I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I even thought about pitching it around to various places, but in the end I think my blog is the best place for it. Yes, how to read a lit mag. It should be simple. And it is! But I have a few tips that I think are valuable for all readers and writers.
Literary magazines are a curious beast. All of us short story writers are contributing to them like mad. But very few actually read them. I’ve written before about some great lit mags you can support that cost only a few dollars a month. The problem is, you end up with a TBR pile that’s miles high and you’ve no idea how to tackle it.
I can’t help you with your TBR pile. But I can offer some advice about how you can be an awesome ally of your friends and colleagues (and other complete strangers) who do get published in your favourite short story literary magazines.
(Updated with a snazzy video if you can’t be bothered reading!)
Read the stories
I know this is obvious, but it can often be the hardest part! If you do go to the trouble of buying a lit mag, whether in print or online, or even if it’s a free publication, do make some time to read it.
This year I tried (and failed) to read a short story a day. On the rare occasions where I manage to read a short story a day for a sustained length of time, I’m definitely a better human being. Short stories are little postcards into another world. And who doesn’t love postcards?
So whether it’s on your commute or over a sandwich, coffee, or banoffee pie, take a little time to read a story. It doesn’t have to be every day, but at least a few times a week. Your brain, your creativity, your soul will thank you for it.
Find the authors on social media
If you read a story in a lit mag, or listen to an author on a podcast, or read a book, or get exposed to anyone’s creative output in any way – find them on social media. Some really great authors who have sold thousands of books only have 600 followers on Twitter and 200 likes on Facebook. It can be so disheartening as a writer – you know that people like you, that they engage with your writing, and yet they won’t engage with you.
Whenever I start to read a lit mag, the very first thing I do, before I even read any of the stories, is I turn to the author bios, find all of the contributors on Twitter or Facebook, and follow them. Okay, if it turns out their story is awful or they’re a terrible misogynist or something, then I can always unfollow them. But that first step is a shining light of recognition – thank you for sending out your story. Thank you for letting it see the light of day.
Thank authors you like
When a story really blows me away, or even only just mildly blows me away, I take the time to Tweet the author and the journal to let them know.
Hello @cafenowhere ! Loved your story in @FiresideFiction. I had equal parts anxiety and tears
— Nat Newman (@lividlili) March 21, 2018
I know from my own experience that any sort of online compliment means a thousand thousand times what it says. Because if one person has taken the time to say they liked it, you hope that there must be many more who read it but didn’t get in touch.
I don’t want to pressure you or anything, but first of all – you should definitely be reading lit mags!
And second of all, if you do, acknowledge the hard and usually unpaid work of the people who contributed. Whether that’s the artist, the editor, the agony aunt page, the publisher, the binder – anybody.
If you feel like you got even a tiny modicum of value from the journal or a story, find someone to pass on your gratitude to. I can’t tell you how much it means. We writers get so little traction – we’re just writing into a void sometimes. Little gestures mean so much.
So hey, love a writer today. It might be the start of something beautiful.
@VaughanStanger Nice story in @shoreinf. Just read it and really enjoyed it!
— Nat Newman (@lividlili) May 6, 2018