I’m sure you all have a short work (whether it’s fiction, poetry, nonfiction, etc.) that you’re either working on or it is collecting dust in the back of one of your drawers or aging on your hard drive. If you’re still working on it, now is the time to finish it; if it’s finished, now is the time to edit it (seriously, you don’t really think it’s perfect yet, do you?). Once you finish, or get bored midway through (happens to all of us), start searching for various journals.
Check out your library, the internet (search “list of literary journals” and you’ll get a few sites with exhaustive lists such as: newpages.com, pw.org, or even just check Wikipedia’s list), or some of the magazines you may already read. Make sure you look for journals that cater to a similar genre or theme to the work you want published. If you send a literary fiction piece to a science fiction poetry journal, they’re not going to publish you, no matter how much they like the piece, and you’ll be out the postage.
Look for the submission guidelines for the journal; this could be in the front or back of the magazine, or there could be a link somewhere on its website. Make sure you find a few magazines to which you wish to submit your work. Your work may be the bee’s knees of the literary world and will win the Nobel Prize for literature, but the bottom line is: there are so many submissions to each magazine per day (the amount directly proportional to the prestige of the magazine to which you’re submitting) that it’s good to have your fingers in more than one pot, so to speak. While you’re at it, make sure you check their policy on multiple submissions and follow it.
Now that you’ve picked out your magazines for submission, it’s time to draft a cover letter to send with your manuscript. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you send a cover letter with your piece. It is important in that it is polite and illustrates to the person reading your submission that you’ve taken the time to get to know them and their magazine as well as—and this is the most important reason—allows you to market yourself for their magazine as a published author (you’ve been published in x, y, and z) or are new on the scene, thus giving them the possibility to feature a new writer and claim credit for discovering you as you skyrocket to success. Make sure you add in a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with your manuscript and cover letter. I know it means more postage costs, but it’s truly bad form to make them foot the bill when you solicited them.
Now that that’s ready, send it off and… wait. And wait. And wait. This could take awhile. Remember when I said that journals get tons of submissions per day? Not only do they receive those submissions, they also need to read them, and decide which ones are a fit for their magazine all before contacting you. While waiting, prepare yourself for rejection. I know, that’s a hard word to hear, but believe me, you’ll be rejected multiple times and they will rarely get easier to take. But, the main thing is to keep trying, making sure to take into consideration any comments returned to you about your manuscript, and you will eventually succeed and publish.