Marketing is more like fishing than aiming at a target. I can’t see through the waters of the market to know if my submission will be favored or not. So like the fisherman, I cast my bait into likely spots and hope for the best.
What makes a market a likely spot? Evaluation of potential markets is part science and part instinct. I visit markets via the Internet and see what type of thing they are publishing. Does my work seem similar in style or quality? What are their word count restrictions? Are they currently open for submissions? Do they require a reading fee? Are they open to electronic submissions? (I do submit to several markets by regular post but they have an Albertan connection that I want to support.) Each of the answers determines whether or not I have something to submit to these markets and if I will.
The factors which will keep a market as a likely spot are refined by experience. Did they respond within a reasonable amount of time? I love the markets that respond quickly but find any over 6 months to be questionable. Did I get a nibble in the form of a personal comment from the editor? And of course, if a market says yes and publishes one of my short stories, I will submit to them again.
All of my research, evaluation and submitting is recorded so that I am not constantly involved with this part of marketing. This is hugely important, because there are a lot of possible markets but not all suit me. And my memory is limited.
So I do both, in answer to the philosophical question ‘Fish or Cut Bait?’ I spend as much time as possible in making my stories as true and clear and appealing to the market. Then I see what happens when I throw them into the market waters, but into what I believe to be likely spots.