It is time once again for the annual Literary Magazine Rankings for Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry. As explained in more detail below, these rankings are based solely on the number of Pushcart Prizes and Pushcart Special Mentions the magazines have received over the past ten years. They are intended as a guide for determining where writers might submit their work for publication.
Rationale. When I first started submitting my short stories to literary magazines, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was aware that some magazines were more prestigious than others, but I didn’t have a way of evaluating prestige. I subscribed to several (and still do) but choosing where to submit my work was often hit-or-miss until I started tiering. I didn’t invent the idea of tiering submissions, but when I learned of it, I thought it made great sense for me.
Tiering is an aid to simultaneous submissions that groups the best magazines together in the top tier, somewhat less prestigious magazines in the next tier, and so on. It is advisable to submit work to the top tier first, or at any rate within the same tier, so that an acceptance by one, which requires withdrawal from the others, won’t be painful. (If you get an acceptance from a lower-tier magazine while you’re still waiting to hear from a higher-tier magazine, that could lead to a difficult withdrawal. Withdrawal is ethically required, but what if the higher-tier magazine was about to accept the piece?) So, I decided to rank literary magazines—first in fiction, because that’s what I was writing, but later in poetry and nonfiction because many people requested that—to help me decide where to submit. In theory, I would aim toward the top of the list and work my way down until someone finally accepted my story.
Methodology. To create the rankings, I considered looking at the various annual anthologies (Best American Short Stories, O. Henry, and Pushcart) to see what the editors of those volumes considered the best magazines to be. Ultimately, for several reasons, I settled on using only the annual Pushcart Prize anthology. For one thing, it excluded the “slicks”—magazines like The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Harpers—whose prestige is well-known. Those markets are really in a category by themselves, and writers should definitely submit to them if they deem their work suitable for publication in these elite magazines. For another, consideration for inclusion in the Pushcart Prize anthology seemed somewhat more democratic, or at least transparent, than the other options. Although there are Editors-at-Large who nominate for the anthology, every magazine has the opportunity to do so as well, so the Pushcart editors see thousands of entries and can pick from work that has appeared in hundreds of different journals, both in print and online. Finally, when I began ranking poetry and nonfiction magazines, too, it was fortuitous that the Pushcart Prize anthology included those genres. Otherwise, I’d have had to look at separate volumes for each genre and I still preferred the relative fairness of the Pushcart approach. It should be noted that the Pushcart editors have been slow to recognize the quality of online literature, but that has been changing, and quite a few of the honored pieces were first published only in digital form.
Calculations. I decided from the beginning to use a ten-year rolling formula to determine the rankings. It seemed to me that reputations aren’t won or lost in one year, and that the best magazines, the markets where I’d really like to be published, are the ones that have been around awhile and have really established themselves. So, I created a formula that used a fixed-point value for each Pushcart Prize won in each of the ten years and a smaller number of points for each special mention (those are the stories listed at the back of the book as also being worthy of note). The formula adds up all the points and ranks the magazines based on the total. (The total number of points is shown in the far-right column of the ranking.) Several years ago, I adjusted the formula so that prizes and special mentions earned in the last five years are weighted more heavily than those from the first five years of the period. The intention of this adjustment was to recognize the fact that in the digital age, magazines may emerge and be deserving of accolades more quickly than was the case in the past. So, a Pushcart Prize won today gets more points than one earned six years ago. Note, too, that the rankings are as objective as I can make them. The editors of the nominating journals and of the Pushcart Press are exercising their judgment, of course, but I’m just going by the numbers. My rankings don’t take into account how much the magazines pay, or whether they charge for submissions, or how long it takes them to respond. Different writers feel differently about those factors, and so I don’t want to impose my judgment in place of theirs. For a different ranking approach, check out Erika Krause’s Rankings.
Frequently Asked Questions
XYZ Magazine is Closed, so why is it included in the rankings? When I am certain that a magazine has closed, I will include the symbol © next to its name. I think it’s useful for historical purposes to note that, for example, Tin House, was a fine magazine until it shut its doors. Also, some closed magazines still have their archives online or other useful information, so I’ve included links to their websites, even though they’re no longer open for submissions.
What do the other symbols mean? Quite a few magazines decide to take a break from publishing (the pandemic seems to have had that effect on several) but not to shut down entirely. They may say that they are on pause or on hiatus. When I know about it, I’ll mark the magazine with (H). Other magazines have broken website links or websites that haven’t been updated in some time, suggesting that they may have closed. But if don’t know that for sure, I don’t want to declare their death prematurely, so I’ll mark the entry with (?).
It’s a ranking of literary magazines, so why are there some small presses included? Good question. Technically, the Pushcart Prize recognizes the “best of the small presses,” and so stories, essays, or poems published in collections from independent presses frequently win prizes or special mentions, landing them in the mix for the rankings. I think it’s useful to include them in order to draw them to the attention of writers who may be looking for places to submit whole collections.
This endeavor seems like a lot of work. What do you get out of it? As I noted above, I created the first rankings many years ago when I needed guidance on where to submit work. When I started sharing the rankings, the feedback I heard from many people was that the rankings were very useful. I’m happy to provide this service and if people want to make a donation (or buy one or more of my books) to support it, that’s much appreciated.