December 31, 2012 by Nathaniel Tower
This is the third 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.
To summarize so far: If you only use Duotrope for the submissions tracker, don’t bother subscribing (download this instead). If you use it mainly to find new and suitable markets for your work, it can’t be beat.
That leaves us with the response statistics.
There are two key components to the response stats: response time and acceptance rate.
No other site offers such detailed and specific statistics. Some will offer approximations, but no one gives an exact number of days or acceptance percentages.
The response stats can do a lot for us as writers.
Do you want a challenge? Duotrope can show you the publications with the lowest acceptance rates. (Let’s be honest though; this isn’t worth the money. If you don’t already know that Glimmer Train, The New Yorker, and The Missouri Review accept pretty much nothing, then you have a lot to learn).
Do you want a confidence boost? Maybe you have something that’s been rejected 50 times. Or maybe you haven’t had a story published for six months. Just send it to one of the most approachable markets. Duotrope will show you those.
Do you have a great story you want to see published now? Duotrope will point you to those publications that respond within a week (some even do it within a day).
Whenever we send out our work, we like knowing about how long it will take to hear back. No one likes waiting three hundred days to get a form rejection. Or a personal rejection. Heck, we probably don’t even want to wait that long for an acceptance.
When I see that a market takes over a hundred days and doesn’t allow simultaneous submissions and has a 0.25% acceptance rate, I usually don’t submit. Even if I have a lot of confidence in a piece I’ve written, that’s a lot of time for that story to be swallowed up by one publisher who probably won’t accept it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t send to these places. I’m just saying I’d prefer not to (get the reference?).
Duotope’s numbers are certainly great tools that can’t be found elsewhere. But are they reliable?
Let’s take a look at the response stats for Bartleby Snopes.
As of 12/29, Duotrope reports a 2.4-day average response time based on 399 submission reports. Thankfully, Duotrope eliminates outliers. That vindictive person who wants to sabotage a magazine’s response time by claiming it took 300 days won’t actually affect anything.
Is that 2.4 day average correct?
It’s pretty darn accurate. We average right around 3 days for a response. If this is upsetting to you, if you throw a fit because Duotrope is off by half a day, then you need to learn some patience. Writing might be the wrong thing for you.
Bartleby Snopes has never taken more than 10 days to respond to a regular submission. Never. Yet the max days reported is 13 (unless you consider the outliers, and then it’s 66 days). But these little errors don’t affect the overall number. In fact, Duotrope’s listed response time is a little faster than what we are really capable of. But it’s close enough that no writer should panic.
So what about the acceptance rate?
Without the outliers, Duotrope has us at a 6.77% acceptance rate. With outliers, it goes to 11%. I’m not sure what the reason for that big of a difference is, but it doesn’t really matter. Let’s look at the real facts.
During 2012, we accepted 7.22% of the submissions we received.
Wait a minute. Bartleby Snopes accepts more submissions than Duotrope claims (albeit by a statistically insignificant difference)? Duotrope suggests the acceptance rate is probably lower than what they say.
Well, sometimes it is.
I spoke with Matthew Guerruckey over at Drunk Monkeys. At one point, Duotrope listed a 60% acceptance rate. He confirms it was never anywhere near this high. But as more reports came in on Duotrope, the acceptance rate went down and is now much more accurate.
As long as enough people report their submissions, the numbers are accurate.
Which leads us to the much bigger question: will those numbers become less reliable with the subscription-only service?
Duotrope says no. They claim it will actually be more reliable. The people who pay are more likely to track all of their submissions accurately. This makes sense. If you pay for a service, you are more likely to use it. If you’ve used a service avidly, you are more likely to pay to continue to use it. Currently, many users of Duotrope forget about their submissions, or don’t bother to report things accurately. Fortunately, those users aren’t the ones who are going to subscribe.
If you follow Duotrope’s updates, their statisticians suggest that the reports of subscribers so far have effectively reduced the unreliable data by 89.6%. That’s a pretty precise number. It sounds credible, doesn’t it?
I have no doubt that the days reported will become more reliable. Paying subscribers aren’t going to let submissions sit around unreported for hundreds of days. They probably aren’t going to lie about response times. They’ll actually pay attention to the real dates they submitted and received responses.
But what about the acceptance rates?
What if the people who pay for Duotrope are a special class of writers who are more likely to get their work published. Will this skew acceptance rates?
Now, this might be a moot point. After all, if you are one of the subscribers, then theoretically you are in this same class, and your acceptance chances will be the same as theirs.
The days reported stats should remain similar to what they are now regardless of whether or not this elite class of writers really exists as the population of Duotrope subscribers. There’s no reason why response times should change. The population of people reporting shouldn’t matter. Most magazines are pretty consistent in response time, whether we’re talking about submissions from 20 great writers or 20 terrible writers (it is interesting though that some magazines take much longer for acceptances while others take much longer for rejections). Duotrope already throws out the outliers, so these stats shouldn’t change.
Wait a minute. We established earlier that Duotrope is more accurate when it has more reports. Won’t the reports go down because of the paid subscription requirement, thereby making it less accurate?
Theoretically, yes. But according to Duotrope, only the number of users will go down significantly, not the number of reports. Approximately 80% of their data came from 20% of their users, and most of those users have already subscribed. And almost 10% of their subscribers have never used Duotrope before. Surely they’ll report all of their submissions accurately. If you’re not going to, why bother paying for the service?
Of course, the question of whether or not the stats will be more or less reliable can only officially be answered once those stats actually become available.
For the next few months, I plan to closely track the changes in the statistics for 5 different markets. I’ll post updates periodically to let everyone know how the statistics change, and I’ll attempt to answer the question of whether or not the numbers are more reliable with the subscribers-only model.
Now, for my final evaluation. First off, the point of these posts is not to give a blanket endorsement of Duotrope or any other service. It’s not to make someone feel bad for subscribing or not subscribing.
But here’s my honest opinion:
If you’re really serious about your writing and you want the best opportunities to publish your work, subscribe to Duotrope. At least on a trial basis (go for the monthly rate at first and see if you actually do use it and benefit from it). The $50 will save you a lot of time and point you to the right places to send your writing. Yes, you can do these things without paying the money, but the time saved is worth it. Besides, using Duotrope also helps your fellow writers.
And without the help of other writers, where would any of us be?
On the other hand, the best way to help your fellow writers is by reading and sharing their work, not by reporting how often you get rejected.
So maybe if you’re on the fence, it’s better to go without it and see if you need it rather than go with it and see if you use it. The choice is obviously up to the individual. I am choosing to subscribe because I think it will be worth it.
Either way, as long as you keep writing, you can’t really go wrong.