In  late Septemer of this year, TriQuarterly, one of the most respected print literary journals, announced that it was converting to an online format. TriQuarterly’s blog currently offers subscribers a chance to purchase the “last three issues of TriQuarterly in print.” It’s only one journal; but this feels like a big deal, particularly in today’s world of Kindles and eBooks and POD. Evergreen Review, one of the greatest and most provocative of literary journals, began life as a trade paperback, shifted to glossy magazine format, and ceased publication in 1973. In 1998, it was resurrected as an online journal and pushes ahead today with new content as well as reprinting great work from its past.

For the sake of this discussion, we can divide the world of literary journals into three permutations, with some overlap:

  1. Print journals that require hard-copy submissions by snail-mail. The old stalwarts we’ve always known include: Granta, The Paris Review, Conjunctions, Epoch, The Southern Review, The New England Review, The Iowa Review, etc. There are also interesting new urban magazines such as NYC’s Noon and Bomb and Literal Latte, and San Francisco’s Zoetrope: All Story.
  2. Print journals that accept electronic submissions, either via a dedicated online submissions manager or email. (Most print journals that prefer electronic submissions will also accept hard copy submissions.) In this group are well-established university-based journals and attractive new journals: Tin House, AGNI, VQR, A Public Space, Willow Springs, Fence, Boston Review, and a long list of others that are worth exploring. (We’ll look at how to do this later.)
    There are interesting hybrids like The Mississippi Review, which also has an online journal with its own style and content, as does the Kenyon Review and n+1. One Story delivers a single story to subscribers. GUD is sold as a PDF or POD. Annalemma combines weekly online content with a biannual print edition, as does the well-known Monkeybicycle. Redivider, and many others, put part of their content online while Unsaid Magazine puts all of past issues online, as do some other journals, so what are they? It is a shifting landscape.
  3. Online journals. I’ve already mentioned the elegant new Cerise Press, and the print/online hybrids, but the range of options in this group is impressive: Night Train and Word Riot, Blackbird and Memorious, The Collagist and, Wag’s Revue and Guernica and Freight Stories and Failbetter … the list goes on and on. These are all web-based, of course; but Electric Literature also provides content in various new-media forms, including e-book, Kindle, POD, iPhone and soon even audiobooks. At least one story is going to be tweeted.

There is another way to segment this industry: money. Most journals don’t pay their authors, but a few do. The classic print journals typically pay by the printed page. Electric Literature pays $1000 per story; Glimmer Train runs contests that have cash prizes at the end, as does Narrative Magazine although these latter two both charge reading fees (other than during specified periods). But if you hope to get rich by submitting stories or poems to literary journals, you might be well-advised to take up another occupation. Print journals also pay in author’s copies which in a pinch can ease the ache in the belly although there’s not much real nutrition there. Think of it this way: what you’re doing is building your brand into a platform that will entice publishers. Once you’re as famous as Sarah Palin, you can start demanding to be paid for every word you write. Or every word you tell somebody else to write for you.

There are also other ways of segmenting this industry in terms of convenience:

  1. Most journals accept simultaneous submissions but a few of the troglodytes don’t. This is an important consideration because all of them are inundated so long long long waits for a decision are common. You may have a story rejected the next day (lucky you!) or after three months or after a year. Six months seems to be about the norm for a piece that got past the initial reader-rejectionist. These long waits mean there’s no reason to submit things sequentially, and most journals recognize the reality of the situation and ask only that you inform them as soon as another journal has snapped up the piece you so lovingly crafted and so yearningly sent to them. However, The Sewanee Review, The Hudson Review, The Barcelona Review, The Antioch Review, The Kenyon Review, Epoch, and Five Points all decline to read simultaneous submissions. So what do you do about that? Send out multiples anyway? I mean, it’s not like you’re a spammer or anything; you’re just trying to enrich their world with your literary nous; and what can they do to you anyway? Refuse to publish any of your stories? I mean, they’re almost certainly going to reject your work anyway. So what’s the big problem?
  2. Many journals accept submissions year-round but quite a few are attached to universities and so tend not to read in summer. A few journals have even more restricted schedules, no doubt reflecting the agony of a small staff of readers overwhelmed by submissions. Almost all journals limit the submitter to one story or essay at a time, or a handful of poems; but again, there are surprising exceptions. It would be tempting to argue that the more prestigious journals are the most restrictive, but this isn’t necessarily always the case. Granta, the UK print journal many would place near the top of the heap, will accept submissions of multiple short stories in a single snail-mailing, and so will the excellent n+1 — electronically. All journals have websites and somewhere on them are guidelines that explain the rules; wise submitters obey them scrupulously or pretend to.

So how do you go about getting it done?

Write your story or essay or set of six poems (it’s remarkable how many journals seem to stipulate six). Then edit it and cut out all the flamboyant crap and rewrite what’s left about a thousand times. And then craft an intro letter. Keep it tight but make sure it stipulates why you and your story are unique entities in the world. Every journal (and publisher and agent) has readers whose job is to reject everything that can possibly be rejected without burdening anybody upstream with it. Your letter’s job is to get past that rejectionist and pique his or her curiosity sufficiently to set up the possibility of a positive reading experience. That’s it. That’s all you can do. Keep it clean and simple to indicate that you trust your stuff. An RPCV should have a built-in advantage because most of what accumulates on the desks of those overburdened readers is all the same. So after a few hundred stories about a feckless young wastrel who drinks too much and can’t respond to the emotional requirements of others, a story about protecting your goat herd from the depredations of baboons will stand out.

I’ve mentioned a few above, but the number and variety of literary journals is daunting, and they seem to breed like bunnies and die as easily as hamsters. There are, however, good ways to start exploring the current online literary landscape.

RPCV Clifford Garstang’s blog Perpetual Folly has a section under “Writers Resources” that ranks major literary journals in terms of Pushcart Prize winners or mentions.

Web Del Sol has a page called “Top Fifty Literary Magazines” that usefully provides a brief sketch of each and a link to its site.

Literary Ezines & Journals has a comprehensive international list of online journals.

Duotrope’s Digest is a searchable online database listing over 2,675 current fiction and poetry serial publications. You can limit your search by specifying attributes such as genre and turn up suitable possibilities.

New Pages includes often detailed reviews of the current content in various journals that can be useful in deciding which to approach.

So as Gordon Gekko said to Bud Fox: Now get to work!