Are you talking about submission fees? A lot of literary journals do charge what they refer to as a “reading fee.” Should your work be published, most journals will compensate you appropriately with a prize package of some kind. And even if you are not getting sufficient monetary compensation, you need to look at every opportunity at being published as a gain. It gets you exposure, and it allows you to tell prospective agents or publishers that you’ve had your work featured in a journal. Does that mean you should let just anyone publish your work? Of course not. But I assume that if you’re submitting your work somewhere, you have researched the publication beforehand and would feel comfortable with them featuring your writing.
From Writer’s Relief: Literary Journals,”Reading” Fees, And You
The vast majority of literary journals don’t make money. Most are not-for-profit and they are staffed by a fair number of volunteers. Editors are seeing much-needed financial support decline at universities and colleges.
We think it’s fair to say that most writers do not subscribe to every single literary journal to which they submit their work. However, these same writers benefit greatly when a literary journal does accept them for publication.
We cannot take literary journals for granted. The work they do is important; writers depend on them. In a best case scenario, the relationship between writers and literary journals would be completely symbiotic—that is, mutually beneficial.
Read the rest of this article if you’re still concerned about submission fees. Literary journals do the best they can with what they have. What you want to watch out for are writing “contests.” The submission fees are usually much higher, and the volume of submissions is greater, making it more difficult to stand out. So if you plan to enter a writing contest, make sure you do your homework first so you know it’s not a scam.
But the first part of your question - where do you start? You start by looking up journals that publish the kind of stuff you’re writing (Poets & Writers has a great database here). Subscribe if you can afford it, or at least get your hands on one issue to familiarize yourself with the type of fiction they publish. Some journals allow access to their back issues online for free. And if you decide to submit, read their guidelines carefully. Nothing can land you in a slush pile faster than ignoring submission guidelines.
For info about self publishing, go here.