Cover of Redefining the Dream Journal

Redefining the Dream Journal

What does Dream journal mean to you? What outlets do you think of when you hear the phrase?

Is it Granta, Paris Review and Harper’s? No shade if you do. Sure, there are outlets that are “career-makers.” (See the “very fancy, very impressive, very not fast” category on here.) It’s hard to deny that getting your story published in the New Yorker would be a big deal. And yes, many of those publish outstanding work. And, most of those are not what I think of as dream homes for my work. So, in such a golden age of indie lit mags that are publishing interesting, groundbreaking, and inclusive work, maybe it’s time to rethink the concept of the Dream Journal.

First of all? Let’s acknowledge that we’re not all starting from the same place and nor are we in the same place in our writing lives. My safe and cozy spot might be your dream home. And my stretch, pie-in-the-sky outlet might be a place you’ve handily published in two or three times. 

Next, those big prestige outlets don’t have a great track record of publishing BIPOC, queer, and historically marginalized voices. As a disabled, queer mom, I will absolutely submit to those fancier places, but they’re not the places I’d necessarily trust with some of my more delicate subject matter because I don’t necessarily see myself reflected in those pages.

Instead, I’ve started to think about journals the way I think about love. There’s Mr. Right and there’s Mr. Right-for-Me. 

Let’s take my favorite piece of writing from this year as an example. It was rejected a dozen or so times. It had a couple of close calls, but was mostly not-a-good-fit. Then one day, scrolling Twitter, I saw an outlet with an open call that I knew in my heart was the right home for this piece. I was honest in my cover letter: I love this piece; it’s having a tough time getting picked up; and from everything I’ve seen about what y’all do, I know you’ll treat it with care.

It’s not a big name, but I was thrilled when I got that acceptance. Because I knew in my heart that my piece had found the right home for itself. It would fit into the ecosystem of what the mag was doing. The people who read that journal might discover my work, and those people are kindred spirits. It wasn’t about trying to set myself apart, but seeing myself in the context of the literary landscape.

So what other criteria might we use for choosing a journal that’s a “dream”?

  • It’s pretty: It’s okay to align your literary work with an aesthetic. If that cover art is rad, if the website is readable, if they honor your work by making it beautiful? Sign me up.
  • It’s in print: I wrote a story about my grandmother and wanted to give my dad a copy, so for that piece I only sent it to publications that have print editions, because I wanted that story to be tangible.
  • You like the people behind it: The editors seem kind and cool. The masthead is diverse. They have a strong value set that aligns with your work and that would support you. They’re going to have your back. (Hard to tell, I know but some places do have solid reputations.) These are all good reasons to choose an outlet.
  • Choose your own adventure: Maybe you write in a particular genre, on a specific theme, or from the perspective of a marginalized identity. You are free to develop your own criteria outside of the accepted hierarchies of the lit journal world.

A lit mag that’s not as famous or prestigious is no less a labor of love. Editors are reading your work with care and love often for no pay and little thanks. And when we send an acceptance, it’s because we’re genuinely, fist-pumping, jump-out-of-our-seats excited about what you’re bringing to the page. An acceptance is always a vote of confidence for the work. And while it’s great to have big goals for your literary life, it can be helpful to remember that sometimes, the true dream journal is the one that gives your work the chance to connect with the readers it was truly meant to find.