1. Give us the lowdown on The Review Review, the lit mag reader’s lit mag.
We are a website dedicated to helping writers navigate the world of literary magazines. Each week, we post new reviews of lit mags, in-depth editor interviews, publishing tips, and we also mail out a free newsletter which gives a roundup of all the news in the lit mag world. We also have a database of over 300 literary magazines, as well as classifieds listing the latest calls for submission, writing contests, residencies, and more. Our mission is to encourage discussion about literary magazines in a way that is helpful, informative, and fun.
2. Describe your ideal reader/audience.
Our ideal reader: A writer at any level who wants to learn more about literary magazines. You might be trying to get published by a top-tier journal. You might want to keep amassing credits to build your resume. You might want to break in for the first time. Basically, if you’re a writer who is interested in literary magazines—which ones to read, which ones to buy, which ones to avoid!—then you, dear hardworking soul, are our ideal reader.
3. Can you tell our readers about a few journals that you like and that seem especially supportive of new writers?
I first fell in love with lit mags after reading Don Lee’s short story “UFOs” in The Kenyon Review. I’ll always love Kenyon Review for getting me hooked on lit mags. I also love—brace yourself, it’s a long list!—Zoetrope for their great stories and celebrity guest designers, Granta for their international reach, Glimmer Train for the tremendous work they do for emerging writers, American Short Fiction for the high quality of their fiction and its variety, Hayden’s Ferry Review for their edgy spark, Gargoyle for their attention to diversity, Calyx for what they’ve done for women writers, Memorious for being one of the front-runners of online journals and still publishing beautiful work, Tampa Review for being the only hardcover journal out there, Dissent which may not technically be a literary magazine, but which I think publishes hugely important essays…I could go on forever.
For new writers just starting out, you might want to aim for journals that are actively seeking submissions. Our calls for submission page features some excellent journals looking for work. You might also look into upcoming theme issues (usually listed on journals’ websites, announced on social media, or on Writer’s Relief’s Classifieds), where you could break in with writing that appeals to a particular theme. Also, you should always follow the trail of your favorite authors to learn where they got their first publication credits. This will give you a sense of which journals might be open to your own work.
4. Sometimes, writers will gripe to us (on our social networks) that established and upper-tier literary journals are unwilling to publish new writers. Does your experience indicate that this is true?
We have interviewed editors from top-tier journals like Zoetrope, Granta, Missouri Review, American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train, and what we hear again and again is that though these journals may be competitive, there is nothing editors love more than finding a new, fresh voice. So don’t assume you can’t break into these journals just because you haven’t published much elsewhere!
That said, it is very, very hard to break into these upper-tier journals. In order to do so, your writing must be very, very good.
Here’s why: When you submit to top-tier journals, you are competing against very accomplished writers who have been working at this craft for years, if not decades. You are competing against writers who have published books and, therefore, have benefited from the feedback of professional editors. And, unfortunately, you are competing against writers whose names might sell more journal issues than your own.
So there are a lot of factors you are up against in submitting to these very competitive journals. Some are within your control—making your writing the best it can be, following the submission guidelines, writing a professional cover letter. Some you cannot control—whether your byline will help sell issues.
Ultimately, you can’t get too upset about whether you make it into these higher-level journals or not. (I mean, you can, but it won’t do you much good.) Be patient. Be persistent. Don’t get too hung up on the prestige of various journals. Oh, and here’s a tip: Writing contests are a great way to break into a journal. Very often your reading fee buys you a year’s subscription to a magazine, which is an added bonus.
5. What’s your favorite new lit mag (that’s less than a year old)?
The Destroyer is a very original online journal, which has an incredible (and quite gruesome!) home page design. I love the flash fiction pieces in 100 word story. I am in awe of the intellectual ambition of The New Inquiry. Midwestern Gothic produces great work and is still printing on paper in this day and age! HOOT is a really cool new magazine that prints new flash fiction on postcards each month; their content is both funny and beautiful.
6. Readers want to know: What trends are you seeing in editorial acquisitions or lit mag formats?
In the past year it seems a lot more journals have begun to focus on cultural criticism. There’s The New Inquiry, The Point, n+1 (which isn’t new but keeps growing). These are journals that, according to The New York Times, “make The Paris Review look like beach reading.” I’m happy to see these journals cross over from academia and into more mainstream literary culture.
Also, a big trend now is slipstream. This is writing that veers into magical realism, sci-fi, fantastical absurdism. Bruce Sterling, the writer who coined the term, described slipstream as “the kind of writing that simply makes you feel very strange.” (We have a list of journals that are seeking slipstream writing here.)
Still, writers who do not write in either of these categories should not worry! Good writing, no matter what genre, will never go out of style.
As for formats, some lit mags are adapting with great aplomb to the shifts in technology. Others, not so much. Some journals have iPhone apps, tablet apps, and lots of fancy widgets to make their material accessible in all formats.
7. What are your criteria for judging the quality of a lit mag?
In order to be listed with us, an online journal should not have the word “Blogspot” or “Wordpress” in its domain name, such as “HotNewMag.blogspot.com.” Also, it turns us off to see a list of social media links on the right or left margin, as you would see on a blog. We also don’t like to see a page that scrolls down forever into infinity, or content that’s a hodgepodge of text all on one page—an interview here, a note from the editor there. For an online journal to be listed in our database and considered by our reviewers, the content must be neat, organized, and carefully laid out, as one would expect from a print journal. Memorious, Devil’s Lake, and Cerise Press are a few shining examples of online journals that get it right.
Whether online or in print, there should also be some sense of cohesion in the writing and artwork. Do the pieces speak to each other? Does the artwork accentuate the text or detract from it? Does the cover speak to a theme within the magazine? Additionally, are the pages easy to open? Is the table of contents clear? Are the images poorly photocopied, or do they really do justice to the artists’ work?
And no typos!
Now, taking that all into account, I’m actually a very forgiving reader! I encourage all my reviewers—to whom I am immensely grateful—to focus on what’s positive and to recognize what a journal’s intention might be. I tell our reviewers to write about these journals as though the editors and writers were in the room with them. We care about quality, consistency, cohesion. But we care more about supporting editors in the incredibly hard work they do, which so often goes unrecognized. And, of course, we care about supporting writers.
Thank you for asking me these questions!
One thing you should know is that I have a small but invaluable staff—Renee Beauregard, reviews editor; Priyatam Mudivarti, interviews editor; and Lauren Rheaume, director of marketing and outreach. They work very hard! I am so grateful for their input and contributions.
Also, we always need reviewers or people to interview lit mag editors. Both of these are great opportunities for writers who want to learn more about literary magazines and make connections in the industry. Plus, in general, I love hearing from our readers. So whether you’re interested in getting involved or just want to say hi, you can reach me at email@example.com.
And good luck with all your literary endeavors!
Writer’s Relief thanks The Review Review editor Becky Tuch for taking the time to answer our questions!