With that said, I’ve managed to do it a few times, so I’d like to share some quick advice on how to get your first short story published.
Let’s start with the assumption that you’re already writing. If not, take a step back and spend a year practicing. And by that I mean do some research. Read blogs and books about writing. Read as many short stories as you can stomach. Try all sorts of writing strategies, such as plotting out a story in advance or writing freestyle and seeing where the story ends up. Try different narrators, genres, and styles.
Once you’ve got some knowledge and experience you can get started for real. But before you start looking for a market, make sure you’ve already got a finished product. Don’t even think about submitting a short story that isn’t a final draft. Editors are overwhelmed with unsolicited submissions. If an editor receives something full of typing errors and plot holes, it saves him the trouble of having to read the whole thing through and onto the rejection pile it goes.
So once you’ve got a short story that you feel is “ready” then it’s time to find the proper publication to send it to. This is important because your chance of an acceptance can either increase or decrease dramatically based on your choice. For example, if you’re a new writer with no name-value and decide to send a random story to a popular publication like Asimov’s (which receives thousands of submissions each month) chances are you’ll get a form letter rejection.
If you want to increase your chances, don’t just send it to a magazine that fits the genre. Read the magazine first and make sure that your style of writing seems like it would fit in. Look over some back issues and make sure they haven’t recently published something similar.
Another idea is to find a lower-paying small press publication first. There are so many independent print, online, and electronic publishers looking for new writers that you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one you like. They are a great way to gain some exposure, start building a publication list and even make a few bucks if you’re lucky. If you’re still on the fence about smaller markets, check out a post from earlier this week making the case for submitting to token-paying publications.
But just like with the more mainstream publications, check out the publication you’re considering before sending an unsolicited story and make sure yours would fit. If it’s an anthology, make sure your story meets all of the qualifications listed in the guidelines.
And above all else, keep trying, keep submitting and eventually you will get published.