The specific ingredients that make a literary journal “good” are always up for debate, because what constitutes “good” literature is subjective. As it should be.
But just as lit mag editors can do things that will make me think twice (or thrice) about submitting, there are some things they can do that will make me trip over myself trying to click on the “submit” button.
- Publish good stories. To me this means engaging fiction with vivid prose that makes me think about the world or see the world in a new way or challenges my current beliefs.
- Have a beautiful print journal or website. I’ve put a lot of sweat and tears (so many tears) into my work, and I want it to look beautiful. High production values show me that the editors care about what they’re doing.
- Articulate their editorial vision. I know what I’m doing with my fiction, and I feel more comfortable submitting to journals that have a clearly stated, easy to find aesthetic statement or statement of purpose. I like journals that are distinctive, and that stand out from all those “send your best work” type journals.
- Offer payment. A lack of payment isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but I’m definitely willing to overlook certain things (like say your website hasn’t been updated since 1998) if you’re going to pay me for my work. It shows me my work has value.
- Work with me to make my story better. It’s almost impossible to know whether an editor is hands-on or prefers stories already polished to “perfection,” but I definitely prefer the hands-on type. I don’t submit stories until I’ve revised them many many times, but other people see weak points I may not. A willingness to really dig into my stories shows that the editor cares. (This information can be found out from authors previously published by the journal, or by simply asking.)
TL;DR: Is it immediately obvious that the editors care about what they are doing? Can I see that they’ve invested time and effort into the journal?
If the answer is yes, I’ll submit as long as I think we’re an editorial match. If the answer is no, I’m going to pass.
What qualities do you look for in literary journals?