Lesson No. 2: Chemistry and Strategy: Getting to What You Love in Litmags



A Recap

In Lesson No. 3 we talked about how to read a litmag. Hopefully through your completion of last week’s homework, and seeing your peers’ responses, you’ve begun to make a list of litmags that interest you, and may be future homes for your work!

This week, we’re going to dig a bit deeper. We’re going to explore what it is we love and hate about certain litmags, and how to articulate that for our own purposes, but then next week to apply that to our cover letters. We’ll also talk about creating short term and long term publication goals, and organizing materials.


Defining Your Work and Goals

So we found litmags we loved last week, but why did we love them? What makes the litmags you love stick out off the shelf? Being specific is important here. There are thousands of litmags, and not all of them will click with you. But for the ones that do, it’s important to define this, as it will help you prepare a strong submission, but will also help you discover what your values in writing are, and help you figure out what kind of writer you are.

Before submitting, it’s good to look introspectively at your own writing. How would you describe what you write? Sometimes defining your work can be hard, but having a grasp on what you do will be very beneficial when determining where to send your work.

This doesn’t just mean your style of writing, but your values at large. Literary magazines have themes and schools of thought, but they also have different funding situations and ages. Poet Lore has been around for two hundred years, while Blotterature is releasing their fourth issue. Litmags backed by a university are “safer” in that they usually live longer, off the school funding. Litmags independently run might have shorter “life expectencies”, but may create a more welcoming community, or have a wider public reach through an accessible online presence. There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes to these questions, but you have to ask: what do you value?


Some Things That I Love…

  • HOOT magazine: Love their creative “postcard” format, and their FREE online workshops! The staff are very friendly and know me because of my attendance to their workshops.
  • Rattle: Poets Respond feature (poems about a news event from the week), Tim Green’s active participation online with readers. They value paying their writers, which I respect greatly. Their issues are inexpensive and accessible, and they sometimes provide feedback for a reasonable price. They also have a killer contest!
  • Tahoma Literary Review: The editors send out newsletters about their perspectives and values. As a potential submitter, I really appreciate this!
  • Blotterature: Their $50 for 50 words contest, workshops, annual IWC Steel Pen Conference
Fig 1: Jubilat does some funky stuff in their magazine. Love it? Hate it?
Fig. 1: Jubilat does some funky stuff in their magazine. Love it? Hate it?

Preparing for the Battlefield

Technically, you can crap-shoot your way into the literary world. But that means a lot of submissions, a lot of rejections, and probably some frustrated editors. Instead of just throwing your work into the wind and seeing what happens, it’s good to create a strategy of where and what to submit, to target your effort to where it has the best chance of finding a home.

My general strategy: sit for an hour on Sundays (usually while watching Downton Abbey) and send out my favorite five poems of the week to a series of magazines that I’ve selected beforehand. When I say “selected beforehand”, I mean that when I find a new magazine, I do a little bit of reading, make some notes on what type of pieces (or even specific pieces) I want to submit, and then I plug into my calendar when the submission period opens. That way, when I sit down on Sunday, I can look at my calendar and see what submission periods are open then.

You’ll have to find your own strategy, but I want to break down some of the components of my approach:



  • Timing: Submit right when it opens. If you wait, Tahoma Literary Review editor notes:

    “[M]ost journals that consider simultaneous submissions (and we at TLR think everyone should allow simul subs) accept work throughout the reading period, not just at the end. When editors see a piece we simply have to have, we know we’d better grab it before it appears in another magazine’s pages. That means we often have few pages left in the issue by the last week or two of the submission period:, and competition that was already tough to begin with reaches cutthroat proportions. I sometimes have to say no to great poems when they reach me on the late side.” (Check out the full article here)

    This isn’t how all editors work though—I’ve talked to at least one who recommended I submit the last week of the reading period, as then the “fresh” submissions will be the ones they read first. Every editor’s different, but I haven’t yet heard of a real negative for submitting early. It often means you’ll get a response faster–though that’s not always the case–and you guarantee it’s in on time. 

  • Know the Magazine and its Guidelines: Make sure you know what’s expected for what to submit, how to format it, what the policy is on simultaneous submissions, what the payment is (or isn’t) and what the rights are that you’re selling should you be published. Most litmags request first serial North American rights, which means they are the first one to publish your piece, but you are always the owner of the piece, and once it’s published the rights return back to you. But it’s important to read carefully, as there are some publishing scams where they want to “own” your piece even after it’s published. All that to say, when submitting you should act as if it will be published, and make sure you are fine with the conditions of publication. 
  • Have your Strongest Work Ready: The guidelines often say “send your best work” (which often feels unhelpful) but seriously–send your best work. Make sure it’s checked for grammar and spelling, and that your work isn’t going to be rejected for a careless error. One time, I sent in a poem and it was rejected with the note that I spelled Philippines wrong. Don’t let that be you!
  • Goal Setting: Not all litmags are made equal. That isn’t to say each and every one of them aren’t spectacularly AWESOME, but they all have different histories, professional  levels, and expectations from their submitters. While you should submit your work where you want it to be regardless of these factors, you want to make sure your expectations are realistic for where you are as a professional writer, what the journals’ expectations are, and their acceptance rates. 

