You should ask yourself two questions before trying to publish.
1) Is your work complete? Even when writing from real life your story needs to have a beginning, middle and end. There also needs to be some conflict either between two characters, in a character’s own mind, or pit your character against natural elements. The problem should present itself at the start of the story and be resolved by the conclusion. Without this, your work will read as an anecdote – interesting, perhaps, but not usually suitable for publication as a story.
2) What genre does the story fit into? If you’ve written a science fiction piece you’ll have little luck submitting it to a magazine for nonfiction. And your sweet story about your newborn is unlikely to please the readers of a dystopian anthology. Be sure you know your audience and research possible publications.
Once you are ready to seek publication, the next choice you make will be where to publish your work. Either you need to find someone else, like a magazine editor, who likes your story and wants to publish it, or you need to self-publish. You will most likely reach a wider audience with the first method, but the latter option gives you total control over when and where your work appears. So, how do you decide the right choice for you?
1) Enter Writing Competitions – In addition to cash prizes and perks such as meeting agents or editors, many contests offer the chance for publication, even if you are not the big winner. Try keeping up with contest news by joining a writer or critique group, watching local bookstore news, buying books like Writer’s Market or subscribing to magazines such as Writer’s Digest which provide contest listings in each publication. You can also subscribe to newsletters such as http://www.fundsforwriters.com/ which sends you biweekly opportunities.
2) Find publications on the shelves and online which accept short stories - There are hundreds if not thousands of magazines, e-zines and websites where short stories are published, and some pay professional rates. One good place to start is the magazine shelves of your local haunts. What publications are you drawn to? Do they match the style in which you write? If you write science fiction, fantasy, horror or literary fiction, you’re unlikely to find magazines devoted to these on the shelves unless you are in a chain bookstore. Try searching online for small magazines which people subscribe to by mail-order: you may be able to order a back issue cheaply or free. Or look for e-zines which you can submit work to online.
3) Use a search database to find the right publication – Anyone can use a search engine to look up publications based on genre, but a more effective and thorough search source is available for writers: www.duotrope .com This database is an established, award-winning writers' resource. Whether your creative leanings are literary or genre, factual or poetic, these listings cover the entire spectrum. Simply specify your work by genre, sub-genre, length, pay grade, or any other number of identifiers you want included in the search and within seconds the database compiles a list of all publications available matching your request. You then have direct access to that publications site, submission guidelines, reviews by both readers and fellow writers and much more information. For seven years this service was free, but now charges a small subscription fee. However, you can still obtain a free trial period.
4) Self-publish - You can publish your work for free on a website. One easy way is to set up a blog (try www.blogger.com) and post a new short story every week. There are lots of easy ways to create a full website too – try Google Page Creator . You don’t need to be very “technical” and you certainly don’t need to be able to programme or understand terms like “HTML” and “FTP”. If you are fairly web-savvy, though, you might choose to pay for a domain name and professional web hosting. I’d recommend this if you’re serious about your writing as it means you can use your site as a professional-looking showcase for your work. The other option is to publish printed and electronic device versions of your stories, to circulate around friends and family – and perhaps more widely. There are many options available now such as Lulu, createspace, and smashwords that take you step-by-step through the process of uploading your work and choosing the format of your book. You can design a high-quality glossy-covered paperback. Just be sure to research and compare cost options to find the service best for you.
What about you? Are you a short story writer? What do you struggle with? What have you learned?