Dear Agony Aunt,
Your last column addressed someone working with a journal editor on their story, but I'm not even at that stage. I've written a number of short stories and I'm trying to find a publication that will run them. I'm not having much luck though. How can I appeal to a literary journal editor and how do I even know which one to submit to?
Hi Journal Jeopardy
It's a journal jungle out there, that's for sure. This is a good thing though – there are a lot of exciting new places to publish your stories, as well as the more established journals. For an overview of the Australian journal scene, you can read an article by our very own Seizure Editor-in-Chief over on the Sydney Review of Books website. The Australia Council also lists the journals that it currently funds here (quite a few).
It's important to know your journals. You don't need to subscribe to every one but you do need to be familiar with the publications that you're hoping will publish you. Your local library or writers' centre should have a journal collection for you to leaf through, as will some bookshops. You should save your time (and everyone else's) by only submitting to journals that suit your style and voice. Journals may have different themes from issue to issue but the editorial team usually remains pretty consistent, as does the general tone.
When you do submit your work to a journal, follow the submission guidelines. Journal editors are generally poorly paid – if at all – so make their lives easier. Some journals will only accept submissions from subscribers, or prioritise the submissions of subscribers, or ask a question to see if you're familiar with their work. Be familiar. Why should a journal take your work seriously if you don't treat theirs the same way?
And don't be disheartened by the inevitable rejection. Writers get rejected all of the time; your work may not have been right for that particular journal or may not have fit their publication schedule or plans, but that's the beauty of such a vibrant literary journal scene ... Try, try again.
This whole process is time consuming but it's worth putting in the effort – firstly because it will give you an idea of what other people are writing and publishing at the moment and secondly because literary journals are particularly concerned with community; reading, responding and engaging with the work journals publish and the events they hold are all part of the process.
And on that note, if you are in a position to attend events run by journals (and there are more and more of those) then do – it's a great way to meet editors and other writers and learn about what's happening. This talk at Gleebooks is a great opportunity to bring your questions to not just one, but four, journal bosses.
Want some more bitter pills to swallow? Check out these other Agony Aunt posts
Shelf Snubbed (about having trouble getting into bookstores)
Garage Graveyard (ie what to do with boxes of your own books)
Pantry Procrastinations (or some tips to break your writers' block)
Red Pen Wary (coping with editorial feedback)
I'm Listening (where writers can go to find feedback on their work)