Saturday, December 8, 2012

Weekly Updates: Duotrope, or How to be a Writer with No Money

64º ~ solid gray mass of a sky hovering low over the bare trees

Not much news to report, aside from two rejections, one of which hurt worse than the other simply because I had gotten an encouraging note and thought I'd finally figured it out with this submission. Guess not.

I did want to take a moment to offer my two cents about Duotrope's decision to require users to pay a fee for their services.

I'm no economist, but it seems to me that it would be nearly impossible to sustain providing free services like Duotrope's without some kind of revenue stream.  Most of the free internet services I know of (gmail, yahoo, facebook, etc.) have gone the route of online ads to generate enough revenue to keep the service free.  Duotrope is a literary service, so you can imagine that there aren't all that many ad dollars waiting in the wings.  So, I think of those folks doing the work of compiling the information for Duotrope and supporting the technical programs necessary to track data & etc.  I wonder why they ever did it for free.  So, if you want to use the service and can afford it, I encourage you to subscribe and pay the fee.

If you don't have the money (and many writers don't), then I encourage you to do what I've done and what most of the writers my age and older (those of us who came of age before the wonders of the internet) have done.  In the end, I think there is a bigger payoff for the writer (I know I sound like your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, etc...we had to walk in snowstorms like you've never experienced uphill both ways to get to school).

It is possible to do this without spending any money at all, unless you live in an isolated area without access to a public library that offers internet access and interlibrary loan.  If that's the case, you may have to pay for internet access and buy the occasional book and/or lit mag (not such a bad thing, really).

Invest your time in reading, reading, and reading lit mags.  Here's a simple way to begin.  Take a book of poetry or short stories that you absolutely love, open it to the acknowledgments page, and copy down every lit mag that writer published in.  Check and see if the writer has a web page; if so, see if they list publications not in the book and collect more titles of lit mags there. Google all of these lit mags and find out which ones are in print and which ones are online.  Read the online one's for free!  If the print journal offers samples online (and most do) read them; then find out if the print journals are available in your area.  While your local bookstore might not like it, you can brows in the store without buying.  If your library is willing, see if they have the funds to subscribe.  (Did you know that many libraries have grants that specifically offer money for periodicals?)  Is there a university or college library in your area?  Most of the time you can go and browse without having a student ID.

When I was preparing to submit my application to MFA programs, I lived in Columbia, MO, although I was not a student at Mizzou.  Still, I spent countless hours in the periodical stacks of their library reading issue after issue of all of the lit mags they had in their catalog.  Not only did I learn about the lit mags, but also I learned about a bunch of authors I needed to read more of.  I flipped to their bios and copied down the titles of books and more lit mags.  I bought what I could afford and asked the local public library to ILL (interlibrary loan) copies of books I couldn't afford. If I had to check a book out from the library, I photocopied the poems that set me on fire.  It took years for me to build a knowledge base about lit mags and authors, and when the age of online journals exploded, I had quicker access, but I still had to do the reading to figure out the journal's aesthetic and this only led to finding more authors to read.

And there it is: TIME.  While services like Duotrope can speed up the business side of submissions and help keep track of what pieces are under consideration where, they cannot substitute for your own personal knowledge of the publishing landscape.  In fact, without building that landscape, you are wasting your time, firing poems or stories off in the dark because the technology allows you to do so.

As for databases, that too can be done for free.  I have two Excel spreadsheets.  (You can download Open Office for free or keep this record by hand...the horror!... in a ruled journal.)  One details every journal I've ever even thought remotely about submitting to.  This one has the name of the journal, whether they accept simultaneous submissions, their reading periods, and any results I've gotten.  The other is a list of each poem I'm in the process of sending out.  It contains the title of the poem, the journals submitted to with dates of submission, dates of rejection, and in the happy case, dates of acceptance.  I also keep hard copies in a filing cabinet, one poem per manila folder with the submission record recorded on the inside of the folder.  One folder per lit mag with all of my correspondence...oh those old hand mailed rejection letters!  I could heat a small village with the fire they would make.  This is a holdover from the pre-electronic age and I learned how to do it in Poet's Market.   Only recently have I begun to think about giving up the hard copy system, now that I have a reliable back up system on the computer and most editors send their response via email (just not the same).

Finally, if and when you do have some loose change in your pocket, please collect it in a jar and eventually use it to subscribe to your favorite print journal, donate to your favorite online journal, or buy a book of contemporary poetry/short stories.  After all, isn't that what you hope someone will do for you, read your work?


Kathleen said...

Oh, such wonderful advice. I do lots of this in one version or another. Recently signed up for Duotrope at a mag's request...don't know what I'll do next, though it seems reasonable to charge for such a service, they simply did what Hulu did!!

I keep hard-copy folders....

Sandy Longhorn said...

Kathleen, it's a good thing you and I (and others of a certain age) are around to help out the young 'uns during this time of crisis. Hee hee. Long live the hard copy folders!

Anonymous said...

Sandy - I finally gave up on the hard copies - too hard to keep track and trying to declutter. I store poems in folders on the computer and also in the Cloud.
I think that your comments about taking the time to read and know the publishing market is an essential piece of advice. Thanks for a great post.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Donna, thanks for reading and for the kind words!

Martha Silano said...

Thanks for these reminders of how simple it can be to research magazines, get to know their editorial preferences, as well as keep track of one's poems and their whereabouts and off-tos. Makes me hungry to submit!

Sandy Longhorn said...

You're welcome, Martha! May your poems fly straight and true.

Anonymous said...

Elaborate system you got there -- all those acceptances must keep you pretty busy!

I'll be subscribing to Duotrope as soon as they start taking PayPal in January, since their recent responses feature is like crack to me. But I keep my own spreadsheet going as well along with hard copies.

Nothing like yours, though! You bowl me over with your brilliant methodology -- I love this sort of thing.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Marie, sometimes "brilliant methodology" is codeword for "a wee bit obsessive"!


Thanks for reading! I have a feeling you aren't the only one addicted to the recent responses feature.

Karen J. Weyant said...

I don't use Duotrope that much, but like to share it with my students. But I also give a lot of my old journals away to students -- it's like Christmas to them.

Thanks for the reminder about the good old days, before the Internet became really popular and before journals had webpages. I remember that when I was an undergraduate, I had to write a letter (yes, a letter) with a check (yes, a check) requesting sample copies of literary journals!

Sandy Longhorn said...


Ah, the good old days! :)