[Editor’s note: Glimmer Train has retired from the publishing world since this interview. You can still find their site here, but they are no longer accepting story submissions. Be sure to check out our list of literary magazines for other places to submit.]
Glimmer Train literary magazine is harder to get into than Harvard. In 2011, Harvard accepted 6.2 percent of applicants. Literary magazines like Glimmer Train often have acceptance rates of under one percent.
So when I asked Linda Swanson-Davies, who founded the journal with her sister in 1990, to chat with me about Glimmer Train and how to get published in literary magazines, I honestly wasn’t expecting her to say yes.
But she did!
I’m so excited to share our conversation with you. I hope it challenges you to consider submitting your work to literary magazines like Glimmer Train, and I hope it provides something of a salve to the soul if your story isn’t chosen. Mine certainly haven’t been!
Enjoy the interview.
Hi Linda. Thanks so much for joining me today! Now, why should writers who are just starting out submit their stories to literary magazines? Why not just pop their stories up on Amazon and make a little money without the chance of rejection?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with popping your stories up on Amazon or anywhere else. (It might be wise to read any fine print, make sure that you still hold the copyright and can, for instance, include the story in your own collection at a later date.)
It is tough to get a piece accepted for publication, and if a person is mostly concerned with a sense of completion and of having spoken one’s piece (especially if you feel you have one important story you need to write) in a potentially public way, posting a story online may be exactly the way to go.
But there are also solid reasons to consider submitting your stories to literary magazines.
If you’re a voracious reader (serious writers are) who’s thrilled by the significant, moving, and artful things words can do, you will likely want to develop skills that enable you to best craft the stories you want to tell, and you will likely want to aim for publication that will reach a wider audience.
Although it’s painful to get a rejection notice for a story you love, it’s pretty thrilling to hear that an editor (who considers hundreds or thousands of stories a year) took some note of your story, and if a story is accepted for publication, it’s an over-the-moon experience for a developing writer. A writer has to be tough enough to bear the inevitable rejections. It’s the only way to have a chance of having your work presented by a well-regarded publication, and read by serious readers.
Agents look to literary magazines to find talented emerging writers. (Their plates are full, too. It’s helpful to be able to read a collection of stories vetted by editors whose taste and opinions they respect.) After each issue of Glimmer Train comes out, we are contacted by agents who’ve read stories they loved and are interested in representing the authors.
If your goal is to publish a book, having first published fiction in literary magazines gives publishers more confidence in the merit and marketability of an author’s work.
When some people hear literary fiction, they think boring fiction. Is literary fiction boring? And how can writers create beautifully written and engaging stories?
Literary fiction can be boring. We only publish writing that is finely written and engaging. We’re all busy (if we’re lucky!)—why waste time reading pretty words that hold no meaning, reveal nothing of significance? That’s actually one of the reasons we started Glimmer Train; too much of the work being published felt finely crafted but completely lifeless. We wanted more.
Glimmer Train seems to be particularly fond of emerging writers? Why do you publish unpublished writers?
These are hard times for writers and publishers. (Are you reading?) Many publishers are playing it safe, opting to publish writers who’ve already been heavily published. Though you can hardly blame them, in some ways, it’s a real loss for readers, and obviously also for writers! There are talented writers out there who have worked and continue to work to create the most gorgeous and meaningful stories they have to tell.
We are continually stunned by the depth, breadth, and beauty of the work new writers submit, and it thrills us to present the very best of them in a handsome physical publication that will persist in the real world.
What are three things an unpublished writer can do to get their first story published in a magazine?
#1 Write a story that moves you, in which something happens, that has characters who are complex enough to feel utterly real so we are pulled into their lives, and they become part of ours.
#2 Read aloud, and think about, every sentence and paragraph. Is it clearly written? Does it make sense? Do all the words serve the story? (Beware clever or unnecessary prose that doesn’t advance the story.)
#3 Send the story out into the world to find its way. If it comes back to you, you can send it elsewhere, or you can revisit it. Is the right character telling the story or would another perspective give it more power? Have you gone far enough—is there something significant that remains hidden? Have faith in the story. Sometimes a piece just needs to brew a bit longer before it can draw breath.
Thank you so much Linda!
One great way to increase your chances of getting published in literary magazines is by reading them. It’s also a good way to support the writing community.
Have you been published in a literary magazine? What do you recommend for writers trying to do the same? Have you been rejected? Share your war stories.
Today, spend some time fine tuning one of your stories, perhaps your practice from Monday’s post, Love at First Sight.
Spend fifteen minutes re-reading and editing it. Ask yourself:
- Does it move you?
- Does something happen?
- Are the characters complex enough?
- Is it clearly written?
- Do all the words serve the story?
Then, share your second draft here in the comments section. And if you share, please keep the community vibrant by commenting on a few pieces by other writers.