Below are links to the 2021 Perpetual Folly Literary Magazine Rankings for Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry. Scroll down for a discussion of the rationale and methodology behind the lists.
If you find the lists useful, please consider purchasing one or more of my books.
Rationale. I am pleased to offer the annual Perpetual Folly Pushcart Prize Literary Magazine Rankings for 2021. Some people find the rankings useful when deciding where to submit their creative writing for consideration and publication. That’s certainly how the list came into being in the first place. About fifteen years ago—honestly, I’ve lost track—I was writing a lot of short stories and had no idea where to send them. The idea of a tiering system, in which writers would send to the top magazines first and then work their way down a list, made a lot of sense to me, but what were the top magazines? I looked for lists, but I didn’t find anything that worked for my purposes. So I made my own.
Methodology. In creating the rankings, I settled on the annual Pushcart Prize anthology as a proxy for quality, and I reasoned that the number of awards over some period of time would be more accurate than looking at just a single year. I settled on ten years as the period I would use and began the arduous task of gathering data from the ten volumes for those years, plugging that data into a formula I created to award points to a magazine for winning a “prize” and a smaller number of points for a “special mention.” Some readers complained that this formula put newer magazines at a disadvantage, a complaint that I took to heart in adopting a new formula several years ago that put more weight on prizes and special mentions during the last five years.
I’m the first to admit that there are flaws in this approach. One such flaw is that there seems to be a bias among the Pushcart Prize editors against online magazines. This has clearly been the case, but it’s a bias that seems to be eroding. Each year there are more online magazines that make the list.
Another flaw is that the formula doesn’t take into account a good many other factors, like response time to submissions, payment to contributors, circulation, etc. All true. These are things a writer should look into, and there are services like Duotrope.com that provide that information. On the other hand, the rankings as they exist are as objective as I can make them, in the sense that my own judgments aren’t involved. For me, the rankings are simply about data. To the extent there is subjectivity involved, it’s all in the hands of the Pushcart Prize editors.
Observations and Notes: In creating the lists this year, a number of things jumped out at me that may serve to answer questions that arise. In no particular order, here they are:
- Both Tin House and Glimmer Train earned points in this year’s rankings, even though both magazines ceased publication last year. This is because the 2021 Pushcart Prize volume recognizes work that was published in 2019, and the rankings also reflect this. Tin House and Glimmer Train published their final issues in that year, and so work published in those issues was eligible to be considered.
- Those magazines aren’t the only “closed” magazines on the lists. I don’t remove such magazines from the rankings because I see a value in keeping an eye on how other magazines stack up against them. Also, sometimes magazines come back to life, as Story did in 2019, winning its first points in many years and reappearing in the rankings. So, if I know a magazine has closed, I will mark it with the symbol ©. If the magazine appears to only be on hiatus, I don’t mark it as being closed, especially if its website is still active. If a website is broken or has disappeared or I just don’t know what the status of the magazine is, I might place a question mark next to it on the list: (?).
- The Pushcart Prize editors sometimes make mistakes. For example, one of this year’s prize winners appeared to be nonfiction because it was clearly prose, but it wasn’t labeled as being fiction. But reading the piece suggested to me that it was actually a short story, not an essay, so I contacted the author who confirmed that it was, in fact, not nonfiction. So I included the points earned by the magazine that published the story in the fiction list.
- The rankings include small presses in addition to literary magazines. This is because small presses also are eligible to nominate pieces from the books they publish and sometimes those pieces are selected for recognition. They aren’t magazines, but I include them in the list anyway.
- There are a lot of newcomers to the lists this year, especially in poetry, where prizes were awarded to eleven magazines that hadn’t been on the list before and special mentions went to twelve new-to-the-list magazines.
Feedback welcome. As always, if there are dead or incorrect links, or if magazines have ceased publication (remember, those marked with © are closed), please let me know and I’ll make corrections.
Finally, if you find these lists useful, consider purchasing one or more of my books—from the publishers or your bookseller of choice. Thank you.