With all the recent changes in publishing, there’s been increased moaning about how hard it is to score a book deal—especially as a fiction writer without an author platform. We agree; it’s not easy. You need talent, a great book proposal (natch), perseverance, and also the luck to land on the right desk at the right time. But there’s something else that is often overlooked, something that can help your chances of being noticed and signed by an agent or publisher: publication in a literary magazine.
Sure, The New Yorker and Harpers publish short stories, mostly from established writers (though that shouldn’t stop you from trying). But what we’re talking about here are the many well-respected literary mags that pride themselves on showcasing short fiction from all sorts of writers, magazines like Glimmer Train, Chicago Review, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, Tinhouse, and Zyzzyva. McSweeney’s Quarterly trumpets the lovely philosophy that they’re “committed to publishing exciting fiction regardless of pedigree.” There are many more to choose from, including a wealth of regional options, from The Seattle Review to the South Dakota Review.
Yes, most literary magazines are small in circulation and have little (if any) money to pay you. But publication in one ups your literary cred significantly. Remember, these mags are used as scouting grounds for young, hungry agents and editors looking to make their mark. Think about it: You’re new at an agency or publishing house, and you dream of discovering an unknown writer and signing him or her to a book contract before anyone else does. Where’s a good place to look? The pages of these magazines.
So even if you’re knee-deep in your novel, consider whether you have a short story that you can polish to a high shine and start shopping around. If you’re able to get it published, you just might get a call from an agent trying to pitch you, rather than the other way around.