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Volunteer Nathan does not enjoy sifting through lists of journals.

My oh my, it seems there are just as many literary journals as there are books to read. With so many outlets in which to submit our work, how do we decide which ones to focus on? Are we destined to drown in an ocean of journals and quarterlies and reviews and websites?

No. There is a better way. In fact, here are three ways to reduce time spent sifting through submission guidelines. Soon you’ll be honing in on the journals that best fit your style.

Associations. Scan your favorite writers’ bios and take note of where they got started. It might seem amateur-esque or starry-eyed or just plain silly, but it’s not. Within those self serving blips reside useful information for beginning writers. A cursory glance at a few bios on my shelf gives me dozens of names for journals and reviews that publish the stuff I like such as McSweeney’s and n+1 (Dave Eggers and Chad Harbach, respectively). On a smaller scale, I recently saw 3:AM in a bio. If a particular writer inspires you, why not investigate the community he or she comes from?

Word of Mouth. If a friend tells me they have something coming out in Just Made Up Quarterly, you better believe that publication stays on my radar. The more you talk to fellow writers, the more you will learn about what’s out there. Your friends can be like scouts for you, multiplying your eyes and ears and catching far more information as a team than if you go solo. A couple of years ago, my poet friend, A. T. Grant, was living in Minneapolis. We had an email exchange in which we talked about publications, writing and all that. He told me to look up Publishing Genius, a Baltimore based small press, because some folks in the poets circles in Minneapolis had been talking about it. Publishing Genius has been in my purview ever since (see my last blog for proof!) Strength in numbers? No doubt.

Local. Small presses and journals tend to publish local pieces. Lucky us, we live near two major cities, both with tremendous writing communities. DC and Baltimore have great outlets for submitting work, and not just the blind i-don’t-care-about-the-journal-really-i-just-want-to-be-published outlets I mentioned in my introduction. I was playing a show at Adah Rose Art Gallery in Kensington, Maryland, and I saw a small press shared their building. That press ended up being Atticus Books, which hosts an online journal that I have kept my eye on ever since. Earlier last year, I took some classes at Montgomery College, where I learned about the Potomac Review. And now you are reading this blog. Potomac Review features award-winning short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. The journal has an excellent team of editors who select some of the finest local work. Plugging in to your local circles is not only a great way to learn what your town is all about (literarily speaking) but it’s also a great way to get advice and critiques. It’s also fun.

If you pay attention to where your favorite writers submit their work, what journals your friends and colleagues talk about, and what your local scene has to offer, then you can avoid mindlessly sifting through lists from sites like this one or that one. Of course, if that’s your thing, more power to ya (sometimes, there exists a happy medium).

I’d rather spend my time writing.

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