Lesson No. 1: Litmags: What They Are and How to Read Them

Figure 1: Some highly recommended literary magazines. Which covers engage you?

In this lesson, we will discuss what litmags are, and how to understand the goals of each unique litmag. I’m so excited to get to know all of you better, and to be a part of this publication journey with you! I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Meg Eden. I teach at the University of Maryland, as well as with Writopia and Litmore. I write fiction as well as poetry, and dabble in creative nonfiction. I have been passionate about writing for publication since high school, when I obtained my first agent. I have four poetry chapbooks published, and over a hundred literary magazine publications. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way (and blown countless books of my parents’ stamps), but I hope that through this course, I can give you tips that would have helped me in my journey. The world of publication can seem mystifying, but over our time together, I hope that it will become a world that all of us feel confident to approach.

So What Is A Litmag?

Figure 3: An issue of "HOOT", a postcard literary magazine!
Figure 2: An issue of “HOOT”, a postcard literary magazine!

Literary magazines (litmags for short):

  • are “periodical[s] devoted to literaturein a broad sense. Literary magazines usually publish short storiespoetry and essays along with literary criticismbook reviews, biographical profiles of authorsinterviews and letters.” (Wikipedia)
  • often have a goal or theme that unifies the work included.
  • vary in periodic length: monthly, annual, when editors decide to publish the next issue.
  • all have their own aesthetic
  • are hard to get into—often accept less than 1% of submissions!
    • At the same time, they accept submissions to their aesthetic—so a rejection doesn’t necessarily speak on the quality of your submission.


Why Litmags?

  • They help writers build a reputation (which is helpful for publishing full-length manuscripts).
  • They can provide networking opportunities. This is especially true with local magazines, which may invite contributors to readings or other events.
    • Through learning about and getting involved with local literary magazines, I’ve been able to become part of the writing community around me, which has led to me being a reader, guest speaker, contest judge, and more.
  • They help writers see their work from the perspective of an editor.
  • They let your work get out into the world!
  • They sometimes pay (especially internationally).
  • They can lead to full-length publishing opportunities, as many small presses run litmags and use that to find promising upcoming writers!
Figure 2: The Japanese themed issue for "Rattle"
Figure 2: The Japanese themed issue for “Rattle”


Where Can You Find Litmags?

  • Local libraries and small bookstores. University libraries in the resources section often have anthologies of literary magazine issues.
  • My facebook page MegEdenWritesPoems posts upcoming litmag reading periods and calls for contest submissions.
  • WritingCareer.com (also posts press calls for manuscripts and agents seeking new clients!)
  • In the acknowledgements section of poetry and short story collections you admire
  • In this course, you’ll be introduced to some samples of some diverse literary magazines, giving you some starting points. Once you figure out what you like, you can look at the contributor notes to find similar magazines (we’ll get to that later).
  • Online databases on duotrope.com, www.pw.org, and www.writersdigest.com provide information on listed literary magazines (they can be a bit overwhelming though!)



At first, all litmags seem the same. It feels like every litmag’s submission guidelines read: “Send us your best work.” But what does that mean? Even if you send your “best” poem out to everyone, some will like it and others won’t. So how do you figure out what litmags really want? The answer editors will give you is: READ! And yes, this is crucial. But how do you read a litmag? What should you be looking for? In the video below, I will walk through the “anatomy” of a litmag. I recommend you watch this as I’ll point out specific examples. But after this lesson, it’ll be your job to evaluate a series of litmags. So for your reference, I’m including the criteria here. Feel free to use this as a “checklist” when looking through your own litmags.


  • Cover art: Is the cover art abstract? Funky? Photo-realistic? Even more so, do you like the cover art? Or does it not interest you? Does it make you uncomfortable?
  • Title: Is it a state or university title? Or a funky, out-of-the-ordinary title? (e.g., Indiana Review vs Hobo Pancakes). Does it grab your attention?
  • Binding: Is the book mass-produced? Or hand-bound? Is the priority towards a professional look, or a hand-made piece of art? Do you want to reach large audiences, or be part of an artistic community?
Figure 4: The cover art for an issue of "Hawaii Review"
Figure 4: The cover art for an issue of “Hawaii Review”


