Literary journals are looking for short stories that grab the reader's attention with strong plots, interesting characters and vivid writing. To make your short story stand out among the hundreds of other stories languishing in the slush pile, it needs to fulfill these requirements and to be presented professionally. Many literary journals only allow for electronic submissions, while some still accept via snail mail. Along with your short story, you need to write and submit a compelling cover letter.
Familiarize yourself with a journal before you submit your work. Nothing is more frustrating for fiction editors than receiving dozens of short stories that do not belong in their publications. It is obvious when a writer has not done his homework on a journal's audience or philosophy. If you are not sure how to find outlets for your work, check out writing magazines like "Writer's Digest" and "Poets & Writers." They list journals on their website that specialize in different genres, call for different word lengths of stories and cater to different audiences. Studying these guidelines will increase your chance of getting your short story published. Each magazine also features a new literary journal in its print magazine every month.
Read submission guidelines. It is also obvious to editors when writers haven't read these, and it is a sure way to have your story tossed on the rejection pile. Note whether the journal accepts electronic submissions, only snail mail submissions, or both. Requirements and restrictions will vary widely on such details as acceptable file formats, word count and genres of stories accepted.
Write a cover letter that grabs the editor's attention and sells your short story. According to the October 2010 issue of "Writer's Digest," a standout cover letter should directly address the journal's editor, include the title of your short story and summarize your story concisely and clearly. Convey the voice of your short story and identify its genre. While many writers feel it helps to list past publications and a bio, the strength of your current piece of writing is more important.
Determine if the journal you are submitting to allows for simultaneous submissions to other journals. If so, submit to as many suitable publications as possible. Let all submissions editors know if your short story has been accepted elsewhere.