The Duotrope Dilemma

Writing and placing short stories may be fun and gratifying, but it’s not a way to get rich. Short story writers  write their work and submit to journals without expectation of payment most of the time. That may be unfortunate, but it’s the truth.

And it used to be true that the whole process was free from looking up your market in Duotrope to submitting via Submittable (formerly SubMishMash) as long as you didn’t submit to a place that charged reading fees, or contest fees (something I’ve discussed on the blog previously. In short, I don’t believe in paying reading or contest fees.)

But beginning Jan 2013, the Duotrope database has started requiring payment – either $5 a month or $50 if you sign up for a full year. Here’s what Duotrope says about what you can no longer access:

If I don’t subscribe, what will I miss out on?

  • You will no longer be able to run searches or browse the index of listings.
  • The information shown on individual market listings will be limited.
  • You won’t be able to access our calendar of deadlines, statistical reports*, or RSS feeds.
  • You will lose access to your control panel, including your submissions tracker

I have mixed feelings about it because I think Duo is a fantastic resource and I’ve enjoyed using it over the years, however, I think $50 for a one year subscription is too steep for most writers who are not getting paid for their work. If it had been half that I would have grumbled but signed up. At $50, I’m not signing up on principle, for now.

Also, I don’t see how the statistics on Duotrope will improve if they have a much smaller number of users reporting their submissions. I suspect the veracity of those statistics will plummet in usefulness unless they achieve a critical mass of people willing to pay. For the sake of Duotrope’s long term viability, I’d suggest they report on the number of paying subscribers they have in order to make clear the total population available to report their subs, but that’s my opinion.

And as for tracking my submissions on Duo, I was doing it more as a service to the editors of the journals where I submitted my work. I keep a separate tracking spreadsheet on my computer that has many more notes and information I find relevant. But individual markets — especially new markets — will potentially suffer from being under-reported due to a lack of user base for Duo because I strongly suspect the majority of users will not pay that fee.

Here are some alternatives for people who need to be able to browse listings to find small press markets to target.

Alternative small press literary magazine listings:

I’d like to hear from people on this one. Have you signed up for Duo, and if so, what was your thinking? If you decided not to use it, was it because of the expense or some other reason?

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May, June, July 2012 – Rejections

In February this year I shared a round of rejections with you, and as per many of subsequent blog posts, my submissions have slowed since May so not surprisingly my rejections are more spaced out as a result.

With that in mind, I’m sharing my May, June, and July 2012 rejections so you can see how it’s been going. The list is newest rejection to oldest, but I don’t think it matters.

  • Coriumpersonal rejection

My note on Corium: Prior to this rejection, I had 3 pieces I had to withdraw (Jan, April,  July) because stories were picked up by other journals. This time, even though I didn’t mention it, I subbed the piece exclusively, no sim-subs elsewhere. It wasn’t quite a fit, but I admire Lauren Becker, the editor, so I need to find a piece she likes. My quest continues.

  • The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts
  • Cur.ren.cy – personal rejection
  • Juked
  • Matchbook
  • Gargoyle – personal rejection

My note on Gargoyle: This was my first experience submitting to Gargoyle. Mad, mad props to Richard Peabody, the editor, who has been doing his thing on Gargoyle for decades. How he has time to send personal rejection notes is a mystery to me given that he’s getting hundreds of submissions in the brief window he opens once a year in preparation for the following year’s edition of the magazine.

  • Sycamore Review
  • Right Hand Pointing – personal rejection
  • Flywheel Magazine – personal rejection
  • Quarterly West
  • A Public Space

My note on A Public Space: Sent inquiry after 6 months on status. No reply. Re-sent inquiry one month later (at 7 month wait period.) Personal reply received that they were backlogged on reading and my piece was still under consideration. Standard rejection form sent two months later. Total wait time: 9 months.

  • Booth: A Journal
  • Camroc Press – personal rejection
  • AGNI
  • Fringe
  • The Collagist
  • Hobart (print)
  • Diagram – personal rejection
  • The Prose Poem Project
  • Dark Sky Magazine – personal rejection
  • Salamander
  • Gigantic – personal rejection
  • This Great Society
  • Bellvue Literary Review
  • Kenyon Review
  • Juked

There you have it, make of it what you will. As for me, I continue to be very pleased with the level of personal engagement I have with many editors and I just keep on doing what I can to get the work out there.

What else is there for a writer to do anyway? You just have to keep at it, day by day.

If you have a favorite journal you’ve been hitting up, an editor you admire, a journal that maybe didn’t treat you as you would have liked, or a ridiculous wait period followed by a standard form rejection, feel free to share any and all in the comments (you know the drill, people!)

