Your writing is valuable. Your time, your words and your skill have gone into honing a story, and that story is worth something.
Getting published is hard. There are a lot of unpublished authors in this world, and only so many paying markets. This gives publishers a lot of power. They can ask for things, and fledgeling writers have no bargaining chips to fight them with. There are always more stories coming in through the submissions pipeline.
Due to this power imbalance, some markets will do underhanded things to writers.
Do not undervalue yourself. Do not send your stories to markets that do not acknowledge that your writing is worth money. Markets that promise exposure, readership or a line on a resume without promising payment are, in reality, telling you to give them your story for free.
This isn’t fair, and no matter what they say, it doesn’t look good on you. When you go to markets, asking them to publish your work, you have a choice in where to send it.
Don’t let someone publish your stories for nothing.
There’s an excellent previous post on this blog that goes into specifics, and is especially helpful in deciding which markets you would like to submit to first, here. As a general rule, SFWA-recognized professional markets are the best places to publish. These markets have been in existence for more than one year, and pay at least 5 cents per word. They also count towards your three sales to gain SFWA membership. Some semi-pro markets with reputations for high quality, such as Electric Velocipede, Psuedopod and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, are also good places to send your work.
Places like Duotrope are a good way to gather concrete information on markets. Duotrope lists the pay category of each market, response times, and, importantly, acceptance rates. Most professional markets have extremely low acceptance rates. This is okay—remember, getting published is hard. Markets that do not pay have much higher acceptance rates; some markets publish over 90% of what they receive. These markets are not selective and giving them your work does not distinguish you from the rest of the slush pile.
Other editors know the market world—they know who’s paying and who’s not. The likelihood that editors are actually reading what these non-paying markets are printing is very slim, which means that the exposure you’ve been promised in lieu of actual payment is not happening. Putting a market with no redeeming features on your cover letter is, in the best case scenario, not going to impress anyone, and at worst will convince an editor that you don’t know what you’re doing.
There are other perils of the publishing world, many more sinister. Entire websites are dedicated to warning you about them; see Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware for information on scams that are after your money and your reputation. You can find more arguments against non-paying and low-paying markets, seen in the dust-up over Black Matrix publishing a few years ago, here, from respected author and blogger John Scalzi, which contains links to the entire debacle.
Aim high! Gather some really high-profile rejections, read Sarah Brand’s market list and get paid for what you do.