The number one reason writers of short fiction get rejected is they do not read the magazine before submitting their work.
I know this sounds odd, but it is true.
Most writers have no clue where their short stories fall on the literary spectrum. If you are a writer of short fiction and are asked what type you write, what is your answer? It should be an immediate suspense, literary, mainstream. Most writer’s resist pigeon-holing their work and try to explain its subtleties and nuances instead of answering this question with a single word. I do it myself. Market listings often don’t give accurate or adequate information to know if your work fits what is sought.
It is easy to compile a list of publications on The Writers Market website or on Duotrope or a similar aid for writers. If your work is sorta what they say they are seeking, you add it to your list. This technique is known as spray and pray; if you send enough copies out, someone has got to publish it. Not only is this not true, but it can ruin your credit for future submissions.
How can you sell something if you don’t know what it is?
If you are not certain what type of short fiction you write, how are you going to sell it? Market listings sometimes say things like “thinking romance” or “edgy slice of life,” all subjective. How do you know what they mean by “edgy slice of life” unless you read it. Convincing a literary publication to buy your love story, no matter how good it is, is a colossal waste of time.
The most important action you can take toward selling your work is reading published short stories and building marketing lists from them. Read at least three copies of the magazine or stories they have published recently and then ask these 3 questions:
1. Do I like the magazine?
2. Is my writing comparable to this?
3. Could I write a story like this?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, look-up the magazine, see what they are seeking and check the submission guidelines. Because of your research (and practice writing 50-stories) the query/cover letter will be a piece of cake.
Short Story anthologies that use previous published material are great for market research. My favorite is the Best American Short Stories series.
Always read the About the Author if the magazine prints one, if the writer is in your ken, it could lead to a new market for your work. This is how I stumbled on Literal Latte, a magazine I’d never heard of, that publishes my type of mainstream fiction.
Not only will you learn more about where your work fits, you may sell a short story.
TIP: Many of the big magazine that still publish fiction make all or part available to read online without subscribing. Take advantage of that.