Some really cool international literary magazines
Fig. 2: Some really cool international literary magazines

Setting Goals:

Everyone has their own strategies for how to set short and long-term publishing goals, but I’ll share my approach. My main strategy is geographic: start local and go outward. Why does it matter, how close a litmag physically is to you? It doesn’t necessarily, but it provides more opportunities to get to know the litmag, get involved, and develop relationships with the editors. 

First thing I do is attend local conferences. This is where I can hear the names of people involved in the local publishing community. I get to meet some of them in person, hear about their magazine, and hear about them. As I continue to attend local writing events, some names become more familiar. I end up developing friendships with many of those people. I start sending out my work, and for the magazines that are a good fit, I may become a frequent contributor. Some of those people I meet invite me to read at their readings, or do a guest blog for their site. I then begin to become part of a writing community, where I am not only getting to publish my work, but I’m able to give back to fellow writers.

These opportunities not only develop me as a writer, but also often open continued doors of networking. The local friends I know may recommend certain magazines that they’ve worked with or know someone from, and the network continues to expand. Through this, I get to know new magazines, new editors, and new writers. I begin to recognize names in magazines. My community gradually expands out of the local and into the writing community at large. 


Fig. 1: A strategy for setting publishing goals
Fig. 3: A strategy for setting publishing goals


Again, there are many ways to approach goal setting, but this is one way I’ve found to be successful for me. 

Another component of goal-setting for me though is to not focus my efforts in one direction, but three. That is to say, I set short and long-term goals and send out to all of these at once. What do I mean by that?

Short-term: Magazines I think I can get published in now–contributors have similar qualifications to me, and the work I read seems similar to my own. 

Long-term: Magazines I want to one day get into–my “dream” publications. Contributors have qualifications that I don’t yet have. 

If you’re not sure about the “qualifications” of contributors for a magazine, look at the contributor’s notes in the back of a litmag. You’ll start to get a sense of what magazines are short and long term goals. 

So I set my goals into three “tiers”: Tier 1 usually focuses on local magazines, Tier 2 focuses on domestic and international magazines that I think I have a chance of getting into and admire, and Tier 3 are my “dream” litmags. 


Fig. 2: A structure for how to create "tiered" goals
Fig. 4: A structure for how to create “tiered” goals


I’ll give you an example of some tier goals I might have. Since I’m in the DC area, my Tier 1s are largely local Maryland magazines:

Fig. 3: A sample of my own "tiered" goals
Fig. 5: A sample of my own “tiered” goals

What might your own tiered goal list look like? 

Before You Submit:

Now that you have an idea of places to submit to, you’re probably thinking: Let’s get submitting!  Before we jump into submitting, we want to make sure to develop some good organizational habits first. For those of you not type-A people, this might feel unnecessary, maybe even a bit annoying. Yes, it’s annoying to organize submission materials. But I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t keep your information organized, it’ll come back to bite you later.

  • Keep track of your submissions! This is especially vital for poets. Prepare a spreadsheet, or some sort of document where you can write when you submitted, where you sent it to, what you sent, and then once you hear back, if it was accepted or rejected. Most magazines can’t take work that’s already been published, so it’s very important to know what work you have sent out so you can pull it ASAP if it’s accepted elsewhere.  This is also helpful when you begin to put together manuscripts, and want to list previous publications in the acknowledgements section.
Fig. 4: An example of how to organize submissions.
Fig. 6: An example of how to organize submissions.
  • Keep your work organized! Find an organizational system that works best for you. It’s good to have separate folders for complete work and work that needs editing. When you get in the “submitting zone” you want everything streamlined. You don’t want to have to sort through what’s ready and what’s not. It’s also great to sort work by style. I try to put my lyric poetry in a separate folder from my narrative poems. That way, when I find a magazine that likes lyric work, I know where to go.
Fig. 5: An example of how to organize work (namely poetry)
Fig. 7: An example of how to organize work (namely poetry)
  • Make your bio and cover letter templates accessible! We’ll talk about making cover letters and bios next week, but for now, know that it’s important to have those ready to go, and easy to edit for a particular magazine. I have my submittable pre-populate my submissions with a template cover letter and my bio. I also have my bio on my desktop so if anyone asks for it, I can just copy and paste. Easy.



For this week’s submission, I want you to make your own Three-Tiered Goal List. This will probably require a bit of research! For each tier I’d like to see a minimum of four magazines, though you can have more if you’d like. For each magazine, put a brief justification (see mine for examples). If you don’t feel like you have a personal connection, then just talk about what you love and why you’re excited about that magazine. Again, you can do this in whatever medium feels most comfortable as long as the information is conveyed.

Please post your submission on the forum topic here

Questions? Post in the discussion below!



Feel free to use the below discussion area to discuss some ideas regarding your publication goal-setting for this week. Maybe you want to share names of litmags that you find interesting, or maybe you’d like help finding litmags with a certain aesthetic or theme. You do not have to engage with the discussion. Your choice. This week is an open discussion format. 


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.