Should Writers Pay to Use Duotrope?

by Sarah Baughman

Woman sitting on floor with laptop

Today’s article is written by regular contributor Sarah Baughman.

A writer friend and I recently tried to justify why we’ve done such a terrible job of submitting our work to literary magazines. We arrived at a pretty simple answer: time.

First there’s the actual writing. Then the revising, and the obsessive re-revising. But after this substantive work is done, or as done as it ever can be, hours of work await: finding appropriate literary magazines, checking their requirements and deadlines, writing cover letters, formatting manuscripts properly, tracking which submissions go where, and figuring out when to send what where next.

“The people I know who send a lot of work to literary magazines have practically made it a part time job,” my friend said. “They have whole spreadsheets tracking all of their submissions.”  Spreadsheets! we sighed admiringly.

Yet that’s what it takes, right?

When I recently decided to see if I could find new homes for a few essays I wrote ages ago, I froze: where to start? I knew of a few online literary magazines and blog posts with links to more literary magazines, and I clicked haphazardly through those, not really sure what I was looking for. Then I remembered Duotrope, an online database of literary markets I’d read about a few years back.

Duotrope made waves in January 2013 by starting to charge for site membership: $5/month, or $50/year. I’d seen some grumbling online about this new fee, but decided to purchase a month’s membership to scope out what the site entails.

What does Duotrope offer?

Duotrope currently catalogues 4,568 (and counting!) literary markets for writers of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Purchasing a site membership means you can:

  • Search the database of literary markets according to specific personalized criteria. I write non-fiction, but even within that category, Duotrope allows me to characterize my work as “narrative non-fiction” with a “literary” style. I can search for literary magazines (or contests, or anthologies) seeking specific word counts, offering payment, publishing electronically or in print or both, and more. I can even save searches with certain criteria to make future searches easier. Two minutes with the Duotrope database exposed me to dozens of literary magazines that might be great fits for my work but that I’d never heard of.
  • Learn highly detailed information about each literary market. Clicking through the different markets my search yielded, I could quickly review a description of the literary magazine; some even included interviews with editors giving additional insight into publishing with their magazine. I learned what types of writing the magazine published, how it accepted submissions, whether it offered payment, and whether it accepted reprints or simultaneous submissions. Perhaps most importantly, I got answers to the really burning questions: how long is the response time, how often are pieces rejected, and what other literary magazines are people successfully submitting to who submit to this one? (Such data is collected from Duotrope users.) Having this information allowed me to group essay submissions by expected response time, and to stagger competitive markets with less competitive ones.
  • Track your submissions. Boy, is this feature handy. One click allows members to track a new submission; there’s space to record the market, the title and other identifying information about the piece, the date submitted and the response heard, and any other notes. These submissions then appear in your “control panel,” where you can also keep lists of deadlines and favorite publications. Goodbye, spreadsheet!
  • Receive regular market updates, delivered to your inbox or listed on the site.  Paid subscribers can keep track of which literary markets are closing, opening, or changing submission statuses in some way. A calendar link also allows  you to view deadlines for themed contests or publications. You can view “Recent Responses” too, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it at first because of the potential discouragement from the overwhelming number of rejections (remember that part of submitting to literary magazines?!). Rejections are kept anonymous anyway, but Duotrope adds a personalized note of congratulations beside each acceptance—a nice touch, I thought.

Who could benefit from a Duotrope membership?

  • Busy people. Granted, Duotrope provides its own version of time-suckage. I’m not sure if I can call the time I spent on the site “procrastination,” since it all relates to my ultimate goal of actually submitting work somewhere, but I definitely did get a bit lost in the literary market rabbit hole. Nevertheless, I was able to relatively quickly make a larger—and probably more realistic—list of literary markets for each of my essays than I ever could have without the searchable database.
  • People with a lot of work to submit. I’m actually not one of these people right now–I’m only working with a few pieces at the moment–but even those few pieces produce a seemingly never-ending trail of submission tasks. If I had a substantial amount of work I wanted to publish, I’m sure I’d drown in it without a tool like Duotrope.
  • People without easy access to a ton of different literary magazines. I recall hearing advice, possibly from a college professor, to browse literary magazines at a bookstore and get a sense for where my work might fit. In college, this method might have actually worked well for me. But now, it would require keeping my 1- and 3-year-old just as interested in the literary magazines as I was, for as long as it took for me to read them. Also, I’d probably have to travel to a much larger town to see many literary magazines in the first place. Finally, with the surge of reputable online publications, it’s hard to really get an expansive view of literary markets in any one physical spot. That’s what makes Duotrope so convenient.

