Yeah, I know it sounds obvious, but not everyone tries to get their stuff published. This can be for a number of reasons. Two of the more valid ones in my opinion are 1) if you only want to write for yourself, and don’t want others to see it, or 2) you don’t want to be told how or what to write. The editing process, when getting published, can be all about telling you what to change. So you may want to avoid that.
Then there are a bunch of other reasons why people don’t get published which, in my opinion, are not so valid. Sometimes people are too lazy to read submission guidelines, so submit poorly formatted stories to completely the wrong market. Some people are terrified of rejection, so never submit anywhere, but still carry a hope of magically getting picked up. Then there are those people who have such confidence in their writing that they only ever submit to the top publishing houses or magazines.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m envious of people who have such self-confidence. Most of them actually write really well, which probably bags them some jealousy points from me as well. But I believe we have to cut our teeth somewhere, and learning the ropes on the no-pay or low-pay publications is a great place to do that.
Obviously I’m talking more about short stories here. If you only have one novel in you, then perhaps you need to hold onto it for as long as it takes to get the publisher you want (but even that I would question). But for me, nothing feels more writer-ly than people reading your work. If you don’t get paid for it who cares? If your reason for writing is to earn lots of money then you are chasing the wrong dream.
Low or no-pay publishing opportunities are usually run by dedicated people who want you to be successful, and for that I think they deserve all the support they can get. One of my favourites is Antipodean SF. Every month Ion “Nuke” Newcombe puts out a professional e-zine of flash speculative fiction with an antipodean bent. I love it, and for as long as I write flash fiction I will be sending my stuff to him.
Getting your writing published means getting it read, which can mean getting fans. When you get contacted by someone you don’t know telling you how much they liked your story, it won’t matter that you are still slaving away in the 9-5 and haven’t earned enough from your writing yet to pay for a coffee, you will feel like a writer.