Good day readers. It’s time for another Author Etiquette. We started this little series because we love authors—we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t. But authors are human and sometimes make mistakes. On occasion we don’t understand and miss some fundamentals in the writing world. Whether you are a new author or a seasoned pro, we hope this column will give you some perspective on issues and help keep you out of trouble.
After you write your story and edit it to the best of your ability, the question becomes where to send it. It’s a question that faces every author each time a story is ready to go out. In the years before the internet, authors bought market report books that gave information on markets, when the windows were open and where to send a submission. But now, we have a much more streamlined process in submission services such as Doutrope, The Submission Grinder and Ralan. These services provide quite a bit of information to authors seeking to submit work but authors should always remember that not all information is accurate and an author should always double check by either checking the website updates or sending a polite query.
What is a Submission Service?
Submission services are an online database that provides a wonderful service to authors. Instead of relying on complex searches, word of mouth or a bit of lucky information, authors can go to a single service, run a search and find a list of markets for their particular story. It can be narrowed by genre, word count and even payment level. This saves authors a lot of time and effort. Some are run for free (with an option to donate) while others run on a submission service.
Who Are They and What Do They Offer?
Ralan is one of the older submission services. To use, you simply pick a particular market category and search the alphabetical listings. There’s quite a bit to go through but it lists many different types of markets such as mystery, horror, science fiction and fantasy. The lists are updated as often as possible. Ralan is free to use.
The Submission Grinder and Doutrope are very similar submission services. They both require you to log in and with an account you have access to many features including a submission manager that shows you where you have sent in stories and calculates your acceptance rates. You can also see updated listings and recent responses from other authors. In either one you can run advanced searches for markets, suggest markets not already listed and find newsletters and helpful information. Doutrope is a paid subscription service—$5 per month or $60 for a year. The Grinder is free although they do love donations.
Where Does the Information Come From?
Much of the initial information received by submission services is from publishers. This information includes when the submission window is open, where to send the submission, and what the normal response time is. Most publishers update this information as necessary, but it’s really easy to forget if things get busy.
The rest of the information such as response times are reported by authors and users of these sites. People can log in submissions and report rejections as they get them. Also they can report changes to the market in case the publisher hasn’t made an update yet. With this information, the submission services creates a list of data such as response times, acceptance rates and how many submissions are pending. In The Grinder, you can even see a graph of some of this data.
Many authors use spreadsheets to help them manage their story submissions, but several also use the submission managers too. Why? Well because it’s simple and can augment the information you have already. With The Grinder and Doutrope, you click a button, which brings up the manager menu, enter in a few simple things and it’s entered. Then when you check back, you can easily see how many days out it is, what the status of other submissions and can click back to the submission page to check out the data there.
Submission managers keep track of your response times and notify you of when your story is approaching the average response date. It can add a bit of anxiety when you know your story approaches that average response time but unless you keep a very complex spreadsheet it’s difficult to keep track of everything.
Response times are important to authors and publishers. An average response time varies from publisher to publisher. Some are a day or less while others can take many months and even over a year. The response time is an average of when most authors hear back from a publisher and it is determined by the amount of submissions and the amount of slush readers. Well known publishers get a lot of submissions and often their response times are longer. But on average, many publications respond in 30 to 90 days.
If you’ve not heard back from a publisher about a story after the average response time, and you’ve checked the website and other social media outlets to check to see if they are behind, you know it’s time to send out a query. Many times, you get a quick response to say your story is still in the queue, but sometimes, there has been an issue and something gets lost. Most publishers will work with you to bring you up to speed on where your story is in the queue or pull your submission to the front if there has been a technical problem.
Why Are There Issues?
The data that submission services rely on is provided by humans. Yeah, those sometimes forgetful, complex creatures that tangle up data until everything is in knots. While Ralan has a very simple (market/dates open/last updated response time) submission database, Doutrope and The Grinder rely on user data. That submission manager that I mentioned a few paragraphs above is the cornerstone for the acceptance rates and response times. But it’s not required!
Not everyone who uses submission services submits any sort of data at all. That fact causes publishers headaches. You see, when a market—especially a small one—has a listing and no one reports submitting, it makes it seem as though the market is dead even if the publisher is over run with submissions. Many authors are reluctant to submit to markets with no responses on a submission manager even if it’s been open for months. Some authors even get nervous and pull submissions simply because there are no reports in 30 days. Submission services do request you check out websites for responses but that doesn’t mean every author will look. So many good stories that could be perfect for a market either never get submitted or are pulled before they go through the slush pile.
Other issues arise when users forget to update their submission manager. I know it’s an easy thing to forget; however, it is still important. If a submission remains un-updated, it soon becomes an outlier, or oddity in the data. It can screw up accurate response times and acceptance data. Most submission services will weed out this data, but it still messes things up.
What Do You Do?
While not everyone wants their data out there on the web, submission service stats are important for other authors and publishers. If you use it to find markets, please use the submission manager. It takes just a few minutes and the data helps everyone.
If you are concerned about your story, check back to see if the average response time is close. These are often posted on the submission page and in regular updates. Check the website or social media feeds to see if the publication is running behind. Or send out a query. A polite question on the status is all you need. Publishers often respond very quickly to queries.
There’s no need to pull a story unless 1) the market has folded or 2) there has been no response to a query and the story has been sitting in the queue way beyond the normal response times.
It’s nice to have a bit of help in finding publications that are available for submission. Submission services offer authors some really great options to help track stories, find publications and track other data. But it’s up to authors to use the information responsibly. By updating the status of your stories you help the submission services post accurate stats which in turn helps authors and publishers. So if you are considering using one of these services, use all of the options available. Oh and give a donation if you aren’t using a subscription service. It helps keep things updated and running smoothly.