How to get Your Short Stories Published in Journals and Magazines
The idea of trying to publish a short story can be daunting but it needn't be. Having a system in place and making it a part of your writing routine will help distill the fear. An organized system will also help position you as a professional in the eyes of an editor, which is key to getting published, no matter how exemplary your work.
While you may not have control over an editor's tastes or preferences, you do have control over ensuring that your work is free of errors in spelling and grammar using this self-editing checklist. You might also workshop your stories in a class or writing group, all of which can be found online. You should also have more than one piece ready for submission to a journal or magazine just in case an editor asks to see more of your work.
A little research goes a long way and will make your efforts to getting published incrementally more successful. Start by researching the overall publishing market to determine which magazines and journals will be open to your work. Once you've narrowed down the market, find the submission guidelines for the journals you've selected.
Format Your Short Stories Properly
Editors expect to find certain information as a part of each short story that is submitted. For example, editors want to know up front if your story is the right length for their journal, so it's common practice to include the word count at the top of the first page. You also want to make sure that your contact information is included in case your cover letter gets lost.
Write a Cover Letter
Your cover letter doesn't have to be long and, in fact, most editors prefer short cover letters because they're crunched for time. That said, you need to include a brief biography listing any publications that have accepted your work. If you've not be published yet, don't fret, you have to start somewhere and if you keep at it, eventually someone will give you a shot. To streamline the submission process, keep a generic cover letter saved on your computer, preferably your desktop, and adapt the heading and salutation for each journal you reach out to. For more on writing a professional cover letter, see "Cover Letter Advice."
A spreadsheet is an easy way to track submissions (see one example at left), though some people go old-school and use index cards. Whichever process you choose you need to be able to see at a glance each story you've submitted to avoid submitting to a journal more than twice a year, or sending the same story twice. This will also help you track simultaneous submissions, so when you get that acceptance letter, it's easy to contact the other journals who might also want to publish your story.
Each journal has a policy on simultaneous submissions (i.e., whether they prefer an exclusive or not). If a story that you have simultaneously submitted is accepted somewhere, write the others to withdraw your submission. If you don't hear back from a journal in a year, it is acceptable to contact them again to either inquire about the status of your work or withdraw your submission. Otherwise, don't email or call editors.
Keep Rejection in Perspective
The best writers out there have a stack of rejection letters so keep sending out stories, especially after a rejection. It's easier to weather rejections if you have multiple samples of your work out there and still have the possibility of acceptance in the wings. On the other hand, if you've been at it for awhile and find yourself growing bitter that will affect your writing, so take a break and concentrate solely on writing for a while.