Literary Magazines, or Why I Have a Headache

So, I’ve decided to take this whole writing thing seriously. (Who’s heard that before? Show of hands.) But actually.

For the past few days, I’ve been researching literary journals, trying to decide where the best place to send my poems (and essays and short fiction, if I ever manage to write them) would be. Not only are there literary journals, there are literary magazines and literary reviews and zines and things that vehemently deny labels, and no, I have no idea what the difference between them is. I’m starting to suspect there’s not really a definable difference. But, I digress.

In this myriad of variously labelled literary publications, I have learned three things.

First, there are a lot of them. I’m talking about hundreds and hundreds and probably even more than that. I started with the Poets and Writers list of literary magazines, then I started going through The Poet’s Market 2017, then I went through the acknowledgments pages of writers I sound similar to (I flatter myself). There are so many. It’s overwhelming. My eyes started to glaze over.

But who didn’t expect there to be a lot? Art is so subjective; it makes sense that anyone who appreciates it or creates it wants to push what they like on the general populace. Or, rather, I suppose they want to promote people like themselves who aren’t being promoted elsewhere. I don’t think people who regularly get accepted to magazines feel the need to start their own.

The second thing I learned—and this is more surprising—is that not only are there a lot of magazines out there, there are a lot of really bad magazines out there. Of course there were the big however many, with their sparkling, spotless websites and long lists of donors and awards: AGNI, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Poetry Magazine, etc. etc. But the majority of magazines I found—even the ones listed in The Poet’s Market—were little dinky magazines with minimal followers started by people who most likely couldn’t get published elsewhere. And they’re bad. Some had .blogspot urls, some had unnavigable websites, some had pdf layouts that made me cringe. Now, I don’t have an art degree, and I’m not an expert in aesthetics in any way, but goodness. I could create better sites and magazines than nearly half of the ones I checked out. (I’m not just saying that. I did it in college, but sadly the magazine shut down after I graduated because no one wanted to take it over.)

But these revelations leave me with a dilemma, which is the third thing I learned. (Two dilemmas, actually, but we’ll get to that.) I have no idea where to submit my work. Of course I’m going to submit to Poetry Magazine, because why the hell not? But past that, how can you tell what’s worth it? Personal preference? Readership? Quality of work? Famous people they’ve published? It’s all so subjective. I can’t find lists anywhere that rank them in order of quality, because there’s really no quantifiable way to judge quality. I found lists that showed how many works were anthologized, and one that took some other data into account, but it’s still somewhat subjective. Maybe the littler ones got lucky that year. But even if it is good data, there’s still no way to know if the random magazines that aren’t in the top fifty are at all worth your time.

And then there’s my second dilemma. Do I make my own literary magazine? I know I could do better than a lot of what’s out there, and I’ve been itching to start a new project. All it would cost me is time and the price of a domain name, plus printing costs if I ever want to put it into print. But what’s the point?

There are so many out there, what’s the point of me adding my voice to the mix, other than to prove that I can? I tend to have a problem of doing things just to see if I can. Usually it ends up making me crazy. So I’m trying to decide if it’s actually worth it. Would I be doing something good and worthwhile? Would I be adding something to the world that makes it better? Or would I just be patting myself on the back for being better than other people?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything about this whole publishing game, really. And I’m not going to know anything until I just do it. But I’m curious: What are your thoughts on any of this? Do you think the world needs another lit magazine? Specifically one run by me? Or should I just keep my head down and work on getting myself published? Do you know anything about good places to be published? About which magazines are worthwhile? Let me know in the comments!

Stay tuned for lists of lit mags, probably, as I continue to delve into this. But for now I’ll leave you with a link to my favorite one I found: MONKEYBICYCLE. It’s hilarious. Check it out.

Actual picture of me doing research. With coffee. Obviously.


4 thoughts on “Literary Magazines, or Why I Have a Headache”

  1. I know absolutely nothing about literary magazines. The Internet is definitely overrun with tons of websites and “magazines” and whatever that are completely unnecessary and crappy. It does SEEM we don’t need more, but then again, who knows? As long as you find an angle to work with that could be considered unique (even if some crappy website out there already did it but nobody cares about it), maybe it would be worth it?

    When we were in undergrad, I think I had more fine with the short-lived zine we made than almost anything else. (I did love The Nerve until I broke it and then I was broken…) I haven’t really read literary magazines or had much interest in doing so, though I don’t know why other than our professor made us and I wanted to rebel (or something–it’s probably more complicated than that). So whatever you do, make sure it’s pretty. I love the idea of bringing art and words together in some manner. Illustrating poems (like Caylie did in poetry class) or doing what we did with RSVP and creating something based on someone else’s creation. Just a thought. An idea.

    Ultimately, you probably already know what you’re going to do as it is, right? If you have an idea to do the thing, you’re going to do it to see if you can.

    1. I kind of want to do something that’s part Nerve, part literary magazine, and then an actual, in-print art and poetry zine. But for that I’d have to do research into selling stuff and mailing stuff and then it all gets complicated.

      I haven’t really read many lit magazines either, and then I feel like I should. But it’s just so hard to wade through all of it. I think before I start anything, I’ll do a ton more research and make at least a few more blog posts about which ones to read, which ones to submit to, etc.

      But you’re right. If I have an idea for the thing, I’ll probably do the thing. We’ll see if this one sticks. haha

      1. I like the idea of a part Nerve, part literary magazine, maybe an actual physical imprint, but it would take tons more research. I think that’s the best idea to start with!

        Let me know if you’ll need assistance! 🙂

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