I'm not sure I should call myself an author just yet, but I've been writing essays for a long time and have recently branched out into short stories. I've got one piece published in a local writers group's anthology (where the only editing consisted of taking out half of my commas, so it's probably awful. But hey, it made it to amazon...) and the few friends I showed my stories to liked them (but then again, they would be devastated if I stopped buying them drinks).
In any case, I would like to take it up a notch and try to get my short stories published. I have looked around a bit and there must be hundreds of magazines on- and offline who are happy to publish short stories (as long as they don't have to pay much). And on the other hand, there are dozens of writing contests who entice (unpublished) authors with prizes in the hundreds and even thousands (minus a tiny 20 bucks entry fee, of course).
I'm overwhelmed. How do I know which magazine is reputable and will further my career if I ever want to go down that road? Is entering a contest even worth my while - given that they must have hundreds of entries just judging from the prize money? I guess what I really want is somebody to tell me how to improve my writing. Will trying to get published even help with that?
Magazines, not contests.
While reputable is in the eye of the beholder, my rule of thumb is don't pay to play.
My client Jeff Somers who writes a short story every month, and has since he was 19, submits widely. We sort out the good from the bad when they offer a contract for publication.
I think I've only kiboshed one, and it was a while back, and I can't remember why, but no doubt it was something about rights in perpetuity.
A lot of magazine contracts are written by Rube Goldberg.
I generally point out the problem areas, and Jeff decides whether the risk is worth it.
Where does he find places to submit to?
The best starting point are the Best of (Year) collections. They list the places the stories were first published.
You can google "places to submit short fiction" too.
Weed out AFTER you send stuff, not before.
When you get a rejection, send the story out again immediately.
Keep good records.
The good places hate like hell when you duplicate submissions.
A lot of blog readers here send out short stories.
I'm sure they'll have some good ideas in the comment section.