Word Count: 4593
Notes on Craft
After a previous post, Taggie7 left me a question that I've been thinking on trying to come up with as good an answer as I could find. The post was about which literary journals were best suited for submissions from undergraduates or recent graduates, and you can read my answer here. Taggie asked me if there were any magazines that I highly recommended and I told her I'd have to get back to her on it.
I've really been struggling with an answer because I'm just as much of a learner as anyone else. And according to Poets & Writers there were over 600 literary magazines and journals last count, so needless to say, I couldn't possibly have a finger and the pulse of the market.
Speaking of P&W, I highly recommend their May/June 2008 issue, about a third of which is dedicated to something they call "Project Lit Mag." They interview editors of lit mags and then profile 20 new lit mags that they recommend you send your work to now. Given their urging, I'm certain that Alehouse, Alimentum, Barrelhouse, Bateau, Cadillac Cicatrix, Cave Wall, Coal Hill Review, Ecotone, Five Chapters, Fringe Magazine, Grist, HoboEye, Lumberyard, Make, Marginalia, One Less Magazine, Palabra, Quiddity, Slice, and Subtropics are now swamped with more slush then their volunteer editors can deal with. Said editors have kissed their spouses and children goodbye and have little chance of seeing them again until Christmas.
I know nothing about the 20 above mags other than they're new and recommended by P&W.
Personally, I always give Glimmer Train first crack at my work. They're yet to be as impressed with me as I am with them, but I'm keeping up the tradition nonetheless.
Some people start off by submitting their short story to The New Yorker first and then go from there. I'm yet to try this tack although I see the merit in trying to break into the undeniably most powerful short story market in America. BTW, finding the submissions guidelines and appropriate address for The New Yorker is something of a task, a first (if small) hurdle to discourage the lazy and half hearted. But back to Glimmer Train.
GT does everything online so turn around time is good and they reassure everyone that they really do read the entire story every time. They run a contest a month as well if you're willing to pay the entry fee. The magazine is known and sold across the country, and the stories have a decidedly upbeat tilt to them that makes them a pleasure to read. Not that they're all rainbows and peppermint waterfalls, but I was reading a story about a guy who had just had a heart transplant and the anti-rejection drugs he was taking were eating away his other organs and I wasn't depressed by the story. That's the kind of tilt I'm talking about.
For some reason, I've always placed some sort of mystique around The Kenyon Review. It is a very well known magazine and I think some of it's stories got nominated for Pushcarts this year. They've recently launched the Kenyon Review Online which is a supplement, not a replacement, to the print version of the KR. The KRO is free, and therefore an easy way to familiarize yourself with the type of material the KR staff seeks out. And there is a certain aesthetic to the KR (one David Lynn keeps a thumb on as Editor in Chief). The stories they print have a certain gritty edge to them. Where GT leaves me feeling hopeful, KR leaves me feeling slightly horrified. It's a thrilling, mind racing feeling, but not one I think my own work invokes. I've yet to submit anything to them because of this.
I'm a fan of the Southeast Review. Their staff has a decidedly light, playful side to them. The SER also hosts the WBSSSC (World's Best Short Short Story Contest) which comes out every year in their spring issue, which, coincidentally, is when the WBSSSC opens and closes for the next year. Winners are announced in June and, darnit, I'm not one of them this year.
I'm in love with the notion of One Story magazine, and will probably get a subscription once I move and get my new address. The idea is that you always have time for just one story; so every three weeks they send you one new short story. While they only publish one author an issue, they will never repeat a writer. So, for once in your life you can be certain you are not competing with Ron Carlson (he already had his one story).
The Michigan Quarterly Review is the one magazine which sent me a personalized rejection letter (for poetry). This is perhaps because I studied all the online offerings for the MQR and really thought about what pieces I was choosing to submit.
The Alaska Quarterly Review has been keeping itself in the news of late. I'm always impressed to see far off presses that are regularly sold at book stores here so kudos to them. The stories I've read from them did sort of suffer from the "not much happens" syndrome of undergraduate workshops, not that this makes it that much easier to crack the market.
Which brings me back to the real point of the question: I don't know which ones are the "easiest" to crack. I just know what I've read and then I apply a couple of strategies to that.
There's a struggle to find a balance in submitting. You want to be accepted by the biggest market possible, but you also want to increase your odds by submitting someplace that isn't getting a lot of gems sent to them. But more importantly, you want those magazines to be reliable: not author traps, and not going to fold before your story goes to print.
Some people approach this problem as I mentioned before: they start with The New Yorker and make their way down the list. If you're me, you're looking for magazines you know exist. Magazines I can find on the shelves of the bookstore. (On the bottom shelf of the magazine section under food and wine). But that's not a bad strategy. All the magazines I've listed I know are reliable journals. I've seen them in print and (most of them) being sold in my home town.
Short of that you can pick up a copy of The Writer's Market and start thumbing through it. It costs about $30 retail and a new edition comes out every November or December and most libraries carry multiple copies. Right now I've got a 2007 copy checked out from the library because I figured that there would be fewer hold requests placed on last year's copy while the information is roughly the same. And it's paid off. I've successfully kept my copy checked out for six months now.
If what you want is publishing credit and want it now, keep your eyes open for local contests and presses. Occasionally a newspaper will run a poetry contest. There is a publication called "eCurrent" around here (they focus on food/entertainment/culture) that runs a poetry/short story contest once a year open to people who live in the county and I won an honorable mention one year for a poem.
If you're writing in genre that changes the game entirely. Everything I just mentioned is for "literary" fiction. In genre, again, go to the book store and see what magazines they have. What you see there are the heavy hitters. "Asimov's" or "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine" or "Science Fiction & Fantasy" or ... I don't know a romance mag off the top of my head but I'm certain they're there, although Harlequin now e-publishes short stories if you meet their "line" guidelines. These are all big, well paying publishers. If you're looking for $20 and some spiffy cover art try ElectricSpec and it's brethren - which will take some hunting to find and some more hunting to find out if they're credible.
Right now I'm trying to get as good a feel as I can for magazines by reading them, but every time I'm ready to submit (simultaneously) I always throw in a couple markets I haven't read that I fit the guidelines for. They claim that if you read the magazine, and truly follow the guidelines (right material, right format) that you're already ahead of 80% of your competition.
Hope there's some sort of help in there. I'd love to hear anybody else's take on markets, so leave me your blog address if you've done a similar diagnostic.
Edit: There's also FAWLT magazine which is new and advertising on the MFA Blog. Obviously odds are better at someplace that's just starting up and targeting MFA candidates and applicants.