There’s another step in the short story writer’s dance. This is my least favorite, but it is also the step that seems like it is always there.
I’m at the point in my career where the waiting is not as hard as it used to be. When I first started submitting professionally, the waiting was torture. Then, after you get rejected a few times, you’re not so very anxious to get an answer, because usually, it is “no thanks.” When you start getting things published, the waiting period becomes a bit torturous again, because you just don’t know. You can’t ASSUME that things are going to be rejected. After all, someone did like your stuff well enough before to publish it. But you know better than to get your hopes up too high. Now, I just take things as they come. I also have a better feel for my stories, and what their chances are at certain places. For example, right now I have a short story out that is on the experimental side. I know it will be harder to get that one published in a mainstream journal. So I take that in stride.
The most important thing you can do when you are ready to submit (other than making sure the story really IS ready to submit, and by that, I mean you’ve had people other than yourself read it and give you constructive criticism, you’ve rewritten it and revised it until you can’t stand to look at the thing anymore, then you’ve put it away for at least a month, looked at it with fresh eyes after it’s rested, revised again, etc.) is to research the market. Give your work an honest look. Sure, we’d all like to be published in the New Yorker, but would your story really fit in there? Is it what they publish? Once you have narrowed the market down a bit and found some journals that fit your style, buy some sample copies of issues (or go to a library and read them there). Read the journal, read the other fiction and make sure this is where you belong. Even if you have a story in a certain genre, different magazines within that genre have different feels to them, different moods. Once you’ve narrowed it down, and you’ve chosen the place you want to submit to first, scour the world for the name of the fiction editor so your letter to him or her can be specifically addressed. Show them that it is at least that important to you, that you were willing to put that bit of work in. Then, in your letter, briefly mention why you selected that particular journal to submit your story to. There should always be a reason. It can be as simple as, “I found your journal to fit the general tone of my story” or something like that if you can’t put a specific thing into words, but put some work into it.
If you put the time and energy into preparing your manuscript, then at least you will be sending it on its way knowing you did all you could. You can get to work on your next story with a clear conscience, knowing the situation is out of your hands and there was nothing more you could have done for it.