Tracking Submission Managers

Rachael Hanel

While writers once spent precious time and effort at the post office mailing poems and stories to journals and presses, over the past decade submission managers have helped make the process faster and easier. Nearly gone are the days of the SASE, of sorting through dozens of publishers’ submission guidelines and enduring long periods of radio silence; instead, writers can now simply log in to a submission manager and instantly check the status of their submissions and learn of upcoming deadlines. And the landscape continues to change: Stalwarts like Submittable and the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’ Submission Manager—both designed to help publishers and organizations manage the submissions they receive—have been running strong for years, while new platforms continue to emerge, shifting their models to focus more specifically on the needs of the modern writer.

One such platform is Literistic, a service launched last June that helps writers manage their submissions by identifying opportunities that match their publishing goals. Subscribers indicate their preferences—what genre they write, if compensation is a priority, whether they’re willing to pay reading fees—and receive a monthly e-mail that lists upcoming deadlines for literary journals, contests, grants, and fellowships tailored to those preferences. Literistic’s cofounders, Liam Sarsfield and Jessie Jones, both writers in Vancouver, hope to help fellow writers face what can seem like an intimidating number of opportunities. “In my own experience, just getting my head around the work I have to do is often difficult,” says Sarsfield. “Something as simple as being gently reminded to do it regularly is hugely valuable.”

Literistic is ad-free, but charges subscribers a few dollars per month or about forty dollars a year. Sarsfield hopes to make the customized monthly e-mail writers receive even more specific in the coming months. The service also offers a free “shortlist,” which provides forty to seventy non-customized monthly deadlines, each vetted by Sarsfield and Jones. Literistic follows the lead of Duotrope, which since 2005 has also helped writers find and keep track of places to submit, with a curated database of contests and journals, a calendar of upcoming deadlines, and a built-in submission tracker.

While Literistic is just getting started in the submission management market, one of the first such platforms, Tell It Slant, folded in August of last year. Established in 2009 by writer Jenn Scheck-Kahn, her husband, and a few friends, Tell It Slant managed the logistical and technical side of submissions for a variety of literary journals. One popular feature allowed writers to submit simultaneously; if one journal accepted a piece, that submission disappeared from the queues of other journals. A few years after the site’s launch, Scheck-Kahn and partners also launched Journal of the Month, a service that regularly mails out a different journal to subscribers throughout the year. The time commitment necessary to manage both projects, however, became too much. “We were managing two different businesses, and started to have children and families,” says Scheck-Kahn. At the same time, Submittable—founded in 2009 by three developers in Montana—started to take off, providing some of the same services to writers as Tell It Slant. Scheck-Kahn and crew reevaluated their priorities as literary advocates and decided to concentrate their energies on Journal of the Month. Since then, Submittable has gone on to become one of the leading submission managers, having been adopted by roughly nine thousand journals, presses, and organizations.

While submission managers and services like Literistic are certainly appealing, Scheck-Kahn is concerned that their growing ubiquity may risk excluding writers who lack access to the Internet, such as prison inmates, writers who live in remote regions, or those who simply choose not to use it. “I wonder if there’s a natural filter in place because we allow electronic submissions,” she says, noting that she encourages magazine editors to accept paper submissions in addition to electronic ones. (A few holdouts, such as the Paris Review and Zoetrope, still only accept submissions by postal mail.) In the end, though, Scheck-Kahn believes that facilitating the submission process for writers is ultimately a positive thing. “It’s great having better accountability,” she says. “Writers are able to get their work out there with fewer barriers.”

Rachael Hanel is the author of We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).