Some writers make the big mistake of writing a story for a specific literary magazine. I don’t just mean writing a story that we later plan to submit for a magazine. I mean assuming we completely understand the magazine’s theme, and writing a piece we think the editors will like. I’ve come to learn that this never works out in our favor. It’s much more effective to write for self-expression. Let’s talk about a few reasons why.

You Can’t Get Inside the Editor’s Mind

I recently had a discussion with an editor about this issue. She said it’s frustrating when writers mention that they’ve written a story specifically for the magazine. Even if it’s not mentioned, she said the editors know when the writer is attempting to impress them. Often these submissions are rejected. They think they know what we want, she said, but it just doesn’t work. 

Why doesn’t it work? The biggest problem is that the writing feels artificial and nongenuine. Consequently, metaphor becomes unmeaningful and forced.

One specific example is from a submission to our magazine’s chaos themed issue. The writer claimed that the piece was “right on the mark” for the magazine’s chaos theme. As a result of the writer’s attempt to fit the bill, the piece was indeed chaotic–in the worst ways. Verbose language filled every sentence. Events were difficult to follow and carelessly paced. Sentences were a syntactic mess. It was so focused on trying to match the theme that it wasn’t meaningful nor well-crafted.

On that note, check out Carve Magazine’s list of top mistakes to watch out for when submitting work.

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Writing is Subjective

You’ll likely notice a general theme or aesthetic particular to a magazine, but determining which stories fit the theme is subjective. I’ve spoken with editors who have disagreed on which stories to accept. Choosing the stories that best encompass the magazine’s aesthetic already requires discussion among the magazine’s editors. You can’t assume that you can write a story following an exact formula for appeasing the editors.

Of course, you should regularly read literary magazines and take note of aesthetics. That’s how you’ll know which magazines have a similar aesthetic to your own writing.

Duotrope.com is an excellent resource for writers submitting to literary magazines. You can browse hundreds of literary publications and find the one that best fits your interests.

But how can you determine a magazine’s aesthetic? One great example of a broad literary aesthetic is Witness magazineWitness focuses on the modern writer as a witness of his or her time. This includes cultural, historical, and other deeply personal experiences. The purpose of the magazine is to publish a work based on its connection with human experiences. Other magazines, like Black Warrior Review, value other literary qualities such as experimental narratives.

The good news is there’s something out there for everyone.

Write What You Like

Writing is self-expression. In fact, the best writing is self-expression. If we treat writing like an editor’s dinner order we need to fulfill, we won’t put forth our best work. Our best work comes from within us. It comes from what we care about and want to tell the world.

Trust your own aesthetics and write the story in your way. Then, do some reading and find the magazine that favors similar themes. Editors appreciate honest work that genuinely shares their magazine’s themes.

If you’re not sure how to revise your piece before submission, check out my article about writing like an editor for some tips.

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If a writer submits a story to a magazine that they hope is a good fit, that’s fine. But if a writer tries to create a story to fit a certain magazine’s aesthetics, it isn’t as effective. Instead, we should write for the sake of expressing ourselves and discussing issues that matter to us. We’ll find the right magazine for our piece, rather than trying to create the right piece for a magazine.

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