Why Literary Magazines Are a Great Place to Start

When I teach writing, I talk to a lot of writers who are thinking about sending out their work, or maybe who have just started, and the first question they always ask me is, Why are you so pale?  But the second question usually is, Where are some good places to submit my work? (Then the third is, Don't you get any sun at all?  But let's stick to the second.) I don't feel like there's only one way to go about writing or publishing, but I can mention some things that have been helpful for me.

At the top of this list is submitting to literary magazines.  If you walk into a Barnes & Noble (or try your local indie), there's often a very dimly lit section in the back of the store where you'll find some literary magazines with names like Kenyon Review or Virginia Quarterly Review or Prairie Schooner.  It's worth spending an afternoon with these magazines and maybe taking home a few, since they not only provide a great reading experience, but also a sense of what's out there in the world of contemporary writing, what's being published.  Or if you don't live near a bookstore with a literary magazine section, you might take a look at the lists of journals on pw.org or duotrope.com or in Best American Short Stories.  Something I love about literary magazines is that they include work from some of the best-known writers in the country, alongside melanin-deprived upstarts like myself.  It's a unique opportunity to keep some good company.

I sold my first story to a magazine called Glimmer Train, and the publication made a big difference for me.  It opened the door for some more story publications, and got some notice from agents and literary honors, which eventually helped me to sell my first novel to Random House.  Also, the magazine has continued to support me and my work over the last nine years, which feels like a great gift.  My experience has been that, while the audience for literary magazines seems small in comparison to that for, say, bestselling novels, people in publishing have a lot of respect for the journals and the serious mission they've undertaken.  It was very useful for me to have some journal publications when I was looking for an agent for my first book.  I think it helped to show my seriousness about writing, and the fact that I'd pursued it for some time.  My agent Ayesha Pande says, "Publications in literary journals establish credentials."

So if you're around my neighborhood, maybe I'll catch you in that dimly lit section of the bookstore.  Or maybe that sounds too creepy...

Justin Kramon is the author of the novels Finny (Random House, 2010) and The Preservationist (Pegasus, 2013). A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers' Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation. He lives in Philadelphia. 

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