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.

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