A successful literary magazine is made up of more than just good writing. It has a good concept, it’s attractive to read, and it has a compelling look and feel. I remember as a teenager and aspiring writer, I was taking the ferry from Vallejo to San Francisco and I saw a woman reading Story Magazine. The title, the masthead and the simple pen-and-ink cover illustration of a skeleton sitting by a campfire were like magic. I knew that that was a literary magazine I wanted to read (and where I wanted to submit my work).
Later, I would be managing editor for San Francisco State University’s Transfer magazine. I also did the photography for the front cover. As a sometimes-still-aspiring writer, I’ve had a checkered history with literary magazines. But lately, I have been looking through several lit magazines self-published with Blurb. And the best ones give me that same feeling I had looking at Story magazine all those many years ago—the aesthetics make me want to dig in:
First up is Beyond Ourselves, a print publication attached to the website Seven Scribes, “a space for Black and allied young writers and artists.” This fiction anthology boasts an impressive range of contributors who’ve put their work on the pages of Zyzzyva, The National Book Review, Ebony, and more. Illustrations by Ian Moore introduce each story in a powerful collection that draws its theme from “worlds outside of our own.”
Also, aspiring writers should take note: Most of these publications accept submissions.
The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, by the Retired Beekeepers of Sussex, is likely to confuse apiarists, but fans of Sherlock Holmes will recognize this as a nod to the famous fictional detective. Now in its fourth issue, The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, takes Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation as a point of departure for stories, essays, poetry, and illustration, that often take an LGBTQ spin (Holmes was, after all, a confirmed bachelor—think about it). Issue 4 has the theme of Holmes’s retirement and what the brilliant detective might do when he’s no longer hunting Moriarty. It’s a slim volume, but elegantly designed.
13th Floor Magazine is a project out of the venerable University of Nebraska Omaha Writer’s Workshop. It’s a hefty collection of short prose and poetry, accompanied by photography, painting, and illustration. While there’s no set theme for 13th Floor Magazine, the editors have pulled together work loosely around the ideas of struggle and renewal.
Lastly is FictionWar Magazine, a compelling mix of online and offline, competition and craft. Seasonal Fiction Wars give writers a prompt, in this case it was the phrase, “I can’t leave her now, she’s already gone.” Writers have three days to create their masterpieces. This gives the stories an incredible immediacy and tension, as no work stretches over a single page. Each story faces a minimalist, graphical work of art, giving each story a space for visual balance and reflection.
Got a favorite we didn’t mention? Let us know.