Thanks

What is the future of the Small Literary Magazine community?

Short story writers and small press literary magazine editors are an important community.  This wasn’t apparent to me when I first started submitting my short stories around, “way back” in 2010. I also didn’t understand the majority of these magazines operated with volunteer staffs and a lot of love, fantatical dedication and sweat equity.

Think about that for a moment. The time it takes to create a short story and then the time it takes for a staff of dedicated volunteers to assess that work and determine if it’s a fit for a journal. We all keep doing it, in a positive reinforcing circle, and it’s produced inspiring work.

There have been several postings I’ve seen around the web recently about what it takes to run a small literary magazine (SLM). Most of these discussions talk about the financial, or lack of financial, support for the small literary magazines (SLM).

As a writer who has placed 15 of my pieces with SLM’s, and I’ve not gotten (nor expected) any payment from it, I can tell you I’m also personally unwilling to pay reading fees to an SLM to read my work. This would be the case for me if I got paid for my short stories or not. It’s also why I don’t participate in contests that charge reading fees. To me, that feels more like gambling than a contest. It’s more like a poker game where everyone puts money into the pot and winner takes all.

(As a side note, and my apologies to the U.S. Post Office notwithstanding, I’m also unwilling to kill trees to circulate my work. It boggles my mind that some of these ancient, old-guard SLM’s …The Paris Review, for example… still get away with living in the 19th Century when it comes to accepting submissions. Get with the program, people. The New Yorker accepts electronic subs, so there should be no excuse for others. Support Submittable and get a Submishmash account for your SLM and come into the 21st Century. You know, where the real people live with computers, email accounts and everything.)

I’m ready, willing and able to interact with a volunteer staff as a writer volunteering to provide my short story for free in exchange for publication, and I’m also ready to help publicize that SLM and encourage others to read it. I’m happy to see (some) advertising on the SLM’s website, or for people to pay for subscriptions, or merchandise, or door-fee fueled special events. I have no issue with SLM’s that solicit for donations on a voluntary basis either.

I volunteered for a short while as a slushpile reader at an SLM, and I’d be willing to do it again. I enjoyed it tremendously and I felt like, even for a brief stint, I was able to give back to my community.

Where does all this leave us as a community of writers, editors and staff, small literary magazine afficianados, readers and everyone else who participates in this wonderful machine we all feed every day of the year?

You may not like it, but it leaves us exactly where we are today. We have decided to participate in this thriving community because we are compelled to write and produce our work, and others are compelled to dedicate themselves to provide venues for writers, artists, photographers, etc. to showcase that work.

While it’s unfortunate that the economic climate for artists in the United States has never been fantastic, it’s never going to stop writers from doing what they need to do: write. Short story writers and SLM editors are no different. Their compulsion to support the community is real, and their dedication to it palpable.

I’m grateful to be a part of this community, and proud to count myself among their multitudes.

Stephen King on the Short Story

On April 12, 2011, The Atlantic published “Stephen King on the Creative Process, the State of Fiction, and More.”  I found his comments on the state of the short story extremely interesting:

JP: More generally, are you still as pessimistic about the short story as you seemed to be in that New York Times essay that you wrote

SK: Ah well

JP: Or was that like a cranky moment?

SK: Well it wasn’t really a cranky moment. I mean, it’s a question of who reads them. And I’ve got a perspective of being a short-story reader going back to when I was 8 or 9 years old. At that time there were magazines all over the place. There were so many magazines publishing short fiction that nobody could keep up with it. They were just this open mouth going “Feed me! Feed me!” The pulps alone, the 15- and 20-cent pulps, published like 400 stories a month, and that’s not even counting the so-called “slicks” — Cosmopolitan, American Mercury. All those magazine published short fiction. And it started to dry up. And now you can number literally on two hands the number of magazines that are not little presses that publish short fiction. And I’ve always felt like I wanted to write for a wide audience. And I think that that’s an honorable thing to want to do and I also think it’s an honorable thing to say, “I’ve got something that will only appeal to a small slice of the audience”. And there are little magazines that publish in that sense — but a lot of the people who read those magazines are only reading them to see what they publish so that they can publish their own stories.

JP: Right.

So you know what they’re talking about, here is an excerpt from the September 30, 2007 New York Times essay by Stephen King

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.

King wrote the New York Times essay because he was guest editor of Best American Short Stories that year. In fact, King broke with the usual process (of reading pre-screened selections submitted to him by the other editor) and went crazy reading hundreds, if not thousands, of short stories to ensure he was exhaustively surveying the landscape.

