For those who aren’t aware, Brandon Sanderson, in addition to being a great author, gives a ton back to the field of aspiring writers both by doing the Writing Excuses Podcast and teaching a creative writing class at BYU. At least some of his lectures are available on youtube, and they’re a great resource. He needed a substitute teacher for one of the lectures, so Eric James Stone stepped in.
In this he mentions the Writers of the Future Contest, and gives the advice of (paraphrasing): submit each quarter and either you’ll win or you’ll have enough short stories out in the marketplace that you pro out (or sell four stories at $.06/word and are thus ineligible for the contest).
I took Eric’s advice and started submitting. Allow me to humbly suggest you follow his advice as well.