What It’s Like Volunteering for a Literary Magazine

Literary magazines, journals, and presses are run by a team of readers, editors, and social media experts, most of whom are volunteers. I am fortunate to be a member of one of these literary magazines called Fractured Lit.

Fractured Lit is a flash and micro fiction-based magazine. They publish new stories online weekly, and they also host contests. Back in 2020, I had a story published with them, so I’ve kept up with them ever since then. About a year and a half ago, I applied for a reader position at Fractured Lit and was accepted. I also had the pleasure of being a reader-in-residence for SmokeLong Quarterly last year.

Credit: Fractured Lit

Some Background

A reader at a literary magazine is usually the first person to read the submissions in the queue. Readers read the pieces, vote, and decide which pieces should move on to the next reading stage. There are usually multiple stages a submission goes through before it’s either accepted or ultimately rejected for publication. As you can imagine, the number of submissions that make it to the final editor becomes less and less as it moves through the reading levels. This just illustrates how difficult it can be to get a story, poem, essay, etc. published. Multiple readers/editors have to 1) like your story, 2) decide there’s enough room in the publication schedule, printed magazine, etc. for your piece, and 3) determine that it fits aesthetically with their magazine.

Reading for a literary magazine has made me more appreciative of my past publications. At Fractured Lit, I read 10-15 submissions a week, with some of these submissions containing 1-3 flash pieces. And I’m just one member of a team of many initial readers. Literary magazines receive a slew of submissions during reading periods (Fractured Lit is open year-round), so the likelihood that a piece gets accepted for publication is extremely low when you think about the sheer numbers and the overall acceptance/editorial process.

What I Look For When I Read

A lot of people ask what makes me decide if a piece should move on to the next stage. Here are some things I look for in these 1,000 word (or fewer) stories:

  1. The story needs to hook me within the first 2 sentences.
  2. The story must have a beginning, middle, and end (something that’s very hard to do in flash and micro. Read about why and the elements of flash here).
  3. The story must have a distinct main character with needs, wants, desires, motives, etc.
  4. There must be action in a story (I often read submissions where a character is just standing and thinking, and nothing actually happens).
  5. The flash or micro must have a reason for being written. There must be a deeper meaning, something the reader should take away from the story. It cannot simply be an anecdote.

Of course, every item on the list above has exceptions, but these are my general list of expectations for a strong flash piece.


I believe my own flash has become stronger since becoming a reader for Fractured Lit and SmokeLong. I’ve learned what makes a compelling flash and have therefore incorporated these elements into my own pieces. I know what readers and editors are looking for. However, each reader and editor has subjective tastes, so I can never truly predict if a piece will be accepted for publication or not.

I’ve also become more appreciative of writers. The act of writing itself is hard, but getting writing published is even more difficult. I tackle every piece I read in the queue with an open mind, understanding that the writer has put a lot of work into writing the piece and is putting themselves out there by submitting it for publication. Even if I vote no on a piece, I still appreciate the writer’s commitment and love of the form.

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