and attention the journals and their contributors devote to craft.
Who knows? Perhaps I’ll even find a good home for my work and improve my own writing in the process.
“But what the heck are literary journals?” you might ask. “Where do they come from? Who publishes them?”
These are great questions, and up until a few years ago I probably wouldn’t have been able to provide a coherent answer. Fortunately I’ve picked up a lot of inside information from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, from colleagues and professors, and by reading slush for a literary journal myself.
Literary journals are typically annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or (rarely) monthly print publications. Note that I’m talking about print publications—not online venues, where I’ve heretofore been published.
Some print journals publish strictly one genre, but most diversify with selections of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. A large portion of literary journals are published by university graduate programs and English Departments, although some (such as Gargoyle, which I’ll be reading soon) are published by small presses run by individuals and/or literature-loving collectives.
A few journals pay contributors for their submissions, but I’m not aware of anybody who makes a complete living by contributing (or working) for a literary journal.
Most journals reward contributors with a free subscription and/or copies of the issue where their work appears.
Indeed, the highest-paying markets for literary writing are associated with established, all-purpose venues—the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, notably—and yet even a writer who sold a piece to these publications regularly probably wouldn’t be able to make a living on that work alone.
As I wrote previously, autumn (i.e., now!) is perhaps the best season to submit to literary journals in the United States. This is because graduate programs are back in session and new groups of journal managers are looking to find great work to publish during their tenure.
Are you ready to go on this journey with me?
Next week I’ll provide a bit more context for the literary arts scene in general, focusing specifically on government funding for the arts. See you then!