Getting Submissive with Duotrope

As mentioned last time, I created a rough draft for the Unresolved Sexual Tension theme, completed a first pass and was on to my next step: Critique Group.

So, I sat down with my crit group last night and passed around my short (almost flash fiction) story. They loved it. That is, if it were another chapter or scene in my book. As a short story? Fail.

Their advice was superb and in essence, I’m going to take the whole piece, turn it completely on it’s head, and give it a re-write. As Ben said, “I got to the end and thought ‘he needs to start HERE.'” (Fucker.)

I already feared the story wasn’t going to work as a stand alone because I was going to have trouble communicating the already developed relationships of these characters. However, it didn’t occur to me that aside from that, my brain was still in “novel” mode.

But this is why you go to Crit group.

Writing shorts and novels are two totally different things. In fact, many writers specialize in one or even completely ignore the other. Hooks, pacing, even the goals of both are extremely different. It’s like painting in water color versus painting in oil. For one, you need precise strokes because re-tracing your steps isn’t much of an option or your page turns to mush. The other can do with a bit of layering and abuse, but too much and you start to see the cracks.

Fine. I’ll rework it. But for now, let’s assume it’s perfect so we can move along.

My next step would be to log on to Duotrope. From here, I can look up the market. In fact, I favorited Crossed Genres so finding them is a simple matter of clicking a link in my favorites folder.

The Crossed Genres entry at Duotrope (more info off screen)

The Crossed Genres entry at Duotrope (more info off screen)

I love Duotrope because it provides a list of market specifics which includes: pay rate, genres accepted, types and links. Also listed are upcoming themes and even acceptance ratios based on input provided by other users. Often they have a link to interviews with the editors  which is valuable insight into what kind of stories the market is searching for.

So, I’ll use the link to Crossed Genres and surf on over to their submissions page. DONT EVER OMIT THIS STEP. A great way to make sure your story goes straight into the virtual trash bin is to skip this step. Every publication will have slightly different guidelines. Even those slight differences are very important.

The Crossed Genres submission page tells me they are firm on their word count. In most cases, markets want an estimate (rounded to the nearest 100s) word count. I’ve seen a few that require an exact word count. Either way, since this one emphasizes they are FIRM on the word count, I’d make sure to keep it under the max and over the minimum.

Unlike many markets, CG allows multiple submissions. This means I can submit, as noted, two stories at a time. That doesn’t mean, however, that they allow simultaneous submissions. This means submitting the same story to a different market. Most editors frown on this as it means they could select a story, start planning the issue and then later be told the story is being pulled because another market bought it. And, like many markets, they don’t want any reprints. That want their stories brand new, straight off the lot with that fresh ink smell. If it’s been published elsewhere, don’t submit.

I’ll next check their submission process. Many have very specific ways you do this. Some want the story pasted into an email. Others want an attached RTF file. Others have their own specialized submission form. Still others use a collective submission process like Submishmash (aka Submittable.)

CG’s is all built into the page with clear instructions. For emailed electronic submissions, they will often have very specific instructions about how to label the subject line, how to attach the story, and often state if they want a cover letter or not. Sometimes they spell out what needs to be in that cover letter. Follow all of these steps to the letter. Put the creative “you” aside. Don’t try to be fun or quirky with any of the instructions.


Okay, so rejections are piling up. Get used to it. I only submit to paying markets, so the coup here is the increase in personal rejections.

Now, aside from quick access to markets and lists of upcoming themes and anthologies, I like Duotrope because it can track my little writing habit.  So before (or after) submitting, I head back to Duotrope and enter the details of my new piece. Their interface will record the title, genre and word count. I can then report a submission to a market using a very simply drop-down menu interface. From here on, I can check and see how long each story has been out and as I hear back from markets (or collect rejections as the case may be). I can even record exactly what happened with that piece (accepted, personal rejection, form rejection, withdrawn.)

So, with the story submitted and my activity logged on Duotrope, now comes the hardest part – waiting. Actually, it isn’t as hard as you think. Know why? Because you should be writing. Keep creating new stories, honing your craft and you’ll eventually forget you even submitted somewhere  in the first place. Resist the urge to open it up and fuss with it, preen it, or make any alterations.

Currently, I have five stories pending response in my queue. Go ahead and let them pile up. When they get rejected, search out another market and submit again. Duotrope will also track your “acceptance” percentage, but ignore that. If you’re over 5%, you’re an underachiever – you aren’t submitting enough.

