What Exactly IS a Lit Journal?
If you’re writing in shorter forms – poetry, short stories, essays – you might struggle to find an audience for your work. For most readers, the form we are used to is the book – the novel, or the collection. We tend to be less acquainted with the literary journal, because it is a relatively niche form – a ‘selection box’ of shorter forms that can feel more ‘for writers’ than ‘for readers’ but in practice is where many writers first make their voices known.
A literary journal, which is a fancy term for a magazine-length publication consisting of creative work, is a space of discovery, a sort of more detailed ‘What’s Hot and Not’ list. The Irish writers we’ve been most excited over these past few years – Sally Rooney, Rob Doyle, Oisin Fagan, Sinead Gleeson, Nicole Flattery, Emilie Pine, Colin Barrett – didn’t emerge out of nothing. They were writing, and submitting, shorter bits of work to journals and competitions, earning something of a name for themselves before a book arrived, often earning the kind of name that led to a book deal in the first place. Louise Kennedy is one of the recent additions to this list; the accolades for her short fiction have led to a two-book deal with Bloomsbury.
It’s not always an appropriate fit and the work published may not be the stuff that goes into an eventual book – for example, Rooney published poetry in The Stinging Fly and an essay about debating in The Dublin Review, rather than the fiction she’s now best known for, while Gleeson’s essay in Banshee appears (in a slightly revised version) in her stunning collection Constellations. Sometimes literary journals are ideal for trying out new forms, rather than sticking to what you know – at Banshee we have published essays from poets, short stories from journalists, flash fiction from academics. Trying to find a home for shorter pieces of work doesn’t need to be about building towards something bigger – at least not immediately. It might simply be about finding a space for pieces that are not book-length.
How do I find the right Lit Journal to submit to?
There are a lot of literary journals and magazines out there and deciding which to submit to can be tricky. It’s important to remember that these are organisations not subject to vetting, so sometimes you will get dodgy folks, but mostly these are easy to spot.
Generally, submissions to a journal/magazine shouldn’t cost you money, or at least shouldn’t cost you more than it would to post a submission (say $3 US) –some journals charge this as an admin fee, though you may well choose to resist this. Competitions do work differently, but be sceptical of anything over £20 (UK) or anything with an entry fee that does not come with a cash prize.
Every journal or competition will have its own particular editorial voice and taste, and this means that even a super-brilliant piece might not find a home if it’s not quite a fit for the people involved. This is a normal thing, so be aware of it – with competitions, look at who is judging the work. With journals, look at past issues or excerpts – often these will be available online. There’s definitely room for surprise here, though.
Looking at what’s actually available in shops – like Dublin’s Books Upstairs or The Winding Stair – can be very useful. I’d also suggest looking at poet Angela T Carr’s blog – www.angelatcarr.wordpress.com – which includes a poet-centric submissions list every month but is fantastically handy for writers generally.
How do I make my work as good as it can be?
Get feedback. This might be from a single pal or from a writers’ group, but let others – ideally others who are also writers and/or big readers who know how to provide useful criticism – take a look at your work before you send it out.
Don’t send your work out immediately. It’s really tempting to use a submissions deadline as a writing deadline, but try to set your personal first-draft deadline long before that, and give yourself the chance to revisit what you’ve written.
Know your own strengths and weaknesses. We all have them, as writers. Make a list of the things you need to be aware of when in revision/edit mode – it might be to do with over-describing things, or starting too soon, or going on too long, or over-explaining the dialogue… and then pay attention.
Read your work aloud. It feels cringey but it can help you see things you miss on the page.
How do I stay motivated?
You might get a No. Actually, chances are you’ll get a No. Most journals, competitions etc get far more ‘potential’ pieces than they can say Yes to.
It’s not the end of the world to get a No. It’s an opportunity to think about where else might give you a Yes. If you feel you’ve done your best to make a piece work, send it out elsewhere as soon as you can. If not, take a moment and set a deadline for when you’d like it to be ready to go out into the world again.
Start working on new things once you have work out there. Keep yourself moving forward, not looking back.
(c) Claire Hennessy
About Banshee Press and Literary Journal:
Banshee Press is a small Irish independent publisher established in 2014, responsible for a literary journal of the same name as well as a select list of books.
Banshee is a print journal of exciting, accessible, contemporary writing from Ireland and around the world. The journal is published twice a year – in spring and autumn – and features short stories, flash fiction, poetry, personal essays and interviews. Our first issue launched in September 2015, and our most recent is #8, the spring/summer 2019 issue.
Banshee Press is run and edited by three writers in their early 30s:
Laura Cassidy | @ljcassidy