Ann Tinkham

Publish in Online Literary Magazines

Publishing in online literary magazines allows you to reach a wider audience, build your platform, and, if you’re lucky, be discovered by agents and editors. The good news is: there are thousands of online literary magazines to submit your work to, so you are likely to get published if you send your best work, do your research, and persist. Doing your research involves vetting magazines and identifying ones that publish work that’s like yours in tone, style, genre, and themes. When I say persist, I mean submit one piece to several dozens of magazines until you find a taker. You increase your chances of being picked up if you send your very best work--unique voice, fresh approach, well-crafted, and edited to magazines that align with your style.

How do you know when your story is ready to go? I’d recommend writing several drafts and running it by trusted writers in a critique group or a class. Once you receive feedback, incorporate the input that resonates and rework your piece. If you’re a newbie, it will take time to determine when your work is ready for prime time. No worries. You can always test the marketplace by submitting your best work and waiting for feedback from editors, which can take up to six months. In publishing, patience is a virtue.

What kind of feedback can you expect from online literary magazines? Most editors are too busy wading through submissions to give you feedback on your work, but there is a rejection lexicon that you should know about that can inform your edits. For example, if you receive many positive rejections on a given piece, it is likely that you’re on the right track and your piece will get picked up if you persist. Positive rejections typically invite you to submit again. On the other hand, if a piece receives many cold rejections, it probably means your story, essay or poem needs work.

I’ve included some examples of the distinct types of rejections.

  • A cold rejection: Thank you for submitting to our magazine. We’re afraid that this story isn’t the best fit for us, but we hope that you find a suitable home for your work.
  • A lukewarm rejection: Thank you for sending us your story. We’re sorry we can’t use it, but we appreciate the opportunity to consider it. We’d be pleased to see more of your writing in the future.
  • Developmental rejection: Although we enjoyed your story, we felt that it needed work in the areas of tension and pacing.
  • A glowing rejection: We found a lot to admire, but after close review, we have decided not to use this story. But we hope you will consider sending us new work in the future.
  • Acceptance: Thank you for sending us your story. We love it and would like to publish it in our next issue.

When you’re ready to submit, your next step is to find magazines that are a good fit for your work. How do you do that? The best way is to first read the magazines to get a feel for the kind of work they publish. I have simplified this step for you by providing a snapshot of some magazines. I will continue to build this section of my website for ease of submitting.

If your work is accepted, celebrate your incredible accomplishment. Your work, no doubt, made it through many rounds of editorial reviews and competed with up to hundreds of pieces. In some cases, editors will conditionally accept your work with a request for one or more rounds of revisions. Making the changes they request will not only assure that you’re published but will also strengthen your piece. Being featured in a literary magazine is an honor and guarantees that your work will reach a wider audience.

What are the best online literary magazines?

Given that there are thousands of literary magazines on the Internet, it is useful to identify not only the ones that publish work like your own, but also how they rank in popularity and quality. It is very prestigious to be published in the highest ranked magazines. Given the competition, for most writers it's a significant accomplishement to be published in the lower ranked magazines, as well.

Online literary magazine rankings are very subjective, based on a variety of criteria. Some rankings are based on how often the work of their writers also appears in national anthologies publications such as Best American Short Stories. Other criteria include how often their writers have received Pushcart Prize awards or special mentions.

Some of the better-known websites that rank online literary magazines include:

To simplify the rankings, the sample magazines listed below are grouped into three categories based on the estimated difficulty of getting a submission accepted:

  • Harder - Most competitive. Very difficult to be published in these magazines; few submissions are accepted.
  • Hard - Very competitive. Exceptional writing is accepted more frequently than in the most competitive magazines.
  • Easier - Less competitive. Strong writing is more likely to be accepted than in the very competitive magazines.

How do I submit my work?

You will need to carefully review the magazines’ submission guidelines and follow them closely. If you don’t follow submission guidelines, some magazines will discard your work without reading it. Submission guidelines include things like genre, word count, formatting, theme, and font.

Many literary magazines have moved to online submissions. Some still only consider snail mail submissions. You access magazines’ online submissions through their websites. Most funnel through a submissions manager called Submittable. It’s a handy tool for monitoring your submissions. You’ll need to set up an account to view and monitor your submissions.

Another useful online submission resource is Duotrope. This website helps writers identify candidate magazines from their large database and also has a tracking tool to monitor submissions. Unfortunately, it's often hard to determine what each magagine is looking for without viewing the magazine's website. The next section explains the issue in more detail and the solution.

There are many resources on the Internet that provide further guidelines and suggestions to make it more likely they will get published. For example, BookBaby Blog, a good general resource for writers, has posted 10 Rules When Submitting to Literary Magazines.

Some magazines discourage, and others don't allow, simultaneous submissions. Magazines do not want to lose the time and effort invested in reviewing a submission if there's a chance a submission may be withdrawn when another magazine has accepted it. Because it may take many months to get reviewed, some writers submit simultaneously, nonetheless. The magazines that allow simultaneous submissions expect writers to withdraw their submission as soon as they accept a publication offer in another magazine.

Some literary magazines charge a submissions fee, which is typically $3.00. You may be thinking: shouldn’t they pay me for my work? And, while $3.00 doesn’t seem like much, if you submit a lot, it adds up. Because most literary magazines don’t make money, they charge writers for administrative and editorial costs. It’s common for the most competitive magazines to charge.

The fee for entering writing contests is much higher, ranging between $5 and $40. If you win, what do you get for your money? Publication, the prestige of winning a prize, and sometimes prize money. Prizes will bolster your platform and help you make your case for landing a traditional publishing deal.

Most online literary magazines don't pay for accepted submissions or pay very little. One list of magazines that pay is provided by the review review.

What should you do after you submit your work? Forget about it and keep writing and editing. Never harass editors about your submission. That said, if you haven’t heard back from the magazine in the time frame they list on their website, you can send a follow-up email. Keep in mind that some magazines don’t contact you unless they plan to use your piece.

What are literary magazines looking for?

One of the most daunting and time-consuming tasks when considering what literary magazines to submit to is getting a feel for each magazine’s taste. Ideally, you’d subscribe to many magazines and read several issues of each magazine. But if you’re submitting to dozens, you may not have the time or money to commit the necessary resources. So, I’m saving you time and money by giving you a snapshot of what some magazines are looking for in your submission. This list will continue to grow over time.

If I were to encapsulate what literary magazines want, it’s this: something they haven’t seen before. In publishing, this is often called “fresh.” It’s a compelling voice, a new take, a unique perspective, intriguing character development, a distinctive setting, an innovative story arc. For example, literary magazines may see lots of submissions about marital problems. A husband falls for another woman and his wife leaves him. Snoozer. But here’s a fresh angle: the other woman is Alexa, an artificial intelligence device. The wife is jealous of a tower of plastic that caters to her husband’s every whim. The dialogue is stilted at times, humorous at others because it includes Alexa’s AI-programmed responses. In the end, the wife realizes Alexa is the woman she could never be. Don’t steal the story idea. I’m already working on it.

How are you to know what magazines have already seen? Good question. If you haven’t seen it before in books, movies, journals or other media, there’s a good chance the editors haven’t either. Let’s peek at what eight magazines are looking for.

Sampling of Online Literary Magazines

The sampling of online literary magazines in the list below includes a mix of well-known and not-so-well-known, new and old, in all the categories of difficulty to get submissions accepted. The goal is to show, at a glance, what these magazines are looking for. Magazines will be added regularly to the list.

Magazine Difficulty What are they looking for? Length When to submit? Cost