One afternoon, you’ll pop open the inbox and get a nice, fat, rejection. It will most often be completely impersonal and land in your inbox right about the time you are thinking “I wonder if its taking so long because they love the story and are hanging on to it, cuddling it, pushing the deadline back for it?” You might even do silly things like Google the text to see if it really is a form letter (cause I’ve never done that). For me, usually even the rejections aren’t that bad though. I enjoy discovering new markets and subbing them again. You’ve got to be a bit of a sadist to be a writer. Thick skin doesn’t cut it, cause, you will get diced and sliced regardless.

Any questions about the submission process? Stay tuned, next week I might have a guest post. He doesn’t know it yet, but I might even get my buddy Tom, who is much more familiar with the whole acceptance thing than I, to write a quick article about that. Right, Tom?

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7 replies

  1. Get out of my head! I was just making some notes on your excellent article as to things I could add in the reply email. I’d be glad to add my two cents (as if stopping me was an option) to your blog. I think you and I are in about the same position as far as the short stories go, struggling to get our babies out there. I’ve just written a few more. One thing I have to mention is that the submission process is only the second or third step (with writing and reviewing being one and two). After that comes the administrative stuff where you have to keep track of who bought it, how much they paid, was it ever published in any form, and do you have a copy on your brag shelf?

    Your blog piece is very well put together and includes some important information for beginning writers (and sellers!). Do you mind if I post a link on my crit group for your blog? Also, my Nano group meets monthly all year round and I’d like to pass this onto them, too, if it’s okay with you. We have several short story writers in both groups who would learn a lot from this.



    • Thanks for the compliments, Tom. I’m serious about the offer if you want to write a piece about the acceptance stage – dealing with editors and the process (you summarized above). You’re too modest on a “few more” published. I’d also add that tracking when exclusive rights expire and the like is important as well, but I’ll save all that for next week.

      Oh, and share away!

  2. I don’t sell my short stories or even attempt to…they are more like writing practices/exercises to me. I love your analogy to watercolors and oils as I paint in both and they are night and day…total opposites. Novel writing; however linear I approach it, is a joy to me and a challenge that I cannot get from the short.

  3. Great to hear from you! Yeah, I’ve met plenty of authors that swear off one or the other. In the end, you’re correct, it’s all about what inspires you.

  4. How much does Duotrope cost? I see that there is a free trial button on the main page but I don’t want to get too interested in it and then not be able to afford it later on.

    • When I first started with Duotrope, they were operating on a donations only scheme. Now, unfortunately, they’ve moved to subscriptions. $5 a month or $4.17 a month if you sign for a full year. I got completely used to the interface and was sold on it, but you could do all of these things without it. You could setup a spreadsheet to track your submissions, use searches and networking to find calls for submissions. But I’m lazy. Writing fiction doesn’t pay much (thus Fictional Work) so even 50-60 a year should be worth a pause for consideration. I should also add, I’m not trying to sell their service. I’m not affiliated them in any way other than as a customer.

    • I also use Duotrope to find markets and track my sales and submissions. I keep a separate Excel spreadsheet so I don’t resubmit something to the same market twice. I track markets down the side and stories across the top. Duotrope will keep track of that, too, but I find with a lot of stories (I have twenty-five out there making the rounds right now), it’s easier for me to just look down the list of markets and find the next blank. I also use this same spreadsheet for the admin stuff, but I’ll talk about that later.
      I don’t think Russ mentioned that Duotrope is no longer a free service. It’s $50.00 a year but worth it if you write short stories. I can’t imagine the dark ages where writers had to track down each market individually and find their specific submission guidelines. Fortunately, most magazines and anthologies accept Standard Manuscript Format, but they do have different submission guidelines, most to keep your submission from being rejected as spam. It’s nice just to click on the Duotrope entry and have it take you to their submissions page.
      We’re supposed to start with the Big Three (Asimov, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction) and work our way down. As an amateur, I’ve discovered that these buyers – while they do pay the most – also take the longest to reject a story. I generally have something submitted to them but don’t hold my breath to hear back within six months. The exception is F&SF which sends out “Didn’t work for me” rejection form letters the same week; however, in this high-tech day and age, they still only accept hardcopy mailed submissions.
      For me, Duotrope’s anthology listing in their weekly newsletter is why I subscribe. Many times I will have just written a niche story – such as a robot detective solving a locked-from-the-inside murder mystery – when the newsletter will announce an anthology looking for robot detectives! True story. How could they not buy it? For the spookier crowd, I’d recommend as they list current horror markets that are looking for your story.

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