I just came across an interesting site called Richard Hugo House in which an important point was made--try to submit your stories on a regular basis, at least once a week.
I've published more than sixty stories in print and online literary journals, so this set me thinking about what I might add that would be useful.
First, I agree with submitting once a week. Part of the reason is believing in your work; another part is the old salesman's adage: 20 cold calls for 5 prospects, 5 prospects for 1 sale.
If you don't make those cold calls, as it were, you won't find any prospects and you won't make any sales. Simple as that.
Now, the word "sales" is misleading in this context. Only occasionally will you receive money for your work. Treat that as a surprise, money for a night out, maybe even a weekend somewhere because the fact is that there really is no money in short story writing. It's a cultural enterprise, not an economic enterprise. Even if your work is published as a collection, you're likely to be disappointed by sales.
So accept the fact that you write because you write. This brings me to the word "accept," which brings me to the word "reject." My thought is that you should ban the word "reject" from your vocabulary. There really are no rejection slips, there are just slips, or emails, telling you that the forthcoming issue already is full, or better luck next time, or something more anodyne than that.
This makes things easier for you. You sent a story to a publication, it didn't want to use it, so you move on...and on.
As you move on, let the story percolate for a while, and then go back and see if you can shorten it. Shorter is always better. Shorter means to the editor than he/she can run more pieces. Shorter means to the reader that he/she will more quickly arrive at the critical point in any short story: its ending, those last few words, that revelation, that rhythm, that satisfying closure that makes short stories so wonderful.
When I first started submitting stories, I had to do it through the mail, which means postage, return envelopes, hassle, etc. It's unbelievably easy now when it seems 90% of magazines actually prefer electronic submissions (even if they're print magazines.) Thus, you have no excuse not to keep up your submission pace.
And when I first started circulating stories, it also was a no-no to send out multiple submissions of the same story. Editors hated that. Some still do. But most realize the writer is just to trying to find a home for his/her work. All you have to do is notify everyone else if one publication takes your story. This can be done with a few keystrokes.
The question of where you send your work is wide open. There are more interesting publications today than ever before. Forget The New Yorker. Read up on other magazines and see if you think what you've written connects with what the editors are looking for: "socially and politically edgy," "character-driven," "experimental," not more than 5,000 words...or 3,000 words...or 2,000 words. My impression is that most editors receive more than 100 submissions for every story they take. Word limits are inflexible, but the actual decsionmaking is subjective. You will never know why your story wasn't taken. In some cases, you won't know why it was taken. In other cases, you'll receive glowing praise, even a telephone call.
So you can only game this business so far; it's too full of mystery. Be like a shark and keep swimming, which means keep writing, keep revising, and keep submitting.
One other thing: Online publication facilitates circulating your stories to your friends and supporters. Whenever you have an online success, send it out widely. Again, the salesman's adage pertains: for every twenty recipients, five will be a little bit interested, and one will be wildly interested. That one will tell you things you'll find stimulating. It's not a big return on your efforts, for sure, but it helps keep you going.
And one final thing: If you really believe in a story, never give up on it. I have had stories published four and five years after I wrote them. There's no rhyme or reason to it; it's just the way it is.
For more of my comments on contemporary and classic literature, see Tuppence Reviews (Kindle).
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