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

Each literary journal has a preference on submission guidelines. In order to follow their requirements and ensure your submission is not rejected on a technicality, it’s important to understand some of the common terms used.


GENRE : Category or classification (e.g. fiction, poetry, nonfiction, etc).

FICTION : Imagined or created narrative.

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 factually accurate narratives. If a piece has heavy research components, some journals may ask to include 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 SUBMISSION : Submissions where contact information cannot be seen by editors or readers. This form of anonymity can help reduce bias during the review process.

SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSION : 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 that your piece is no longer 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.

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 which cannot be accessed without a password, it is not considered published. However, if it has been posted on a public domain website like Facebook or an open access writer’s website, it would likely be considered previously published. If you are unsure if your piece is previously published, you can query the journal what their specific criteria are.

FORMATTING : Many journals will specify how they want pieces formatted. 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 : See here for a comprehensive example. It is more common to see this requirement for larger publications like novels; however, some literary journals may specify this as a preference.

MASTHEAD : Staff information regarding who runs the journal, magazine, or newspaper. Different publications may have different needs or focuses; however, 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.
Reader : Someone who assists with sifting through all submissions and provides feedback or recommendations to the editors.

MISSION STATEMENT : The driving thematic or ideological force behind the purpose and goals of a publication as a whole. Not all publications will have a clear-cut mission statement. See our about section for TAHOMA WEST’s mission statement.

COVER LETTER : For the purpose of literary journal submissions, this should be between 250-400 words. Occasionally, the journal will ask to include a short biographical statement but likely will not specify much else for a cover letter. Keep it simple, professional, and concise. Addressing the letter to the editor(s) in question is preferred; however, a simple “To Whom It May Concern” will suffice when necessary.

BIOGRAPHICAL STATEMENT (BIO) : 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 specified to do otherwise. Your bio can include previous publications, your profession, or even hobbies. The key point is to keep it concise and professional, yet personal.

SUBMITTABLE : Apart from email, this is the most common way to submit work to literary journals. Submittable allows you to maintain a user account to monitor the status of your submissions. In some circumstances, you may send or receive messages to/from the journal regarding your submission.

SUBMISSION TRACKER : For use in the case of a simultaneous submission. A document, Excel spreadsheet, or easily accessible notebook to keep track of all submissions that have been sent through email or a submission manager other than Submittable. This enables you to quickly identify which publications to notify 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 services like Submittable, and other fees associated with the publication. A higher fee may occur in the case of a contest submission in which the journal will have rewards or winnings.