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The Dreaded Sample Issue


“Be sure to read one of our back issues to get a feel for what kind of writing we like!” How many times have we freelance writers encountered that awful phrase? While it makes sense to understand the tone of a magazine before submitting work, buying back issues at roughly $5 to $10 a pop, and sometimes more, is not a good strategy for most of us in the financially unstable trade of the written word.

Illustration of writer putting money into slot machine

“There is plenty for freelance writers to read without having to constantly shell out money…” Illustration by Josh Quick

Thankfully, there are some literary magazines thoughtful enough to provide free sample issues or articles online for aspiring writers to peruse. For those of you who are tired of having to choose between buying a back issue of a literary magazine and having a dinner that consists of something more substantial than instant noodles, I have compiled a list of paying magazines with ample online content to help with targeted submissions. As an added bonus, all the magazines on my list accept unsolicited submissions online with no reading fee. And all of them use, you guessed it, Submittable.

First on the list is The Sun. With a circulation of more than 70,000, The Sun is a well-regarded, well-paying black and white literary magazine that accepts nonfiction, fiction, and poetry either by mail or through Submittable. In addition to offering a sample of each of their submission categories, The Sun provides current and archived articles on their website under their “Read” tab. One major drawback to this publication is that the editors strongly discourage simultaneous submissions. Still, for the amount of free content they provide in conjunction with generous payment for contributors, an exclusive submission may be worth a chance.

Another literary magazine with plentiful sample articles is Virginia Quarterly Review, a publication of the University of Virginia. Nonfiction, fiction, and poetry can be found under their “Contents” tab. It is also possible to read select work from their current issue and back issues. Keep in mind there is a short reading period for this competitive and lucrative market. Thankfully, simultaneous submissions are permitted.

If you’re looking for another paying college literary journal that accepts free submissions through Submittable, try Copper Nickel from the University of Colorado Denver. To get a feel for the writing style their editors prefer, visit the “Featured Posts” section, where you will find plenty of poems and stories to read. Pay attention to their reading periods, and feel free to submit simultaneously.

Are you a poet who wants to make sure everybody knows it? Submit to Poetry and Rattle through your Submittable account. Both magazines are open to a wide variety of poetic forms and pay well for accepted work. Look for grant opportunities at Poetry, which are also offered through Submittable. Can’t get enough poetry? Rattle holds both weekly and monthly paying poetry contests with no entry fee. Check out their Poets Respond® and Ekphrastic Challenges. Frequent contests lead to faster response times, which is something we freelancers greatly appreciate.

Let’s not forget the big kahuna of the literary world: The New Yorker. Although this market is highly competitive, The New Yorker accepts online submissions without a reading fee, which makes the almost inevitable rejection hurt less than it would if you had paid for postage. Fiction may be submitted to The New Yorker via mail or email, but poetry must be submitted through our friend Submittable. The New Yorker allows online readers who are not subscribers to access a limited number of free articles per month, but you can probably find issues of the magazine at your local public library in the periodical section or through the electronic magazine platform RBdigital.

Think literary magazines are just for adults? Think again! Children should also be exposed to high-quality literary and genre fiction, which you can write and submit to Cricket Magazine. Founded in 1973, Cricket has been delighting children with prose, poetry, art, and activities for decades. Targeted at children ages nine through fourteen, Cricket accepts submissions for their various categories year round and often has submission calls. One free sample issue is provided on their website and back issues are available in many public library systems. Cricket Media also accepts submissions for their literary magazines for younger children: Babybug for ages six months through three years, Ladybug for ages three through six, and Spider for ages six through nine. For nonfiction articles on themed topics, check out their science magazines Ask (ages 7-10) and Muse (ages 9-14). A sample copy is provided online for each of these titles as well.

Finally, for those of you with a burning desire to write a full-length romance novel, Harlequin and their digital-first imprint Carina Press accept unagented, unsolicited submissions. Okay, so Harlequin and Carina Press aren’t magazines, but they are paying markets that accept work through Submittable. Email subscribers to Harlequin may download one free sample e-book in each of their romance categories. Carina Press also has a limited number of free sample books which can be read online. Be on the lookout for anthology and novella submission calls from Carina Press, especially if you aren’t keen on writing a 50,000+ word novel.

Between free articles online and literary magazine subscriptions at your local public or college library system, there is plenty for freelance writers to read without having to constantly shell out money for back issues. Understanding a magazine’s style and intended audience is important, but so is free access to sample content, not to mention free online submissions. Big name writers with big bucks to match are the unfortunate exception in our line of work. So come on! We’re not asking for a free year’s worth of subscriptions. All we’re asking is to see a sample issue of your magazine so we can figure out what you want without going broke. And then, maybe if this business turns out to be lucrative, we might just become regular subscribers.

Sunset author photo
E.J. LeRoy (Guest Blogger)

E.J. LeRoy is a freelance writer, poet, and aspiring novelist who is a big fan of Submittable. Recently, LeRoy’s speculative short story, “Babel of Silence,” was published in ON TIME, an anthology from Transmundane Press. For more information, visit the author’s website at https://ejleroy.weebly.com.