Who might not want to pay for Duotrope?

  • People who aren’t ready to submit work. Although Duotrope would be a valuable resource for anyone who wants to submit work someday, even if they’re not quite ready to do so yet, it could also potentially distract such a person from the actual writing. Plus, having pieces ready to go means you know the smartest way to search for publishing markets; you know what you’re looking for, because you know what you have. If everything’s still a work-in-progress, you might as well wait until it’s more polished before paying for Duotrope.
  • People who need to adhere to a very tight budget. $5/month is pretty reasonable for what Duotrope offers, but it’s not nothing. I knew I didn’t want to commit to the full year’s price upfront. In my opinion, a Duotrope membership is arguably a better use of your writing money than, say, multiple contest entry fees. It’s easy to go broke on those, and with an uncertain benefit to boot; at least when you pay for Duotrope, you know you’ll get something, even if that “something” is just really good information.

The bottom line

For me, it’s worth it. I might let my membership lapse when I hear back from this round of submissions, and wait to join up again until the next round is ready to go. But really, for people with plenty of work to submit and limited time, Duotrope offers an excellent streamlined, user-friendly method for navigating the potentially maddening world of literary submissions.

What is your method for initiating and keeping track of your writing submissions? 

Editor’s note: This is a positive review of Duotrope based on one writer’s positive experience using the system. The beauty of having a variety of contributing writers is that we can offer readers a variety of perspectives. For another perspective on Duotrope’s membership fee, check out this post by The Missouri Review: Duotrope Digest Announces Fee-Based System. I love the Missouri Review, but keep in mind that they, too, have begun charging writers a fee for submitting work. Bottom line: organizations have the right to charge a fee for the services they provide, and we have the right to pay or not. There’s no right or wrong, only what works for an individual.

  • Jo Vraca

    It’s becoming increasingly more normal for websites to charge for premium services–the days of “free for all” seem to be over. To be honest, I trust information I have to pay for more than free information. That said, my expectations are high when I pay for content, and I’m not always rewarded.

    There is a free alternative that I used when ghostwriting last year: – there is a free and premium version, but the free version is incredibly useful and will save your queries and gives very in depth information about agencies as well as individual agents. This doesn’t mean that there is no work left for the writer to do in terms of researching specifics about the agency. Wah. So much hard work! Good luck!

    • Sarah Baughman

      You’re right, Jo; it seems to be increasingly normal for websites, including online publications, to charge for information or services (the New York Times comes to mind). That free service you mentioned looks very helpful though– thanks!

  • John Yeoman

    Duotrope is a wonderful resource. I used it when it was free and found it invaluable. How do you keep track of submissions? A spreadsheet is fine for techies but Excel is just too over-engineered for me. Instead, I use Scrivener. In its simplest application it’s a high-end word processor, and far easier to use than the labyrinthine Word 2010. But its real value is in helping authors to organize their stuff.

    For example, I write a lot of guest posts and need to track my submissions. I keep separate folders in Scriveners for sites, articles and schedules. Simple!

    A hidden benefit of Scrivener is that it will also output your work to any format you l;like – pdf, epub, Kindle, etc – in a moment. It’s a trivial $40 and you can get a free 30-day trial here:

    Before you ask, no, I don’t get a commission! I just produced my first Kindle ebook on Scrivener last night so I feel boisterously proud of myself….

    • Sarah Baughman

      John, I’ve been meaning to spend more time with Scrivener– I downloaded a trial but haven’t gone through the tutorial yet. From your comments it sounds like the services are more extensive than I’d realized. Congratulations on your eBook!

  • Jim Hamlett

    Very helpful analysis, Sarah. I’ve not submitted to literary outlets, but I might spend a couple of days at Duotrope to see if there’s a match for what I write–thanks to your efforts.

    • Sarah Baughman

      No problem, Jim! It’s probably not for everyone, but it’s been helpful for me.

  • Fred

    Wow. What a one sided article.
    Nothing here about how you can do *nothing* on the site without paying for it, or how a simple google search can bring up lit markets, too.

    Nothing about cost-benefit analysis on a monetary level.

    As for the comments. If a spreadsheet is too hard for you, please get off the interwebs. It’s not that hard to keep a list that has a date, title, publication, how you submitted on it. Hell, you can do it on a sheet of paper.

