What Is a Literary Journal?

A literary journal is a periodical that publishes literature. Also called a Literary Magazine, they might publish poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, visual art, interviews, reviews, or other. They may publish all of the above, but most tend to focus on a couple genres.

Each literary journal has a preference on how they want submissions sent in to them. In order to follow their guidelines and ensure your submission is not rejected on a technicality, it’s important to understand some of the common terms used. Below you’ll find some of the most common terms associated with literary journals, but if you think something should be added, let us know!


Genre: category or classification (e.g. fiction, poetry, nonfiction, etc).

Fiction: imagined, or created.

Creative Nonfiction: Creative nonfiction is also sometimes called narrative nonfiction or literary nonfiction. Often shortened to CNF, creative nonfiction uses creative writing techniques (sometimes drawn from other genres) to tell true, or factually accurate narratives (to the best of the author’s ability). If your piece has a heavy research component, some journals may ask that you included a works cited page, though it is rare for sources to be incorporated into the text with creative nonfiction in the same way as other nonfiction such as journalism or academic writing.

Blind Submissions: These are submissions where your contact information cannot be seen by the editors or readers. This form of anonymity can help reduce bias during the review process.

Simultaneous Submissions: Submitting the same piece to multiple places at once. (e.g. If you submit a piece to Journal A and Journal B, and Journal B decides to publish your piece, it is important that you immediately inform Journal A about your piece no longer being available.)

Multiple Submissions: Submitting several difference pieces to the same journal. Many journals will allow multiple submissions if they adhere to the total word count limits, and other submission guidelines (e.g. submitting multiple pieces in the same .doc)

Previously Published: Though it seems self explanatory, different journals may have different criteria on what is considered previously published. Most commonly, if the piece is on a private blog or website and cannot be accessed without a password, it is not considered published. If, however, it has been posted to a Facebook page without privacy settings set up to maximum, or it has been posted for critique on a writer’s website that the public can access, it is likely considered to be previously published. If you are unsure if your piece is previously published, you can query (ask) the journal what their specific criteria are.

Formatting: Many journals will specify how they want pieces formatted, but unless specified, a good rule of thumb is a standard font like Times New Roman, 12 pt, double spaced. Poetry should not be double spaced unless the format is intentional as part of the piece.

Manuscript Format: This is a good rundown of what manuscript format looks like. It is more common to see this requirement for larger publications like novels, however, some literary journals may specify this as a preference. NOTE: manuscript format by default includes the author’s name/contact information, which will need to be stripped from the document itself if the journal’s guidelines require blind submissions.

Masthead: This is where you’ll find who runs the journal, magazine, or newspaper. Different journals may have different needs or focuses, but some common titles include editor-in-chief (the person who owns, or runs the journal), managing editor (the person managing the day-to-day activities of the journal), genre editor (an editor assigned to a particular genre, such as poetry, or nonfiction), and reader (someone who helps sift through all the submissions and provide feedback or recommendations to the editors). Other titles exist, but these are likely the most common to run across.

Mission Statement: Not all journals will have a clear-cut mission statement, but if they do, this will be what outlines or describes the purpose and goals of the journal as a whole. This will be the driving force for the journal’s existence.

Cover Letter: For the purpose of literary journal submissions, this should be short. No more than a couple sentences or so (it’s fine to add more if its relevant or necessary). Sometimes the journal will ask you to include a short biographical statement, but likely will not specify much else for your cover letter. Keep it simple, professional, and concise. Be sure to include the names of the correct editors where possible (If not available, a simple “Dear editors” will do). It’s always nice to know that a submitter has done their research on the journal.


Dear [Name of appropriate editor],

Thank you for taking the time to consider my piece for inclusion to [Name of Journal]. I hope you find it to be a good fit.


[Your Name]

Bio: [Bio]

Biographical Statement (“Bio”): This is a short description informing the readers who you are. A good rule of thumb is to write this in the third person and keep it at or under 50-75 words unless it is specified to do otherwise. Your bio can include previous publications, your profession, or even your hobbies. The key point is to keep it concise and professional, but personal.

Submittable: A submission manager. Apart from email, this is the most common way to submit work to literary journals. Submittable allows you to maintain a user account and keep track of all your submissions. In some circumstances, you may send or receive messages to/from the journal regarding your submission. You will be able to see the status of submissions and will know that it has been received.

Submission Tracker: A document, Excel spreadsheet, or easily accessible notebook is recommended to keep track of all your submissions that have been sent in through email or submission manager other than Submittable. This is so that you do not lose track of any submissions, and you can notify journals quickly in the event that one of your simultaneously submitted pieces is accepted.

Reading fee: A small reading fee (around $3) is common and often used to pay for things like Submittable, or other fees associated with the journal. The only time a higher fee would be acceptable is if it is for a contest submission in which the journal will likely have rewards or winnings that this fee goes towards.

Query: To ask a question. This is usually done by email these days.