Will I get a book deal if I publish in many literary magazines?
Question: Will I get a book deal if I publish in many literary magazines?
Answer: Every little bit helps.
Publishing with a literary magazine won’t get you a book deal, but it can help, especially if you try to publish with a university publisher; in the case of a university press, the more prestigious the magazine, the better.
There are many reasons to publish your work in literary magazines. The best explanation, of course, is to get feedback, first from editors and then from readers. Nothing is better than getting a reader of your work to contact you, saying how much they loved the piece and related to it. Ok, a book deal might be better. Will you get a book deal if you publish your work in many literary magazines? The short answer is maybe.
Many years ago, some writers (literary writers) worked their way up through the ranks of publishing by going from lit mag to lit mag and showing literary circles something about writing. At one time, a literary magazine (many, many literary magazines) represented a writing circle. Some were large circles like The New Yorker that agents read, and some were small circles like a university magazine for students. Either way, when you were being accepted by a lit mag back, it was like being on display to the whole literary circle of that lit mag.
Some of those circles were very elite. For instance, a literary magazine like Ploughshares would have academics (editors from university press houses) and agents or even publishers looking for the next great writer. Things have changed thanks to the internet, but many literary circles still exist.
Today the internet has allowed just about anyone to start a literary magazine. Many magazines may have very few readers of that magazine and no reader’s circle. Other literary magazines get many more readers than those elite literary circles, but only some select publishers, editors, and agents are reading those magazines. You might get published in an online literary magazine with tons of readers, but those readers need to be more influential in the writing industry or scholarly circles.
In the past, it worked like this: a writer gets published in a university literary magazine. Other editors read that magazine. They see the writer and like their work. The editors then might even ask that writer to publish with them. Now said writer is published in 4 or 5 literary magazines. A university press editor, who reads all those magazines, sees the work and calls the writer. The editor knows of 4 or 5 published short stories that would make a great collection. He talks to the writer and publishes the collection. An agent sees the group (may be sent to them). He likes it and then shops for a book deal for the writer. Boom, the writer has a book deal. It’s hypothetical. It is an idea of how things could have worked back in the day. None of it is a requirement. Writers were getting published back then without lit mags, of course. Just an example of what MIGHT have happened.
Now with so many literary magazines out there, it is possible to publish in 100s of literary magazines and never get noticed by a publisher. There are just too many magazines. As credits, a bio, and readership go, those magazines might be great, but getting those agents and editors to read your work is a no-go. They need to be reading those magazines.
The old circles still exist. Those magazines are on our Top 50 literary magazines list. It is one of the reasons we built the list. Those magazines do have editors and university press editors and agents reading them. For instance, all those magazines have been in Best American Short Stories and Best American Poetry. It shows you at least two editors are reading these magazines.
If you could manage several or even a few publications in great literary magazines, it puts you in a great place to be recognized by editors and some agents. It doesn’t mean you will get a book deal, but you never know. Usually, the better the magazine you publish, the more editors and agents read your work. Sometimes this is the case, but it gives you a better chance.
For everyone out there wanting to yell at me about this article, know this is a hypothetical about some theories behind publishing with literary magazines. There are many ways to make a book deal, and nothing is written in stone. It is just an observation from someone with about 20 years of experience working in and around literary magazines.
If you are interested in publishing with literary magazines, we have 100s listed on our site.