I am the editor of an on-line magazine, Would That It Were (www.wouldthatitwere.com), which specializes in "Victorian SF", including but not limited to steampunk-style stories. I would like to share what I find useful from an editorial perspective... and ultimately, what I care about when I buy stories.
1. Try to capture more of the hubris and wonder of the age. You need to be able to write about steam trains and zeppelins and trips to darkest Africa like they were bullet trains, space ships, and Apollo projects... because in that day and age, they were.
2. It's not as important to know what the time period was exactly like as it is to know what it WASN'T like. Sunglasses, for instance, would have certainly been a wonder and caused quite a stir. Don't use 20th century colloquialisms... it yanks the reader right out of the story.
3. Above all, write about something interesting and not predictable. Personally, I am inclined to choke the next person who sends me a "True Stories of Charles Darwin" or "How the South Could Have Won the War" or
"Assassination of Lincoln by Aliens or Time Travelers". Of the 300 or so subs we get each issue, fully 20 of them are on such topics despite the fact that our guidelines prohibit them. Pick somebody and something not all that famous and allow yourself to be the New Authority on that. It's easier to get away with mistakes that way
4. Read your target magazine's guidelines. If you don't, you're inviting rejection.
5. If you don't know what a venue will buy, ask the editor. They like to talk with people who are genuinely interested in dialogue and not just pestering them to see if their 8000-word Magnum Dopus got bought.
6. Relax, and remember that if you are writing for fun, don't make it too much work and you might just get
a few stories published. If you're writing just to get paid, consider a job in technical writing. At least it's steady.
If you really want to tickle my fancy, send me a Victorian SF story of around 3000 words featuring a protagonist of non-western persuasion. I'd love to see a good Victorian era piece featuring a Chinese, Indian, or Middle Eastern protag.
Don Muchow, Editor
Would That It Were (R)
The Internet's Premier Magazine of Historical SF
A Publication of Small Potatoes Press