I thought I'd continue my hints for new writers series until I leave for vacation. While I've talked about how to behave after you submit, I haven't discussed calls for submissions. As my writing credits under this pen name are in erotica, most of this information will be pitched at erotica writers. However, we all like to stretch out from time to time (thus my other pen names), and all of this is applicable to other markets.
A call for submissions is a public notification that an editor is seeking stories. Normally, these are for anthologies of short stories based around a theme. In the call, an editor who knows what s/he is doing will include vital information such as the type of stories s/he is looking for, length, the pay, rights, publisher, contact information, and guidelines about format and story content. Don't skim any of this. Take it all as gospel. Repeat this mantra: I am not a precious snowflake, and no one will make exceptions for me.
Type of story: paranormal romance, travel erotica about exotic locations, vampire sex, etc. Even though this seems fairly clear, you'd be amazed at what people will submit. If you're not exactly clear what paranormal romance means, politely (always politely) ask. Since you're on at least one writer's list (you are, aren't you?) ask there before you bug the editor. If your story sort of is, sort of isn't, then ask the editor.
Length: always expressed as a word count. Publishers like books to run a certain number of pages, and they have a good idea how many words will fit on those pages. Print anthologies usually run from 18 to 22 stories, and the total word count has to be allocated between them. If your story if running a bit short, but you can't think of anything to add without obviously padding your word count, ask the editor if a bit shorter is okay before you send it. The same holds true if you run long. But please - if the editor says 3,000 to 5,000 words, don't submit your 12,000 word novella. Don't even ask. Find another anthology that wants novellas (such as an epublisher)
Pay: Not negotiable. Yes, it's a pittance. Yes, your editor wishes s/he could pay you more. But it's not in his/her hands, so leave him/her alone. If it isn't enough money, don't submit.
Rights: Never, never, never give anyone all rights forever unless they pay you over $300 for your short story, and even then, think twice. Rights are an entire blog entry unto themselves.
Publisher: Look up the publisher on Predators and Editors. Try to talk to writers who have been published by them before. Just because you recognize a publisher's name doesn't mean you'd want to work with them.
Format: If the editor says "Mail me a hard copy with one inch margins, in Times New Roman 12 font only," you have a choice - do exactly as s/he asks, or don't submit. Don't argue about it. Just don't.
Content: If an editor says "Please do NOT submit a story about a dumpy guy picking up a hottie in a bar, but SURPRISE! she turns out to be his wife," then don't. Even if the editor doesn't say that, don't do it. This isn't in the guidelines, but damn it, if you write a genre, you should read it. (People who write erotica but sniff disdainfully at reading it mystify me. Okay, not mystify. They strike me as stupid.) And if you read your genre, you already recognize hack crap plot #3b when you see it. For the love of all that's hot and sweaty, don't write more of it. But back to the editor - if s/he states that s/he wants to see a twist on the old vampire myths, don't rewrite Dracula or Interview With the Vampire. If s/he asks for noir, find out what noir means. If s/he wants happy endings only *sigh* then don't submit anything too deep or challenging.
I rarely see calls for submission for novels. If you're looking to submit a novel, follow my previous post about finding a publisher. Once you're found that dream publisher, find out if they are currently open for submissions, and if you need an agent. Go to their website (no website? Yikes! In this day and age? Are they going to publish you on stone tablets?) to find that information (if it isn't on their website, you probably need an agent to submit to them). As with anthologies, take every word as gospel.
Next entry - finding calls for submissions.