Here's a quickie on steps to start getting published. This is by no means comprehensive. This may be old hat for some of you, but for others this may be new information and hopefully valuable.
Publishers: Two main types of publishers; books and periodicals (magazines)
The following is general stuff for magazines, just to get an idea of what is involved in the process.
Magazine publishers are often very specific in material for readership (Christian Women's issues, Child development, etc.), as they usually fill some sort of "niche market'; and are slanted for specific audience market. Do your homework carefully in this area, and make sure that your piece fits the periodical's needs. Also pay attention to length limits for submissions, and be very familiar with the word count of your manuscript
Some periodicals accept only non-fiction articles, some accept only fiction, some accept both. Some will want samples, though most periodicals will want the entire manuscript (ms). Publishers will state whether or not they will accept unsolicited manuscripts, or whether they want you to send just a query letter first, then decide if they want to look at the whole piece after that.
If you'd like your (hard copy) manuscript sent back, it's on your dime, and you need to provide a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE); if you don't want to have it sent back, some ask that the words "Disposable Copy" be put on the first page of the manuscript. I suppose it would be good form to do so if they don't ask, but personally, I don't want an editor thinking my manuscript is "Disposable" before s/he has even read it. I just don't like the imagery. If I don't want my manuscript back I make mention somewhere in my cover letter, just so they don't think I don't know what I'm doing by not including an SASE.
Attach e-mail submissions only if they say this method is acceptable. If so, make sure you are using a format of their preference. This is becoming more and more common, but never assume it is acceptable unless specifically stated.
Query letter/Cover letter. Sometimes these get confused. A query letter is used in place of a submitted manuscript. It is, in essence, your "pitch" to the publisher about your particular piece, economically giving a short synopsis of the piece, intended audience, and possibly purpose for the potential submission, or suggestion as to how this is a good match for the editor's periodical.
A Cover Letter accompanies a manuscript, introduces (or reminds the editor) you as the writer, more importantly, introduces the manuscript, word count, and again acts as a short pitch.
These two documents can be as important, or more important in terms of drafting than the manuscript itself. Manuscripts can be tossed merely on the strength (or weakness, as it were) of the cover letter; poorly written queries will be rejected without second thought to the potential submission it represents. These letters will represent you, your ability to economically and effectively express ideas, and reflect your understanding of the English language and the business.
Edit, edit, edit -- polish, polish, polish these letters, with absolutely NO spelling errors or grammar miscues. I cannot stress this enough. Be sure they are hand crafted for each individual submission, and that they don't sound like (and certainly are not) form letters. Editors can smell form letters a mile away.
If you can find a personal name for the editor you are targeting your manuscript, by all means address it to that person. "Dear Joanne" or "Dear Ms. Schmidt" sounds much better than "Dear Fiction Editor". Even if the manuscript is read by a "slush-pile" reader, it may give the impression you have a standing relationship with their boss -- not bad leverage for you when they are reading it! At the very least it will show you've done your homework.
A good source for magazines or periodicals in general, with listings for circulation, royalties, submission requirements, etc. is the "Christian Writer's Market" and the general "2004 Writer's Market". There are also specialized "Writer's Market" books for poetry and Christian Fiction. These can be pretty thick tomes, but are worth the dollars if you want to regularly submit your work.
If you only have one or two pieces you want to try your hand at flogging, you can go down to the library and find these books instead of buying them.
A small piece of advice if you start submitting your work: keep a log of what you have out and to whom, make sure you keep it up to date, and then FORGET about it and go on to the next project. Going out to the mail box with anticipation because they said it would be "2-3 weeks for reply" and it just started into the second week can lead to serious discouragement. And then, lower your expectations, as more often then not, it WILL be a rejection. This is a tough business. However, should their be an acceptance, it will be all the greater rejoicing because it will greatly exceed your expectations.
Good luck, and many blessings.
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