When I was first starting out sending poems to lit mags, there wasn’t much to go on. I could buy a Poet’s Market pretty easily, but things like the CLMP Directory and The International Directory of Little Magazines & Small Presses were resources I couldn’t find easily nor even knew about until I went to graduate school. Even then, I had little data to work with. Everything was simpler, but there was a lot of anecdotal material.
You didn’t simultaneous submit. You mailed everything. If the lit mag wasn’t in the US, you had to buy IRC’s. You expected things to take three to four months. Six months was a bit long. A year was a lost submission. These were the rules as taught to me in the mid-90’s. Things are different now.
Last year, I decided that I would try Duotrope’s paid service for a year, just to see. Most people, it seemed and I was no exception, was going to use it as a catalog of where to submit. For that, it was helpful. You can modify the criteria for your search. You can look for or exclude fledglings. You can search based on fees or pay or whether they’re open now (although you should check with the journal on that one). And this has led me to find a number of homes for my work. On that level, it was worth it. Could free searches be as effective? Probably, but it would require more legwork on my part.
The real benefit for me was looking at the numbers Duotrope collects. They have a list of who responses fastest and slowest. Where the acceptance level is higher versus lower. They tell you how long the mean response time is for acceptances or rejections, how often people have been asked for rewrites, etc.. Granted, all of this data is self-reported. Subscribers log on and tell them when and where they submit and what happens. This leads to a few potential pitfalls. Not everyone who submits will be logging their information into Duotrope. I know of few others who have active accounts. Besides that, not everyone will an account will log their submissions into the app. I didn’t log in all of mine. I kept a running Excel sheet for that. So it is people logging in what they want, and potentially not being super careful about when. I say this to say, you can’t trust the exact numbers, but I think you can trust the trends if the lit mag has a sizable sample. What did I find looking up different magazines?
Helpful information I discovered centered on trends, like which magazines tend to give quicker acceptances than rejections or which magazines tend to give quicker rejections than acceptances, and they give you the mean number of days for each type of response. There’s a category for “never responded” which is good. The number I found interesting is when on average people pulled their submissions. Often, people pulled submissions at around 30 days, which for many magazines is way too early based upon the numbers. It maybe that reflects simultaneous submissions being picked up elsewhere, but in some cases, the numbers are pretty high. If people are pulling them because they think “the editor is taking too long” then that’s just a misguided idea.
By and large, these numbers don’t help me get published per se, rather, they give me a general guide as I plan out where a submission is going to go and then go to next if rejected. They give me a better idea of when an individual magazine might get back to me and allows me to not think about that packet until we get to a certain date and the clock starts. Coupled with something like Submittable, which can tell you when a magazine has opened your submission, you can gain a bit of insight into the process.
The long and short of it is, with this information, I get to make at least better informed decisions about where and when I send something. I don’t do, as a general rule, simultaneous submissions for individual poems, stories, or essays (book and chapbook manuscripts in my mind are different kinds of submissions). As a result, I need to be more efficient about where I’m sending them to get the best exposure possible. The information I gleaned from Duotrope helped me do that, and I had better success in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
In any case, the amount of information a writer today has about this part of the business end of writing is now easily available. We all have limited resources, so decided whether paying for this kind of information is a personal decision. I did find it gave my season a better focus than I had in other seasons, and I did make some better decisions. Food for thought.