Also, King’s credentials as a short story writer are impeccable. He’s written hundreds of them, published them for money, he’s had fantastic movies made of his short stories (Stand by Me, for instance), he’s read thousands of short stories by others, so if you’re thinking ‘well, what does he know’ the answer is: a lot.

So when I went back and thought about what he said I found myself feeling guilty about going to many of the journals I’ve read because I wanted to understand what kinds of stories they publish. (I don’t know how I was going to figure it out without reading the stories they published, but perhaps that is besides King’s point.)

And while I do read some journals regularly because I enjoy them, more frequently I have an ulterior motive. As a writer, I don’t think this is inherently bad – but it is bad if that constitutes the majority (entirety?) of the audience for that journal.

Then there is the money thing to consider. Short story writers don’t make any. King is right again, there probably used to be a much larger paying market out there (before my time) and now there isn’t.

But I still want to get my stories published, and so I submit them without expecting any payment. Does that make me bad? I don’t think so – but it is bad if that constitutes the majority of short story writers, a large unpaid group of people producing their works of art for free and handing them out to the public for free.

I don’t have an answer to King’s comments except to say, yes Mr. King, you are right. I submit my stories without expectation of recompense, and I will keep doing it as long as I love the short story form and enjoy writing stories. I hope some of those stories will be worthy of being read years from now, not just this month when they happened to come out online. Whether or not there will be a collective internet memory for them remains to be seen.

Also, Mr. King, you’re (probably) right that the audience for short stories is other writers. I don’t know what to do about that either.

I’m glad Stephen King made the comments he did, because it should push the short story writing/reading/publishing collective conscience to get up off its intellectual high-minded arse and get a real, paying job.

Unfortunately, that probably means becoming a novelist.

Random Insomnia Post on submitting short stories

It’s somewhere after 2am, and I can’t sleep. After puttering around for a while, the logical thing to do, dear readers, is to write a blog post.

In the middle of the night, all sorts of things occur to you.  “Did I lock the door?” “Do I have milk in the house?”

Regardless of these random thoughts, my primary focus continues to be my writing and publishing opportunities so I think I will opine on that, if you will bear with me.

As of this writing I have my short stories out to 32 different small press magazines for their consideration.  4 of those submissions were sent in 2010, and the remaining 28 were sent this year.

My submissions number is highly variable because I submit my work around several times a month while I am waiting for my responses. My sub number goes up or down depending on who is getting back to me and at what pace.

Now, my rejection list is a whole other story.  I have about 42 small press magazines who have rejected my submissions (thusfar) – and that includes both 2010 and 2011, since I’ve been tracking these things (I used to not want to know them).

Finally, my acceptance rate. While small, I’m pleased to say I have 4 total acceptances. One acceptance from 2009 (published in 2010); one acceptance from late 2010 (published in 2011); two acceptances from 2011: one has already been published in First Stop Fiction, the other awaits a final publication date. Not too shabby, reader!

Whoever said that getting your work published is a matter of patience and persistence is right. The same stories that were rejected elsewhere are getting published eventually.

Each time I get critical feedback – or encouragement – from an editor in the form of a rejection, I use the opportunity to go back to the story and make changes and enhancements.  I don’t always change my story based on this feedback (particularly if the feedback seems random), but I always try to view the story with fresh eyes.

This particular strategy has worked for me, of course your mileage may vary.  But I think I should note that all of my works that have been published thusfar are flash fiction – under 1000 words.  It is relatively easier to tinker with endings or make minor edits when the story is so small.

Another thing I have noticed is that although I submit my work very widely across as broad a spectrum of small lit. magazines as I think is feasible, I am also beginning to notice that there are a small handful that I submit to repeatedly because I think my work would fit best with them. 

In many cases it is also because I have gotten encouraging feedback from the editorial staff!  Some of my nicest rejections are complimentary and personal.  It’s their way of saying, while we couldn’t publish this story, we like your writing and you should definitely come back to us with other work.

These are my observations from my experiences over the past 18-24 months of actively submitting my work. I’d like to think I do have some good stories to tell, and a handful of magazines have validated that thought by publishing my work, and a good many more have validated that thought by rejecting my work in a way that is encouraging and re-inforces the idea of continuing to submit.

Another way of saying it, for writers who might be reading this post, is – 1) don’t give up; 2) use feedback constructively; 3) yes, it’s a bit of a numbers game to get your work published, if the stories are at the right quality level; 4) everyone’s experiences really are different.

Keep sending your work into the world and keep on writing new stories. It’s the only way to get published.