    • Sarah Baughman

      I’m sorry the article seemed one-sided. I haven’t had very much luck with using simple google searches to bring up the range of publications I found on Duotrope, but perhaps with more time I could have. And time, I think, is the key here for me; it provided a quick and easy introduction to the world of literary submissions. Anybody who already had a better handle on that and who had developed a good system of finding markets and tracking submissions probably wouldn’t need to rely on the site. You’re right about spreadsheets being relatively simple– I do actually know how to use them, but the bottom line for me was the streamlined nature of Duotrope. For a couple months of submitting and waiting it was worth $10 or $15 for me. As I said in the article, I don’t plan to subscribe continuously, but paying for the site on an as-needed basis works for me.

    • Suzannah Windsor Freeman


      While this is definitely a positive review of Duotrope, it’s the result of one writer’s positive experience using the system. The beauty of having a variety of writers is that you get a variety of perspectives. Yes, one can get most of the information on Duotrope by searching the internet, but busy people are much more likely to pay for the convenience of having all that information presented to them in one place. Why do people still buy informational or self-help books when they can read all the same stuff on blogs and websites for free? For the privilege of having the process streamlined.

      I used Duotrope when it was free and will not pay for a membership because I’d rather do the research myself. But I’m not everyone, and writers need to do what works for them.

      Let’s keep in mind just how powerful words are, and use them to encourage each other rather than being disparaging.

      • Sarah Baughman

        Good point, Suzannah. Generally, people pay for others to perform services that for whatever reason they’d rather not attempt on their own, but what different people need in terms of “service” varies widely. A third group of writers who probably don’t need to bother paying for Duotrope would be those who have already developed an alternative trusted system that keeps them informed about literary markets and submissions. Perhaps if I’d used Duotrope when it was free, I would have felt knowledgeable enough about “what was out there” to skip the paid membership.

  • Iseult Murphy

    I recommend The Submission Grinder. It has a rapidly growing database of searchable markets that are updated regularly, a submission tracker that gives handy stats on all your pieces, places you’ve submitted to and their responses as well as keeping track of your active submissions and it has response times and response details on the markets as well. It also has a nice shout out option when you get an acceptance. Plus it is free.

    • Sarah Baughman

      Thanks, Iseult– I’ve never heard of that site, and it does look like an excellent resource!

  • Pria M.

    Just wondering if this article was in any way subsidized or requested by Duotrope. I, in fact, enjoy and pay for a monthly membership at the site, but am concerned by advertisement-seeming blog write-ups that don’t out themselves as such.

    • Sarah Baughman

      No, I’ve never been in contact with Duotrope except to sign up for my free trial. I’m really sorry the article came off as a one-sided advertisement. Perhaps it’s my newness to the world of literary submissions that made it a positive investment for me, and I didn’t have luck finding alternatives that provided the same services for free. However, as I said, I don’t plan on continuing to pay for a membership indefinitely anyway.

    • Suzannah Windsor Freeman


      This is not a subsidized post. We do sell advertising space in the sidebars, but never feature subsidized posts on Write It Sideways. Thanks for bringing up the question though, in case anyone else was wondering :)

  • Tim J.

    I used Duotrope when it was free, found it worked well enough to be willing to pay for it. I understand not everyone wants to do this, and maybe there are enough resources out there for free. Convenient and easy for me, that’s what got me to subscribe. I will check out the free services other commenters mentioned, but I’m comfortable with Duotrope for now . Whatever works for you, go wild with it, and good luck to everyone with their writing endeavors.

    • Sarah Baughman

      “Convenient and easy” is the bottom line for me as well, Tim. I definitely applaud those who have other systems, especially free ones, that work well for them.

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    . And I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does it give the impression like some of the responses appear like written by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting on other sites, I would like to follow anything new you have to post. Would you list of all of all your shared pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  • Scathe meic Beorh

    I wouldn’t be published anywhere near as much without Shannon and J.E. over at Duotrope. I happily pay the required $50. a year for the stellar services (plural!) they offer. Today, just for example, i sent them 6 different changes to three different magazines that I publish and have listed on Duotrope (Haunted Magazine, Mad March Hare, and Beorh Quarterly). Within 30 minutes each change was made and I had received (as always) a personal email notifying me of the change.

    We need them, and a quick peruse of what magazines use their services will show that they are on the very top of the game. In fact, they’re the only real game in town.

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