Over the past few days, several writers have asked about the differences in the stories & poems published by literary and genre magazines. (By genre, I mean science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, etc.) One writer even suggested that the rule for literary magazines is to “tell not show.” Dear me!
As the editor of a women’s literary magazine, “The Gunpowder Review,” published by the Gunpowder Pen Women http://gunpowderpenwomen.wordpress.com I can assure writers that you still must SHOW not tell to get published in most literary magazines. I think the biggest difference I’ve notice as a writer/illustrator is that lit mags tend to not publish genre fiction & illos — whereas genre mags will sometimes publish literary prose & poetry as long as it’s subject appropriate.
Those with a sharp eye will notice the exception: genre poetry. If a sf/f/h/mystery poem tiptoes near enough to mainstream subjects, it has a reasonably good chance of being accepted for publication in a literary mag.
But I must tell you, if a story or poem is well-written, most editors will bend their “rules” and accept an urban fantasy or slightly supernatural mystery or near-future sf piece. And I think genre flash fiction can sneak into literary magazines easier than a 2,000+ word tale. Unfortunately, things like high fantasy, space westerns, vampire/werewolf tales, military sf, etc. are too genre no matter how well-written or short to fit into most lit mags.
Of course there are some editors who refuse to publish anything they view as genre, just as there are some teachers who rarely reward a genre story with a good grade. But even they can have their minds changed. When I took a “Writing the Novel” course as part of my Masters in Professional Writing, the instructor warned me, “You can write fantasy if you want, but it will be hard to earn even a “B” in the course.” I wrote fantasy — and much to the instructor’s credit, he changed his mind and rewarded my novel with an “A.”
So good luck to all you writers out there with writing & submitting your work. Whether you’re a genre or mainstream or literary writer, it’s important to research your markets. And for you sf/f/h/mystery writers who want to see your writing in a lit mag, look for an editor who’s willing to stretch the boundaries of the “literary” magazine label.