I am a huge proponent of index cards. I have been tracking my submissions to journals and contests on alphabetized index cards for years. Some years, there are fewer cards in the box than others (though last year and this year, there are a ton). I like that I can thumb through them, find what I’m looking for, and move on. I like their tactile quality, that I can hold them and smell their papery-ness, that I have tangible proof at all times that I am working on publishing.
I keep my pack of cards with me in my purse or bag—I sometimes joke, à la Gollum, that the cards are “My Precious.” They are precious to me, like a talisman or a charm, and I don’t like to be far from them. It sounds a little wacky, but then, writers are by definition, wacky folk, so I don’t let my little partiality to (I won’t say “obsession with”) the cards bother me.
The red plastic case that holds them has the space for about 120 3x5s. Inside, there’s a tab for Sent, Rejected, Accepted. When I’m feeling like I need a boost, I just look through the cards and tell myself, “JC, you are working it.” Seeing the Sent and Accepted piles is naturally pleasing (and self-affirming), but I even like the Rejected tab, because after I look for some new journals, I will mine the cards in there for submissions that I can send somewhere else. And I don’t have to think about what pieces go with what, because the submission groupings have already been created—I’m just reusing the card with new journal title on the top. Easy peasy.
But this is all by way of saying, that in February, I bit the bullet and got a Duotrope subscription, due in part to a young writer friend who mentioned that he was going to subscribe in order to take his writing more seriously, and that getting a subscription to Duotrope was one way he could feel “professional” about the work. I thought about that and could see his point. For myself, I wondered if I could justify the expense; after all, I already subscribed to Allison Joseph’s CRWROPPS list in Yahoo Groups, and got a weekly digest from the New Pages website. So did I really need a Duotrope subscription? It turns out, I did.
Now, let me be very clear, that I am in no way shilling for Duotrope—they haven’t promised me a free subscription for next year if I tout all their great qualities or anything. But I like Duotrope for a number of reasons (and not just for the submission tracker element): I like to see the Response List—it’s quite illuminating about the journal process because people who subscribe are really serious about entering this data. So you’ll see, for instance, one day, BOAAT will have accepted one person’s work, and there will be 15 rejections, or 32Poems will have accepted one or two pieces, and there’s a ton of rejections. What it helps to do, in my mind, is to let me see the reality of the journal process—I’m not the only one getting rejections here. It helps to see that other people’s work also is rejected—not from a “ha ha haha ha” schadenfreude perspective, but more like a “we’re all in this together” perspective.
The other thing about Duotrope that I like is that it is constantly updating when markets are open or closed as well as listing new markets that are available. Having an academic background (and having worked as a reader on Prairie Schooner back in the day), you kind of have a sense that a lot of journals at university presses take the summer off. But other journals have different submission cycles, so Duotrope is handy in that they let you know when these cycles are happening.
And finally, Duotrope offers metrics for lots of stuff—because people take a few minutes to record data about their submissions, I have an idea about how long it takes some markets to respond. I’ll give you an example. Last May (of 2014!!), I submitted poems to a journal and I just never heard from them–until I queried them in December and said, hey, what’s the deal? I was told by a very harried editor that this was a Name Brand Journal, and they were Very Busy, and I just needed to wait. And so I did. Wait, wait, wait. I finally got a rejection from them on June 10th—a 384 day wait, according to Duotrope. The average response time for this market is 155 days; the longest reported was 401 days. I wouldn’t know that, except that Duotrope offers that data.
Now, it’s probably obvious that I’ve become a fan of Duotrope. I record my submissions and responses there; I look up new markets (and have had some acceptances directly because I found them on Duotrope)… but I still keep my cards. Because they’re mine. Because they’re easy to hold onto and easy to maintain, and I don’t need a computer to check on them. I can keep My Precious with me at all times, and remind myself when I need to, that I’m doing what I can to get my writing out into the world.