When I first started researching how to submit fiction to journals and magazines, one of the common pieces of advice was to read back issues in order to better understand what kind of work each market published. Although that advice was well-meaning, I think it also made me needlessly delay on submitting my work for a long time. "I haven't read all the back-issues!" I'd tell myself, "I'm not ready!"
Yes, understanding your audience is key to getting published, but no one who is balancing a full-time job, family, and their writing-habit could possibly read enough back issues for all the major science fiction and fantasy magazines. And if you have a literary bent, that's a whole extra genre of magazines to research. It's just too much to do.
Well, kids, I stumbled upon the solution the other day.
Did you know that many of these magazines have podcasts? Where they read their stories aloud? It's like having an endless book on tape of excellent short fiction, for free too. (Although I do think you should subscribe to your favorite magazines. They're generally inexpensive and it's a great way to support your peers.)
Here are the science fiction and fantasy magazines that I've been listening to lately (in no particular order):
I already listen to a variety of podcasts during my hour long commute. And now, I get to enjoy good science fiction and fantasy while simultaneously helping me to understand each market a little better. If you're of a literary mind (and even if you're pure genre), then you should listen to The New Yorker's Fiction podcast to learn from the greats of short fiction writing, like Cheever, Borges, and Gallant.
Frankly, it's been eye-opening. When you hear the kind of stories that are getting published in the magazines, well, let's just say I'm no longer surprised that mine have been getting rejected. What I have been writing and what gets through the slush readers (or what is invited) sounds completely different.
Based on this research, I've concluded that published authors write with more restraint than unpublished amateurs (like myself). They don't spend pages describing each setting in florid detail. The characters are usually more even-keeled, emotionally speaking. The stories tend to be neither excessively sad, nor do they try to be excessively funny. They sound more like an acquaintance telling you a story about something odd they saw the previous day.
So do yourself a favor, cheat a little, and just listen to the market of your choice via podcast if they have one. You'll hear the difference and it should help your writing and publishing chances. And hey, if nothing else, it's an entertaining way to get through a long drive.