Since there isn't a lot of money to be made in writing short stories, it's a good thing there are prizes and awards, so at least someone has something to show for the effort put into the craft. The annual Best American Short Stories is both widely watched and criticized. Everyone seems to love the O. Henry Awards. But it seems to me that the Pushcart Prizes cast the widest net and are the most "democratic" of the major awards. So when I decided I wanted to analyze awards for the purposes of ranking literary magazines, I settled on Pushcart.
Rankings, it should be said, aren't very useful, except when they are. I think about them when making submissions to magazines, not only because an acceptance from a higher ranking magazine seems to mean more (in terms of bragging rights in future cover letters to agents, editors and publishers) but also because it is an aid in a submission strategy that targets magazines within the same tier, gradually working down the list until a story finds a home. It should also be said that what I decided to undertake has been done by others. But I don't know what their methodology was and frankly I just wanted to see for myself.
I won't reveal the whole story just yet--I'm still working at compiling my lists--but because I'm finding the results interesting (if not terribly surprising) I wanted to offer just a taste. So, based on my incomplete analysis, and taking into account Pushcart Prizes only for short fiction, I give you a preliminary Top Ten of literary magazines.
2. Southern Review
3. Tin House
4. Paris Review
6. Zoetrope: All Story
8. Ontario Review
9. New England Review
Stay tuned for more samples as my analysis continues!