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I Read Lit Mags Most Days for a Month—Here’s What I Learned

read lit mags

At the beginning of February, I challenged myself to read selections from one lit mag every day for the entire month. As with most goals, I didn’t end up reading lit mags *every* day, but I did read a sampling. Here’s what I learned from this reading challenge:

Lit mags vary wildly in taste.

There are a lot of lit mags out there, especially ones that publish their selections online. I read stories from more than 15 publications this month, and even among those, there was such a wide range of tastes. From gothic to pop culture to speculative, you can find a lit mag that will satisfy your craving for a particular subject or mood.

Some lit mags aren’t great.

Let’s be honest: Some lit mags are better than others. And no, I’m not just talking about personal taste. Some have lower standards for the stories they select, and some don’t even have adequate proofreading in their published stories.

Reading lit mags helps a TON in deciding where to send your writing.

Most submission guidelines say it, and it’s true—reading stuff the magazine has previously published will give you a much better idea about what type of writing the editors like. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t still try submitting your piece even though it’s not exactly like other pieces you’ve read from the lit mag, but reading published pieces will tell you whether your story is wildly off from the editors’ preferences.

For example, I figured that my story about Logan Paul antagonizing Universe and driving her crazy wouldn’t be a good fit at lit mags that want traditional, honest fiction, even though I enjoyed reading those magazines’ selections.

Reading lit mags helps you find more lit mags.

I didn’t realize this when I started to read lit mags at the beginning of the month, but I actually found other neat publications by reading the author bios of my favorite stories. I figured that if I liked this one story by an author, I’d probably like her other stories, and by extension, I’d probably like the other lit mags that had published her work. Lesson learned: Pay attention to author bios!

Some lit mags are better at social media.

There are a lot of things you look for in a lit mag when you’re submitting your work, especially when you’re just getting started. For me, one of those things is the lit mag’s social media presence. The quality of social media doesn’t necessarily correlate to the quality of published work, but as a newbie writer, I’d prefer to publish with magazines that are going to promote my work for me and help readers find me.

Throughout the month, I tweeted about some of my favorite stories from various lit mags and tagged lit mags in my tweets. I took notice of which publications were quick to respond and engage with my tweets about their content and which didn’t respond. Of course, social media isn’t a deal-breaker when it comes to looking for publications to submit my work to, but it certainly is a consideration.

Site design matters.

Some lit mag websites are just not fun to read on. If the font a lit mag publishes all its stories in is way too small for normal humans to read comfortably, or if its site is difficult to navigate, or if its design looks like a seventh grader in 2004 designed it, it makes it hard for me to focus on reading the work.

Experiencing the effect that a poor web design can have on the reader made me realize that I may not want my work associated with poorly designed sites as a writer. That sounds harsh, but presentation is a big part of how work is perceived. If my work is published on a site that looks like a Russian bot built it, it may reflect poorly on me and my work.

Themed lit mags are the best.

As much as I respect official-sounding names that include “Review” in them, there’s a soft spot in my heart for the lit mags that pick a theme and stick to it across all channels. For example, Cease, Cows picked a nice green cow-filled hill and died on that hill. The website copy, social media, and even its automated response to submissions are cow-themed and punny, and it’s delightful.

Supporting writers and lit mags matters.

Whenever I read a piece that I really enjoyed throughout February, I tweeted it and tagged the writer and lit mag. This simple gesture means a lot to writers—I know because I’ve been on the receiving end. It’s wonderful to hear that someone loved your story or poem or essay, especially if that person is a complete stranger (because it means they didn’t feel obligated to tell the world about your work). And sharing a lit mag’s work helps more readers find that publication and brings writers to its site to contribute.

What’s your favorite lit mag or favorite piece published in a lit mag? Share it with me in the comments!