"If politics is the art of the possible, research is surely the art of the soluble. Both are immensely practical-minded affairs."--Sir Peter Medawar
"Research is usually a policeman stopping a novel from progressing."--Brian Moore
Regarding where to submit your individual pieces of writing, the approximately bimonthly Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Writer's Chronicle and Poets and Writers Magazine are excellent starting places, with an extensive representation of literary and university journals, along with awards resulting in publication. For further information on the presses you find, check in The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses [http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall96/little.htm]. There are other sources, though I would be careful to look for currency. Be sure you are looking in the yearly update, if there is one. References such as Literary Marketplace, Writer's Market, Poet's Market, and the rest of the "Market" series are perfectly fine and fully detailed, and are time-honored standard research tools for writers looking to submit, though the currency of their information may sometimes be dated or generic, especially with respect to smaller journals and presses. This is notably true regarding special-topic issues of journals. These nevertheless invaluable source books are in the reference section of most libraries, and most bookstores carry them.
DVICE. Narrow and target your field as much as possible. If someone is looking for baseball literature and you have a baseball poem, there you go. But if you have a football poem, don't try to con anybody. It's not about the quality of your work--football is simply not what they are interested in.
"Literature is like any other trade; you will never sell anything unless you go to the right shop."--George Bernard Shaw
Of course, the best advice is to seek out the journal you are considering at a bookstore or library, or send away for a sample copy. Reading the contents will give you a taste of the editorial sensibilities, and will make this whole thing seem less like a game. Reading, after all, is what we hope somebody will do to our own work.Poets and Writers Magazine. Originally called Coda, this magazine and its attention to small presses launched the publication careers of many, many writers, and continues to do so, along with a few more that have joined it, such as the AWP Writer's Chronicle. For a good long while, however, Coda was it.
Let me make a special note of the importance of
The "slick" magazines. This is a term used to describe high-circulation journals such as The New Yorker, Esquire, Redbook and the rest, the kind you see at bookstands and airports. Well, if you want to try starting there, good luck to you. Because they pay and have a stake in publishing the best writers in the country and the world, chances that a beginning writer will make the cut are slim. Rather than starting there, ending up there is the more probable scenario. Have some patience, and earn your way. Incidentally, they all have writers' guidelines, and you should request them before you submit.
I want to be careful in pointing out that beginning writers are by no equation worse writers, necessarily, and submitting to university and literary journals rather than "slick" magazines I would argue is not a lowering of your artistic sights. There is, instead, some simple wisdom here, in all our rush to get and have everything now. The way to Paris is through your own front door.
Journals and presses who put out calls for submissions will quite likely get your work back to you sooner than if you send blindly. A call for submissions means that they are actively working on this project now.
Finally, networking. If someone you know invites you to submit somewhere, get to it. I think we all have some fear of sending out our work because we think it's good--and that wherever we are sending it is not up to that standard, that surely The New Yorker will take an interest. But the truth of it is, as writers we'll be writing even better work, for the rest of our lives. Send your best work, every time. Then write something better. This is a necessary writer's faith, that you will do exactly this.
"One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now. . . .Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."