  • Staff: Do you know any of the names on the editorial board?
  • Editor’s Note: What pieces do they highlight? What do they say they value? Do you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the statement? Do you feel engaged reading it, or bored? Is there a theme to the work (issue-based theme, or magazine as-a-whole theme)? Does the world view align with yours?
  • Table of Contents: What is the proportion of poetry/fiction/CNF? Is your genre represented? Do you recognize any of the names of the contributors?
  • Content: Is it engaging? Or do you find yourself skimming? Is the layout standard, or does it “mix it up”? Are their art and comic genres? Art interacting with text? Is it work that you like and would want to read more of? What is the style of the text? Is it narrative or lyric? Is the fiction character driven or genre?
  • Contributor’s Notes: Where are contributors getting published? Are they magazines you’re in? Or magazines you dream of being in? Where are they in life? Older? Younger than you? What are their qualifications? Do you feel like your bio would fit in here? Is it competitive?
    Figure 5: Table of Contents for "The Intentional"
    Figure 5: Table of Contents for “The Intentional”
    Figure 6: Table of Contents for "Forklift, OH". Notice the unique approach to organization.
    Figure 6: Table of Contents for “Forklift, OH”. Notice the unique approach to organization.


  • Website: Does the website look professional? Cheap? Does it provide information about the magazine, or is it hard to find anything? Is there sample work available? How accessible does it make the work? Do you want to be able to send a link of your work to your friends, or are you fine with it just in print? What is their social media presence like? What does this say about their funding?
  • Payment: Is there monetary payment? Do you have to pay for contributor copies? Is there a fee to submit?
  • What else is the magazine doing? Are they giving back to the community through workshops or events? Are they doing something unique that makes them stand out?

  Conclusion: Would you want your work to be here? Would it feel like “home” and fit in? IS IT YOU?


Recommended Reading | Literary Magazines

Bunbury Magazine Issuu’s FREE online litmags [PANK] Rattle The Dr. TJ Eckleburg Review  🙂 carte blanche The Cortland Review LitRagger App Hobo Pancakes District Lit HOOT review Extract[s] B O D Y Literature Asian American Lit Review Little Patuxent Review Barrelhouse Blotterature Straight Forward Poetry Excerpts from the Audio Issue of Gargoyle Magazine:

  You do not have to read every litmag listed here (note that “ISSUU” is a publisher with a variety of litmags available, as is “LitRagger”), but I’ll ask that you read from at least FOUR magazines. This will give you enough diversity to start comparing and contrasting what makes certain litmags differently. You do not have to read the ones listed here; you are welcome to find other magazines online or in your local bookstore. See below in the “Homework Assignment” section for how we will use our readings.  

Discussion Assignment | Introductions

What is your experience with litmags? Have you submitted before, or is this something you’ve only just heard about? Introduce yourself below: your name, where you are in your writing journey, your medium (poetry/fiction/nonfiction), and your goals for this course (or long-term publication at large). Post your answers below in the “Discussion”.  

Homework Assignment | “Digging Into” Litmags

I have made available several issues of literary journals. Some are entire journals, and others are samples. I strongly encourage you to not limit yourself to these selections! If you can buy a hard copy of a journal or find one at your local library, I encourage you to do that, for two reasons:

  • You’re helping support the literary magazine and writing community
  • There’s something about holding a tangible journal in your hands that gives you a better idea of “what the journal’s about”. That is to say, I would argue that buying a journal will make your selection process of magazines easier.

So for your assignment, I would like you to look at a minimum of four literary magazines. Take notes on them! Feel free to use the above questions as a guide for your evaluation. Your notes should answer these questions: What did you like/not like? Would you submit to this magazine? Why/why not? Your submission product should at least answer these questions for each of your chosen magazines. It may also address any “discoveries” made, or any interesting notes about the magazines. The goal is that through the submission, you will introduce your peers to new magazines. Please make sure to read your peers’ lists and to start formulating a list of litmags that interest you, as that will be important for next week’s assignment. Regarding format, be as creative as you’d like! As long as your information is conveyed, it can take any medium. You can write a prose response, a bullet point list, make a flow chart—whatever you’d like! Please make sure to upload it in the forum. I didn’t mean for this write-up to be so long! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Post your assignment in the forum topic here.




Meg Eden, FacultyMeg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Eleven Eleven, and Rock & Sling. Her work received second place in the 2014 Ian MacMillan Fiction contest. Her collections include Your Son (The Florence Kahn Memorial Award), Rotary Phones and Facebook (Dancing Girl Press) and The Girl Who Came Back (Red Bird Chapbooks). She teaches at the University of Maryland. Check out her work at megedenbooks.com.