This list should only include your ELITE markets: markets that will challenge you to become a better writer, markets that you dream about getting your name in the TOC (and makes your fingers sweat when you think of being published in them), perhaps even markets that you may believe to be out of your reach of getting published into. This is your dream team, your top of the hill, your cream of the crop. Dare to dream big, set your sights high.
Now, there are a few ways to create your list. Perhaps your dream markets all fall in a similar genre and they all have the same basic needs in tone, mood, and style (and subject matter). This will naturally lend itself to a good if they reject this then I'll send it here tactic. But maybe the markets are completely different in what they publish and will challenge you to expand your skills in multiple directions.
Either way, the goal is to produce stories that will have a better chance of getting you onto the dream team.
Here's some more of the steps.
1.Write a short list of your favorite markets (see above).
2.Do research of what the market wants:
a. Find out more information about the pub.
Go to the publications website or visit Dutrope's Digest or Ralan's to find out what the publication says it wants. Sometimes the slightest clue may provide a hint as to what types of stories have a best chance to break in. Also keep an eye out for what the pub says it doesn't want like this Strange Horizons: Stories We've Seen Too Often. Knowing what not to send is just as valuable as knowing what to send.
#note: If in doubt send it anyway. Let the publisher tell you no. Don't make that decision for them. However, if you do the research you will improve your chances of sending the story to the right place and saving time by sending it to the wrong one.
b. Read current issues and back issues of the pub.
Knowing what's been published, especially if the market has had the same editor for a long period of time, can give some indication of the stories they are interested in.
Write down bullet points to refer to when trying to create story ideas that this market will be interested in.
3.Take note of your skills and improve them.
What do you do well that can kick in the door? Are you great at characters, setting, plot? Find out what makes your writing shine, and work on improving this strength even more. By utilizing your strength you may create the opportunity to catch someones eye and make them take a little longer to say no.
What skills do you need that might prevent you from breaking into this market? Are you horrible at characters, setting, plot? Find ways to improve some of your weaknesses. The goal here is not to try and do all of them at once, but to slowly lower the amount of weak spots you have. Pick one or two weak spots and aggressively attack them.
Use the notes you've taken on your Market Hit List and come up with story ideas that will get the story into your selected markets.
If the story doesn't sale. Send it somewhere else; you can try again with your next submission. If you get feedback on your rejection, consider if you want to make changes to the story. If not send it out. If you edit, send it out.
7. Write something else from your idea list.
A final note:
Using this method may not get you published in the market of your dreams instantly. But with time and effort it will teach you about researching markets, setting goals, improving what you do well, limiting what you do not do well, and keep you moving forward. Good Luck!
My Market Hit List for 2010
1. Writers of the Future
2. Realms of Fantasy
3. Fantasy Magazine