Lit Journals and Me: But How Do I Know If It Is a Good Fit? #MondayBlogs

The other day my blogger buddy Merril posted an article by Brian Geiger, editor of Vita Brevis, about publishing your poetry: Publishing Poetry is Like Arranging a Marriage. If you write poetry, take a glance at it.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what Geiger wrote. The main point is that you need to read journals before sending your work. You want to find a good “fit,” like a good marriage. I was heading down that same thought road when I published the article From Creation to Publication in The Review Review. I wrote it in 2014, so a lot has happened with my writing since then. Maybe that means it contains some good advice ;)!

But I did a bit of what Geiger does in his article, and that is to assume that if we read the journals we will automatically see which ones are good fits for us.

Hmm. Yes, as I mention in my article, I did discover that a journal I really wanted to be published in was selecting highly experimental (in an unpleasant way) pieces. So I crossed them off my list. But, in general, (I would argue that) there are similar types of poems in the majority of journals.

So what does it mean to find a good fit besides knowing if you want a journal with traditional or experimental writing?

You have to be honest about your own writing to begin with, and I’m not sure any of us is fully capable of doing that. We are too emotionally invested, having written the dang thing and perhaps having lived through all the ins and outs that are found in the poem. But we need to know if our work is fledgling or some point (what point?) beyond that.

If you are incredibly prolific and are looking for high numbers of publications, send it everywhere if you like (I do mention this in the article), but personally I don’t see the point in being able to say my work was published in over 500 journals and magazines. Who cares? I think the quality of the work is most important–and then hopefully you do find a “matching journal,” but it doesn’t always happen that way.

What I am saying is that part of finding a good fit is that the journal and the poem are a similar level of “quality.” This is one of those statements that seems judgy, elitest, you name it. But there are elements of the truth in it, too. The fact that the statement seems kind of ICK is why people don’t really come out and say that is part of why you should read lit journals before submitting.

Another reason to read journals is for the LOVE OF POETRY. If you don’t love to read it, why are you writing it? To do that is just a form of narcissism and maybe also self-aggrandizement. (Yes, you see the bitchy tone creeping in more and more–I’m going to blame the emotional burnout I talked about in last week’s post haha. I no sooner got the daughter off to NYC than my car needed repair and that sucked up a whole day. Then a slew of other home repairs ate up another. However, the good news is that I DID take a couple of naps and focused on my yard and cats instead of the hubbub).

None of these three reasons has anything to do with the implication articles like Geiger’s gives us, which is that we will read journals and have epiphanies in the middle of the pages of some of them when we see exactly the type of style, subject, and form of poems that we write. HAHAHA. Being completely honest here. Never had that feeling in my life.

The closest I have come to it is, for example, when I read the museum of americana and thought of the material and theme of the magazine as perfect for my Kin Types poems based on history, in particular American history. That is because the journal looks for art “that revives or repurposes the old, the dying, the forgotten, or the almost entirely unknown aspects of Americana.” There have been a few such times, but they are rare because most journals have a broader focus. Most of them just want “YOUR BEST WORK.” Um, ok.


Brand new issue of museum of americana issue 15 is up as of last night!


So I was thinking that when I write a blog post I can ALWAYS write #amwriting since I just wrote a blog post. That kind of makes my day.


Aqua blue West Virgina slag glass


Filed under #amwriting, #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Essay, Literary Journals, Nonfiction, Publishing, Submissions, Writing

35 responses to “Lit Journals and Me: But How Do I Know If It Is a Good Fit? #MondayBlogs

  1. Some good points, Luanne–and yes, you are writing!
    I do try to read journals to see if I like what they’re publishing, if it seems like a good fit, etc., and I usually cross of (for submission) the ones that seem to only like hip, edgy, we-like-the-cool-kids poetry. 🙂
    But you are right about being emotionally invested and not really able to judge–is this good? Is this my best? (For example, I thought themuseumofamericana would be a good fit for some of my stuff, history and food–but rejected.)
    I’m glad you got some rest!

