December 29, 2012 by Nathaniel Tower
This is the first part in a series of posts about the value of Duotrope Digest, which will require a $50 subscription for most features beginning on January 1, 2013. For more information, visit their website.
We knew this was coming. Anyone who’s used Duotrope Digest has surely noticed the constant red or orange notice reporting lack of donations. When they finally announced the site was switching to paid subscriptions, many writers were upset, and maybe rightfully so. After all, when something that’s free is taken away, we feel a bit cheated. Especially when the price goes from $0 a year to $50 a year.
But this isn’t about whether or not Duotrope is being unfair by suddenly charging writers for the service. This is about whether or not it’s worth it.
There are three main features of Duotrope that I’ll explore in this series. I consider these the three biggest features of the site: the submissions tracker, the market listings, and the response statistics.
Before we get to the first topic, let’s put the cost into perspective. $50 a year is less than 14 cents a day. While that might make it easier for some to swallow, the fact is that you aren’t asked to pay 14 cents a day. You’re asked to give them $50 up front (or $5 a month if you prefer to test out the waters and ultimately pay a little more). One time at a car dealer, a man named “Easy Art” told me the difference between the price I wanted and the price he was offering was fifty cents a day. Then he handed me fifty cents and said that he would give me my first payment. Needless to say, I didn’t buy the car from Easy Art.
Easy Art and his shady sales habits aside, is Duotrope worth $50 a year? In short, it depends on how you use it. Personally, I made over $300 (I think that puts me right up with Stephenie Meyer) in 2012 through my short fiction, and most of that money came from markets I learned about on Duotrope. Does that mean I’d gladly pay $50? Well, that’s a pretty big percentage of my earnings. Duotrope is asking me to do more than tithe. But more about that later. Let’s focus on the first big feature, the submissions tracker.
The Duotrope submissions tracker is an attractive feature. It’s fairly simple to use, other than the requirement that you enter each piece individually, find the right market, and click a few buttons and drop down menus. Really, none of that is hard. It takes about a minute, give or take a few seconds based on your computer knowledge. Of course, that’s only if you’re already logged in and the site is moving quickly.
For a minute’s worth of work, you get an organized tracker with many great features. Here’s a screenshot:
Yes, it looks quite nice. You can sort it anyway you want it. You can even compare the days it took for the market’s response to the average days reported for this market (we’ll deal with response statistics in part three of this blog).
Here’s the deal though: this isn’t worth $50. Not if you have Microsoft Excel or some other spreadsheet program. Tell you what. I’ll give you a free submissions tracking template. You can access it by clicking here. To save, just go to File/Download, and it’s yours to keep and use (feel free to ignore the sample data). It took about 20 minutes to make. It automatically color codes submissions based on the response type. It calculates response time (or the days out if the response hasn’t come yet). It tracks your earnings. If it doesn’t do something you want it to do, let me know and I’ll fix it for you. Seriously, if you have any problems with this one, contact me and I’ll take care of it. The only thing Duotrope’s does that this one doesn’t is compare the response times to their data (the accuracy of which is a bit questionable, but that’s a discussion for another day).
Oh, and the greatest thing about the spreadsheet: it takes about half as much time to enter a submission. 30 seconds might not be much, but if you submit a lot (I submitted over 300 times last year) that adds up.
I do plan to subscribe to Duotrope. At least for the first month. But if all you are using it for is the submissions tracker, then don’t bother. You can do this for free. Use that extra $50 to buy yourself a writing class or submission fee for a few contests.
Now you just have to figure out how to find those contests.