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7 Compelling Reasons to Submit Your Work to Literary Journals

image of a collage of books lined up

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve submitted a short story or poem or maybe an excerpt of your novel/novel-in-progress to a literary journal. It’s likely you’ve had to pay some sort of entry fee (normally $15.00, $20,00, something around there, give or take five or ten bucks). Some of the journals will include a copy or a subscription for the price of submitting your story. If so, great. If you’re like me, you have a few hundred literary journals published by universities, a few dozen from some not. Most of which you’ve maybe read a story or two, but maybe not much more than that (there are a LOT of journals out there—who has the time to read them all?). But you should submit.

That said, especially if you’re a beginning writer working diligently on your craft (and, hopefully, workshopping it with others), you should be submitting. But I’m a novelist! you say. I don’t write short stories! Well, you’re doing yourself a disservice by avoiding an avenue that could, eventually, lead to your novel (or story collection/poetry collection) being published. Here’s why.

Literary agents and publishers read literary journals. Not all of them, but many. Or their underlings do. The reason for that is because it’s a great way to discover talent that may not otherwise already be represented by a literary agent. Beginning writers (experienced ones as well) tend not to have representation by a literary agent/agency. See, writing and getting published doesn’t mean you automatically have a literary agent. Getting one is hard, hard work. It took me years of publishing short stories, earning literature/creative writing degrees, going to writing workshops, and “being part of the scene” before I got a literary agent to offer to represent my novels (two, in fact, on the very same day). But I wanted it, and, well, I’m stubborn and willing to work for it.

chalkboard that says success go get it

Getting an agent normally means querying literary agents at literary agencies. It means submitting your work (normally a novel, nonfiction book, book of poems, or a collection of short stories, the latter two being more difficult to get representation for based on a number of factors). And that takes a great deal of effort if you’re doing it right. It means researching the agent’s preferences, what they represent, who they represent, if they’re taking or not taking unsolicited submissions, if they’re taking submissions at all, if they (or their more junior agents) read the slush piles, and a number of other factors. I personally submitted over a hundred query letters for one of my—as of yet, unpublished novels—and never received an offer of representation for it. It’s a grueling process, querying agents, but, unfortunately, it’s a necessary one if you’re like most writers out there who don’t win the literary lottery on your first shot out.

 Literary journals, especially for many writers who don’t make much money (writers tend to work in industries that don’t pay a lot), can put a dent in our pocketbooks. There are journals out there that are free to enter your work, but not quite as many as those requiring entry fees (it costs money to publish hard copy journals and to advertise, so it makes sense to charge something). Even so, you, as an upcoming writer, or even an experienced writer who hasn’t yet acquired an agent, want to get your work out there.

You want the most people you can get to see your work having access to it in whatever format available to you. That’s likely going to be a literary journal, whether in print, online, or both. Which requires you have work that fits into the category of being publishable in those formats, which means, likely, that it’ll have to be somewhere between ten to twenty-five pages or so (though some journals require shorter entries and others allow longer ones). You’ll need to pay attention to a few things when submitting your work to a literary journal. I've come up with 7 compelling reasons to submit your work to literary journals.

Here are 7 Compelling Reasons to Submit Your Work to Literary Journals:

  1. Literary agents (and/or their junior agents and assistants) read literary journals.

  2. You're getting your name and writing out there.

  3. You're creating a reputation for yourself==hopefully a good one.

  4. You're learning what it takes, writing-wise, to get published and shown recognition by the "experts" in your chosen space.

  5. You're creating a publication list for your resume.

  6. You're learning how to deal with rejection; in writing, there's plenty to go around.

  7. Getting paid for your work (assuming the journal pays) doesn't suck.

Here are 7 things to think about before submitting to literary journals:

  1. Do you have the financial ability to submit?

  2. Do you have a piece that’s ready to submit? (hint, don’t waste your time and money if you’re “sort of” there).

  3. Have you done the research on what the journal publishes? (Don’t mass submit without reading at least one or two editions; a journal that only publishes literary fiction isn’t likely to publish your dystopian space drama haiku).

  4. Is the journal you’re submitting to even accepting submissions at the time you want to submit?

  5. Is it a journal you want to be published in? (You may not).

  6. Do they require you let them know you’re submitting to other places (simultaneous submissions)? (Some do, though I personally never cared, as I wasn’t going to sit there waiting for one journal to respond before sending out my work to others—I live by the “I’ll ask for forgiveness, not permission” motto).

  7. Look for contests too, as it’s another way to submit your work and potentially win some money and publicity for YOU the writer.

sign that says 1, 2, 3 . . . Let's Go!

I remember when I was pursuing my MFA I submitted a short story to an inter-university competition, and lost. And there weren’t that many of us submitting. A short while later Creative Loafing had a short story competition, and I submitted the same story. I won $500 and my story , The Tabaquero's Squirrel, was published in the newspaper with my name on the front page. That paper was all over the city, which I thought was pretty damn cool. So, you never know—the same story rejected by a hundred journals could get published by the hundred and first.

Don’t get discouraged. Literary journals receive A LOT of entries. But someone has to win, and that writer could be you. Write constantly, submit to literary journals, query agents (if you’re writing longer works), and get your name out there however you can. But literary journals, while a numbers game even when you have a solid, well-written piece, is worth the effort. You never know who’s going to see your work. And that set of eyes may just lead to you getting an agent or, even better, a publishing deal.

Publisher's Weekly is a great resource to find literary journals to submit to. You can check them out here.

Cully Perlman is an author, blogger, and Substantive Editor. If you have a novel that needs editing, send him an email today at 


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Jon Tobey
Jon Tobey
May 13

There is another reason to submit to magazines (it's not all literary journals) and competitions: developing the skills to write to market. You may never need or want to do this, but being able to craft a story for a specific market by itself will make you a better writer. For instance, I have been in 4 anthologies that have nothing to do with my core writing, but making the cut meant I had to learn something every time, and like Cully says it got my name out there and built my resume.


May 13
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I submit all the time but it's like a full time job. Some journals take FOREVER to respond. But I will keep on trying.😊

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