  2. I’ve always had difficulty (and still do) in figuring out whether my writing is a good fit for any journal. Years ago I submitted a story to One Story and was rejected. It was a form rejection so nothing to make me feel at least my story was readable. Then One Story published a piece that (in my humble opinion) was such a rip-off of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery that I decided not to renew my subscription. Plus I really believed my story had better quality. But it stumped me how not only was I rejected, but that they published a story I really didn’t like. How can I be that wrong? In my earliest attempts at publishing, I got a lot of “Your story is not a good fit for our publication.” But I never understood why. As I start to consider submitting stories again, I suspect I’ll have the same problem. Oh, well 😉

    • Some editors might publish friends or people they know or have a reciprocity thing going on. It’s hard to know which editors are the most ethical, except by continuing to communicate within the community, if that makes sense. I’m shocked sometimes at the quality of some things published. On the other hand, I’ve been working on that gun essay and what I thought was decent to start with turns out to be FAR from what’s needed. We need to keep pushing ourselves more and more. It’s an ongoing effort. I will be sending you strong vibes for good results, Marie!

      • Oh, I hadn’t thought of the parochialism that might be involved with publishing. Good point. All we can do is persevere 🙂

        • One foot in front of another. Or pen?

          • One word at a time. Actually I read somewhere that it isn’t words that writers should be in love with, but sentences. Words outside of sentences don’t have context, meaning. Sentences can be filled with meaning, and writers should love writing sentences. It remains me of my high school English classes when we would learn new vocabulary. The lessons always called for us to practice “using the word in a sentence,” because (I guess) just learning the word wasn’t really learning. Especially when some words are dependent on the sentence for their meaning …

  3. Some good points here. I have submitted a few of my essays for publication but have always been rejected. I am too lazy to keep doing that without any feedback to figure out what I am doing wrong. Perhaps it’s not important enough to me.

    • Writing for publication is a real going effort, as I mentioned above to Marie. Maybe not for everyone, but it sure is for me. I have to keep pushing myself to do better and better because it ain’t yet where I want to be. hahaha The ain’t is all because I was in the wrong 4th grade class. If I had been in the other class I would have had to put a dime in the jar. Anyway, yes, it has to be important enough to be worth giving up all that time and putting all those tears into something that has very little return :/. Attitudes can change though. For years I said I was too unambitious to be a writer as, like you say, it wasn’t important enough to me. Then suddenly it was.

      • When I started blogging, I was “fresh pressed” fairly quickly and that was exciting. That was when I did my flush of wanting to get more readership and maybe published too. Rejection is tough and I have a lot of respect for those writers who can push through it.

  4. Whether you’re submitting poetry, manuscripts or articles, it definitely pays to do your research. When I first started, I was submitted everywhere…lol! I was clueless. 🙂

  5. That’s a good point about whether we can actually recognise whether we ‘fit’ or not – I do think there’s an element of that, but I do also think it’s subjective on behalf of the editors and luck probably comes into it too!

    • My daughter is a performer, and watching from the sidelines for years I can definitely say that that business has a lot of “looks and luck” involved. By looks I mean the RIGHT look according to other people for a role/gig. That all involves other people and happenstance. I think that it can be similar for writers as well. That said, of course there are lots of mediocre performers (and writers) whose work really isn’t up to that of the magazine’s publishing history–and there are a few stars who are head and shoulders above the rest of us (like Marin Mazzie, the Broadway star who just died of ovarian cancer) or Shakespeare. Although I will say that King Lear has a 3.90 star rating on Goodreads!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. What an interesting article! I come away wishing I had an ounce of your commitment to my art as you do to your writing! (Not to get ‘published’ as such, just to get better at it) 🙂

  7. Val

    I think I told you in email some time back that I used to write poetry? I don’t anymore – I think my brain has changed too much to make it happen, and that’s okay. But I do still read other people’s poetry – in moderation. The other thing that I did years ago, though, was start my own poetry magazine (which ran for about three years). The story behind that is simply that when my mum died, a friend’s father had the kindness to make me an audio tape with some of his poetry and some music and I was so touched by his gesture that I wanted to do something similar. It also – and this was possibly the ‘narcissisim’ you mention (lol!) – gave me a chance to publish my poetry as I’d got fed up getting rejection slips. The latter were almost certainly due to my not having even tried to marry my writing style to the publications and, the reason I didn’t, was because I knew we were going to be a bad fit – but I submitted anyway.

