According to Duotrope, there are currently 5,000 markets for submitting fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. So how in the world do you decide where to send your work? It depends on your goal. If you want immediate readership, there are many lesser-known online magazines that respond faster and publish more submissions by emerging authors—it’s a great way to build confidence and a resume. But if you feel ready for the big leagues, and don’t mind waiting sometimes several months for what will likely be a rejection, (the rewards outweigh the risks, right?) shoot for the moon.
Most writers submit work in tiers. They first send their work to 5 or 10 “pie in the sky” places—maybe these pay more or are highly prestigious, but are also the most competitive. If rejected by all of those, they move on to the next 10, and so on. (If a magazine accepts simultaneous submissions, note in your cover letter that you’ll withdraw your work if it’s accepted elsewhere.)
Below are some examples of literary magazines typically considered “top tier,” based on the number of their stories that have gone on to win Pushcart and O. Henry Prizes or inclusion in Best American Short Stories. Check out an issue or two of any magazine you’re considering to be sure your work will be to their tastes.
Tin House: This Portland, OR/Brooklyn-based magazine and small press puts out four excellent issues each year, with Fall and Spring tied to a theme, like theft, ecstasy, or poison. Like most, they take electronic submissions, but they don’t charge a reading fee. Check their website to see what they’re reading for currently. You can also submit flash fiction (1000 words or fewer), which they publish weekly online.
- Reading period: September and March only (check the website for extensions)
- Pay: None
- Notable alumni: Louise Erdrich, Steven Millhauser, Joy Williams
The Paris Review: Since its first printing in 1953, this journal has been considered the gold standard. In its first five years alone, it published Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, Adrienne Rich, and Samuel Beckett, so your work would be in legendary company. They only accept submissions by snail mail, though, and you have to let them know ASAP if your work gets accepted elsewhere—a postcard should suffice.
- Reading period: No restrictions
- Pay: Unspecified
- Notable alumni: Ursula K. LeGuin, Ben Marcus, Rachel Cusk
One Story: This slim, colorful reader comes out once a month and always contains a truly outstanding story, usually by a new or emerging author. There’s nothing wrong with seeing work by more well-known and successful writers in publications, but when you want to feel like yours could be the next big story appearing in mailboxes (and Best American Short Stories), One Story is a very encouraging prospect. Electronic submission, no fee.
- Reading period: January 15 – May 31 and September 1 – November 14
- Pay: $500
- Notable alumni: Ann Patchett, Joyce Carol Oates
Plougshares: Since 1971, this acclaimed magazine has been producing four issues annually, with two each year guest edited by luminaries like Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, and Elizabeth Strout. Work appearing in their pages is also scattered all over best-of anthologies. Electronic submissions are preferred and require a $3 fee (waived for subscribers).
Reading period: June 1 – January 15
Pay: $45 per printed page ($450 max)
Notable alumni: Stephen King, Helen Oyeyemi, Deborah Eisenberg
The Gettysburg Review: The journal published by Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg College since 1988 has consistently ranked high for prizes and anthology inclusion, but it’s also a solid bet for emerging writers looking to make a name for themselves. Electronic submissions cost $3 for non-subscribers, but they’ll gladly take snail mail for free. Be advised that it can take up to eight months for them to respond, but they accept simultaneous submissions so your work doesn’t have to hang out in limbo while you wait.
- Reading period: September 1 – May 31
- Pay: $25 per printed page
- Notable alumni: E.L. Doctorow, Rita Dove
Read our Tips For Submitting to Literary Magazines before you hit submit or drop that envelope in the mail!