There are a lot of writers writing and submitting short stories. There is, of course, no fail-safe path that will ensure publication, but I have a strong suggestion:
Try reading some.
Next time you visit sites like Ralan.com or Duotrope (both good for finding markets. Duotrope is a bit more schnazzy, but I prefer Ralan – easy to use, simple and quick to load), make sure you venture beyond the ‘submissions’ page of a magazine. Make a habit of reading what is available. Read the free online magazines, subscribe to a few others. I know it’s impossible to read everything and every magazine, but…
I see a fair number of short stories in crit groups or the slush pile which make me wonder if the writer has ever read a short story in his or her life.
How do you tell?
Well, if the writer had taken the time to read and analyse a couple of short stories, even those free on the web (and there’s some excellent material available *points at Clarkesworld, my absolute-favourite online magazine*), the writer would not have:
– Submitted a story without a plot
– or a story that’s an utter cliche
– or a story with hardly any worldbuilding
– or a story that’s way too pedestrian to be of interest
– or a story that has no SF element to speak of
Honestly, to see what’s necessary to get published in a ‘good’ magazine, make sure you read a fair share of ‘good’ magazines. You won’t develop that ‘feel’ instantly, and part of the process will always remain hit-and-miss, but you’ll give yourself a much better chance.
Try it. And while you’re at it, don’t ignore the ‘donate’ buttons of free magazines.