The first step to reaching short story publishing nirvana is to
Probably just as important as writing. Share your stories with trusted readers and revise based on their feedback. Don't forget to proofread your story.
Now it's time to format your story for publication. Many magazines and venues prefer to receive submissions in what's called "standard manuscript format"—10 point Courier font or 12 point Times New Roman, double spaced, ragged right margins. The wordcount of your story goes in the upper right hand corner (round to the nearest hundred words); on the first page, at the top, add your contact information: name, address, email address, and phone number. There are actually quite a few other idiosyncrasies of Standard Manuscript Format, depending on how much of a stickler you are for following protocol. This link at Brad R. Torgersen's blog provides a good rundown.
Now it's time to research markets. Just like how you might rely on AgentQuery or QueryTracker to research agents, there are sites that specializes in housing information about short story venues. Duotrope is probably the most well-known. Using their dropdown menus, you can search for specific genres, wordcounts, or pay rates. Be sure to check off that you only want to see markets open for submission, which will help you whittle down your options.
If you write science fiction, fantasy, or horror, another great resource is Ralan's Webstravaganza. This site lists genre markets according to pay rate (from pro rates to "for the love" magazines that don't pay), and details information about response times and wordcount guidelines. Useful stuff! I'd recommend beginning with top paying markets and working your way down. Even if chances are slim that you'll get your story in Asimov's, it can't really hurt to try—especially since submitting doesn't cost you anything!
Unfortunately, neither of these sites allow you to filter for venues that specialize in YA fiction. For YA markets, a good resource is the Word Crushes blog, which specializes in markets for teens and tweens. There, you'll find editor interviews and market information. While the site is helpful, it isn't exhaustive. There are a few notable criminals missing, like Scape, a fairly new venue specializing in science fiction for teens. Keep in mind that many venues that don't specialize in young adult fiction still feature stories with what I'd consider a "YA feel"—like this terrific short story by Nick Poniatowski at Strange Horizons.
After you've compiled a list of markets, it's time to take a closer look at each one. Read a few stories to get a feel for the editor's tastes. If you can find interviews with the editors or slush readers, give them a skim. Many venues have blogs featuring topics of interest to submitting writers, like this one at Shimmer. If you're an organized type, this might be the time to get out a spreadsheet and start plugging in notes; speaking from experience, it's nice to have one ready for later, when you have a long list of rejections and need to figure out where to send that story next.
5. Read the submission guidelines!
After you've chosen an appropriate venue for your story, it's time to carefully read over the submission guidelines. As is the case for agents, magazines can be pretty specific in their rules for submitting—sometimes right down to file names! Many magazines will specify that they don't want "multiple submissions" (so send only one story at a time) or "simultaneous submissions" (so don't send your story out to two magazines at once). I recommend that you follow these guidelines—rather than blanketing every venue in your genre with your story, it's much better to send single, targeted submissions, if only because it gives you a chance to revise in between.
6. Put a
You should always include a cover letter with your short story submissions unless the magazine's submission guidelines explicitly state otherwise. Sometimes they'll indicate the kind of information they want there, but, in contrast to query letters, even when they don't, short story cover letters are easy peasy. For one thing, they tend to be really short; for another, you don't have to worry about summarizing your story. That's right—with short fiction, your writing speaks for itself. In my cover letters, I only mention the name and wordcount of my story, along with a very brief bio. And that's it.
Here's what it usually looks like:
Dear (Name of Editor):
I'm writing to submit my short story, "Name of Story" (number of words), to Name of Venue. It's attached in .doc format, as per your submission guidelines.
I'm a 2009 graduate of the University of Florida's MFA program in poetry. An Articles Editor for Strange Horizons, my fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Aoife's Kiss and Spaceports & Spidersilk. I blog at www.phoebenorth.com.
Thanks for your time!
If you don't have any writing credits, don't stress out about it. Mentioning your undergraduate degree ("I have a BA in Underwater Basketweaving from State U") or even just where you live ("I live in New York State with many cats") is fine, too. Just don't make it too long—my three sentences are probably pushing the upper limit.
7. Send it in!
If you're sure you've followed all the guidelines, and your story is clean and professionally formatted, and you've got a nice, brief cover letter, then it's time to send that puppy out! Update your spreadsheet, and then wait. And wait. And . . .
8. Success (or not)!
I'm going to be frank: you're probably going to get quite a few rejections. The first one stings a bit. Commiserate to your loved ones, drink something soothing, and comfort yourself with the fact that everyone gets rejected. Really. It happens to all of us (*cough*).
Most of your rejections will be form rejections. But sometimes you'll get lucky—an editor or reader will include a note of encouragement or even a brief word about why it didn't work for them ("character didn't grab"). Awesome! Remember that even editor opinions are subjective, but if you're getting a lot of rejections all suggesting the same thing, it might be time to revise your story again before sending it out to a new market.
Of course, sometimes you'll get really lucky, and a magazine will want to print your writing! Awesome! Yay! Go you! Do a little dance! You've done it!
As with everything in writing, the most important trait in a short story writer isn't talent (though that helps) or luck (though that helps, too) or connections (don't hurt a bit), but persistence. Keep trying. It's hard work that leads to growth, and strong writing that leads to publication. Write your little butt off, and keep sending stuff out—someday you'll get there, promise.