When I first started dating, I was just happy to have a boyfriend. My standards were low (even if the guys were truly nice, cute, etc.). I looked for a nice smile and answers to questions about what he liked to drink (preferably something alcoholic). These early relationships didn’t last. The issue wasn’t that the guys were bad or that they weren’t… I don’t know, pick a quality; rather, they weren’t the ones most compatible with me in terms of building a long term, good relationship.
Picking a place to send your story is like making a dating decision: how well do you know the place where you’re sending your work? How well does your work mesh with that outlet’s take on writing? If you send your work and they publish it, will you regret it in the morning?
The best way to do justice to your work is to do your homework: Research these publications. Take the time to read an issue—and by read I mean do more than scan the table of contents. What types of stories do they publish? Are they looking for female-driven narratives? Are they looking for work that is experimental in nature? Work that is non-linear? Stories that convey something SIGNIFICANT about the human experience? And please take their word for it if their submission guidelines mention—explicitly—we like such-and-such (stories told from the point of view of a student, let’s say) and we don’t like such-and-such (like science fiction or stories told from the point of view of a dog). They’re serious.
Ignoring these simple directions is like going on a date and having the date tell you: I don’t want kids. That’s fine, but if you want kids, you’re not going to work in the long term. At no point will the person say: you know, I didn’t want kids, but you, you’re perfect, so maybe… If a publisher does not like work that deals with children or stories set in outer space or stories that are more than 3,500 words or novel excerpts, they mean it. Your story WILL NOT convince them otherwise. All you’ve done is waste your time and theirs.
And since your work will likely be tied up for at least a month (and for as long as six months), why would you bother sending your work someplace that will likely reject it anyway?
But here’s something to consider too: if you think a certain publication is out of your league, it might not be. If your work can stand up to what else they publish, send it anyway. The worst they can say is no. As long as you are respecting the publication by sending work that is line—in terms of approach or content—then send away. Part of being successful in the publishing world involves luck. You should know that you’re up against bad odds, but publishers have to publish something—and an editor might take a shine to your work—so it might as well be your story.
Outside of these pieces of advice, I would also say that you should get in a routine about constantly submitting your work. Publishers will not seek you out; you have to go to them. Also: it’s a good idea to keep track of what you submit to whom and when. I have a nice, basic Excel spreadsheet where I list the story, the journal, and the date sent. The last thing you want to do is resubmit a work after it’s already been rejected.
You want to respect where you send your work. Think of every publication you consider as one you would be proud to show your parents.