    So I started my magazine (which, you might be amused to learn, I called ‘Empathy’!) and for the first issue published poems by almost everyone I knew who even wrote a tiny bit, but I insisted that I edit for typos, grammatical errors, etc. As the time went on, I began approaching other poets, some from small-press books and magazines and later, really well known poets. I think only one person declined to send me work, despite knowing that I mixed amateurs with professionals, unknowns with knowns.
    But the thing is – I rejected some poems sent to me. Not just by the amateurs but also by the professionals (most of whom were fine with it), because they didn’t ‘fit’ with the style of the magazine. But do you know what? Unlike Brian Geiger and others like him, I couldn’t have told you what Empathy’s style actually was, so it would have been impossible for anyone submitting content to know, either. That doesn’t sound very fair, I’m sure – and pretty hit and miss for submissions, but it worked.

    Oh, and the way the magazine was distributed was that I sent out several copies to each contributor and asked them to give them away and that anyone else should photocopy the mag and distribute it themselves because, to me, the whole idea of publishing poetry was to get it read by other people – as many as possible. But writing it? Surely we write (or in my case wrote) it because we can’t NOT write it?

    • Val, what a fascinating story of the path to running a lit mag! I love the title!!!! To think of you taking on all that work. It exhausts me just to imagine it. Right, how could you know what the style is? If you identified it, then it becomes a formula, right? And once it’s a formula, it loses the value of art. Agatha Christie mysteries are, for the most part, formulaic. I don’t really think of them as art, as much as I love them. What would happen if she had eliminated the formula as Elizabeth George did in What Came Before? So sorry for the mystery references–it’s what comes to mind right now.
      Yes, we write because we can’t not write. I agree. So agree.

  8. Oh, I went from smiling to shaking my head to laughing to groaning (along with you) as I read your excellent post. OF COURSE blogging is WRITING!! When I write a story – fiction or nonfiction – for my blog, I use all of my creative abilities to share a sharp fun interesting flash piece. This is no easy matter for any of us. Yet we work on our craft as we share our writing on our blogs.
    Now, I always try to present MY BEST WORK. Ye gad, it is a bit patronizing, isn’t it? that some of these publications insist on our “best work.” What else would they think we’d be submitting… our WORST work? Urgh. Don’t get me started; By the way, I read Brian’s article when Merril posted about it. I enjoyed it and commented on the well-written piece. But I added in my comment that we never write a poem or story to “fit in” a journal/magazine. We write to create, and then send it out to the universe and (I like to think) the universe can decide if she wants to accept it. 🙂

    • I have a hard time getting my mind around that concept: that blogging is writing. Why do I have to persuade myself of that? I guess it’s because of the small amount (if any) of revision I do for a blog post. (Sorry everyone is that’s too obvious haha!)
      It is so patronizing to hear that they want our best work. As if we’re trying to crank out a bunch of c**p and send it in just to annoy them. I agree with you about writing to create and then sending it out, but a mentor recently said to me to try, as a writing constraint, targeting a particular journal that has a word count and fitting it into that word count. I’m a little against that unless a piece comes in 250 words over. Then it’s a challenge to tighten the piece, and it usually gets better from that process.

  9. thanks for the advice, as you say, write it as you believe it, and don’t worry about what others think, just write, have a great weekend, amen

  10. Luanne, I always learn so much from your posts. 🙂 Thank you!
    I am trying to “break into” literary journals. I love writing for the lifestyle magazines, and that helps to pay the bills. But I really want to expand into more creative nonfiction and personal essays. I read and support a lot of litmags. I’ve been submitting some short fiction stories, too. I’m just getting serious about it. It’s a lot of work to submit to litmags—reading, researching, cover letters, bios, etc. Your article in the Review Review was helpful. My goal is to submit more and be published in several of my favorites. You inspire me. I love the WV slag glass!

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