When Devin Emke built One Story’s electronic-submission system in 2002, only a handful of journals accepted submissions online. Today his software, Submission Manager, is licensed by 159 journals through the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
For a onetime fee of $330 to $660, scaled to each publisher’s operating budget, Submission Manager allows editors to organize and respond to electronic submissions, which writers themselves upload and log. For these journals, the slush pile is no longer a mountain; staff members spend less time on administrative tasks and more time reading, selecting, and editing manuscripts for publication, because submissions can be readily accessed and managed from any Web browser in the world. “I’m actually sort of surprised now that no one had thought of it sooner,” Emke says. Since 2010, cash-strapped publishers have also had the option to collect reading fees through the system.
Emke may have been the pioneer of an efficient way of managing online submissions, but he’s no longer the only vendor of such programs. In 2010 alone, several new software solutions emerged, among them Submishmash, based in Missoula, Montana; Green Submissions in Mishawaka, Indiana; and Tell It Slant in Arlington, Massachusetts. Unlike Submission Manager, which publishers download directly to their servers, the three newer services are available instantly and, in most cases, free of charge to editorial staff, and are maintained not by the publishers themselves, but by the submission-management providers using remote cloud servers (think virtual filing cabinets with limitless space) to securely store submission data. This information is available only to writers and the publishers to which they submit. Submishmash and Tell It Slant allow writers to track their submission status with participating journals using a single log-in (Green Submissions requires writers to have a separate log-in for each magazine). Tell It Slant is unique in that writers can make submissions to several journals in one place by visiting the Tell It Slant site.
Submishmash (www.submishmash.com), developed by novelist Michael FitzGerald, filmmaker Bruce Tribbensee, and musician John Brownell, operates on the principle that submission software should be powerful, flexible, and user friendly. “We aren’t businesspeople,” FitzGerald says. “We’re software developers. We wanted to make something that would work for the New Yorker as well as for editors making chapbooks in their garage.” Submishmash launched in February 2010 and is used by more than eight hundred publishers and arts organizations as of this writing.
The more basic Green Submissions (www.greensubmissions.com) was developed in India and is now owned and managed by the independent journal Poetry Quarterly. A nonprofit-venture, it serves thirty-three publishers and has been available to the public since last April. “Free really means free,” Poetry Quarterly’s founding editor, Glenn Lyvers, says of his commitment to keeping the software complimentary to any publisher that doesn’t collect a reading fee.
Launched in March 2010, Tell It Slant (www.tellitslant.com), the brainchild of writer Jenn Scheck-Kahn, her husband, Brian Kahn, and their friends Jay McGaffigan and Liz Surette, has a slightly more ambitious objective: to build a better community among publishers, writers, and readers. As well as managing submissions to participating journals in a single location—on board currently are Harvard Review, New South, South Loop Review, and the Common, all of which also accept paper submissions—the service provides writing guidelines, content excerpts, and reading-period information to writers. In an effort to support simultaneous submissions, Tell It Slant will automatically remove accepted manuscripts from the queues of any other journals to which a writer has submitted. Writers must pay a submission fee of $1.50 as well as any additional reading fee required by a journal. For journals that have a history of receiving fewer than seventy-five submissions a month, writers can submit for free (none of the currently participating magazines qualify).
Submishmash is free for writers to use, but if a reading fee is charged, the service costs publishers one dollar for every ten collected from writers, to offset credit card transaction charges. It also earns revenue from its custom software built for literary agents, arts organizations, and commercial publications. The basic version of Green Submissions is free for writers and publishers, but a ninety-nine-dollar downloadable version that can collect reading fees is also available.
“Journals run as though they exist independently, but really, they are part of a community,” Tell It Slant’s Scheck-Kahn says. “A writer who comes to our site to submit to one journal learns about others. Knowledge may not be the same as power, but it can help writers make more educated choices about where they submit work and how to interpret the responses they receive.”
For his part, FitzGerald is content to provide flexible software. “We want to make literary publishing viable and the experience of submitting, editing, or curating literature and art awesome for everyone involved,” he says. “We think if editors do well, writers and readers will too.”
Katherine Hill is a writer living in Philadelphia. She is the winner of the 2010 Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction from the Colorado Review.