Why You Should Submit to Literary Journals

Written by Emily Harstone | November 21, 2013

When I was first starting out as a writer, I had no desire to submit to literary journals. I did not really understand what function they served. I also didn’t know how many there were out there; I just thought they were a small niche marketplace.

I had a few publications which were mostly in places where I knew the editor and my work was solicited from me. This sounds nice and easy, but it is actually less rewarding if you know the person in charge of a publication. You always wonder if they chose your work just because they liked you.

When I got to graduate school I discovered very quickly why having your work published in literary journals was important, regardless of what genre you wrote. It was a stamp of approval, a way of making it clear that you were not a novice. It also made it easier to publish work in the future.

The first reason that you should start submitting to journals is that agents and publishers are more likely to sign a contract with an author who has a track record.

I had written many query letters before I started submitting to journals, and my author’s bio was always depressingly empty. Once I started to publish my work in literary journals, I started to get the attention of agents and publishers in a way I hadn’t before.

Novice writers often complain to me about the expectations of agents and publishers for pre-existing publications. They tell me about how complicated it makes getting the first book published. If they started to submit short stories and excerpts of their novels to journals for publication, they would have a solid stepping stone towards getting their first book published.

The second reason you should submit to journals is that it can actually attract agents to you or create a direct connection with a publisher.

I know several authors who have received queries from agents after getting their piece published in a prestigious journal. If the journal is well-respected it can even lead the agent or the publisher to you.

Other journals like Tin House and The Fiddleback have a manuscript press attached to the journal. These manuscript presses almost always end up publishing authors whose work appeared in their journals first.

The third reason that you should submit to journals is, as a general rule the more you are published the easier it is to get more work published.

Now when I submit my work to a respected journal I am no longer a poet without publications, but one who has appeared in many prestigious journals. I don’t know if that alters the editor’s opinion, but it probably encouraged them to examine my work more closely. My work certainly receives more acceptance and appears in more prestigious journals every year.