White coffee cup and pink flower lying on magazine Submittable vs. Duotrope
Essential publishing tools.

Wondering how to use Submittable and Duotrope to help you publish in literary magazines? Or confused about Submittable vs. Duotrope and what the role of each might be?

And if you know your way around a fountain pen converter more easily than most software, don’t worry – I will break things down for you.

Submittable vs. Duotrope

If you’re new to submitting work for publishing and you’re just starting to build your lit-mag list, you’ve probably noticed Submittable on the submissions guidelines for many lit-mag websites. So, what is it?

Submittable is an online submissions tool that helps writers submit their work and keep track of submissions. 

You may have also heard of Duotrope, another submission resource that can serve emerging writers. Today, I’m going to give you some insight into both and tell you how they can help your writing career. 

This is not spon-con. No one from Submittable or Duotrope is paying me to write this piece, and I’ll tell you upfront that these platforms aren’t perfect; many writers have a love-hate relationship with both. But they do offer some services that can help you.

And, love it or hate it, a Submittable account is a necessity for anyone who’s serious about lit-mag publishing these days, so all the more reason for aspiring writers to get familiar with the software. But in the end, it's not really about Submittable vs, Duotrope — both have their uses.

So let’s dive in!

Submittable: What is it?

Submittable is a software tool that helps writers (and artists) submit their work to magazines, and helps magazines keep track of everything that’s coming in. 

Writers will use the software to submit their work, and they’ll be able to monitor the progress of their submission. You can check back anytime to see if your piece has moved along in the queue at all (more on that later) and see how long it’s been since you submitted. 

Plus, the records of everything you’ve ever submitted via the software will be there. You can check your list of acceptances, rejections, and withdrawals, as well as your active submissions that haven’t been decided yet. 

Editors like the software because there’s no paper trail they have to keep track of; Submittable does the filing for them, and team members can keep track of works-in-progress and add comments to pieces as they’re assessing them for publication. 

As the writer you won’t see any of these comments, though; all you’ll see is that your work has been received by the magazine so that you can rest assured it hasn’t been lost.

While not every lit-mag uses Submittable, these days an increasing number do, so a Submittable account is a must-have for any writer who’s serious about publishing. 

Submittable: Getting Started

First, you have to create a Submittable account

Good news: it’s free! 

Bad news: submissions themselves often aren’t. (Though they are usually very low-cost; you’ll often see something like a charge of $3 per submission. This is usually just a small fee to help the magazine cover the cost of using the software, which isn’t cheap.) 

When you review the submissions guidelines on a website for a magazine that uses Submittable, you’ll see a button that says “Submit.” This will take you away from the magazine’s own website and to their Submittable page. 

The Submittable page for the magazine might have different options for submission; there might be different sections for poetry, fiction, and CNF, for example. There might be different options according to which issue of the magazine you’re submitting to, or separate sections for contests and general submissions. 

You might also see different payment categories. Some magazines charge higher fees for international submissions. (E.g. a Canadian magazine might charge more to non-Canadians who want to submit.) 

Or sometimes there are discounts for people from certain marginalized communities, like the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or disabled and neurodivergent communities. 

It's important to select the right category that applies to both the genre of the piece you’re submitting and the identity markers that describe you, if applicable. If you pay a lower fee than you should, and your piece gets selected, you will likely get found out before the issue gets published, and now you’ve possibly blacklisted yourself from the magazine. It’s not worth it! 

And if you submit poetry to a fiction category, you’re just going to annoy the editors. That’s not a game you want to play. 

If the magazine does publish poetry, but the only option on the magazine’s Submittable page is for fiction, that probably means they’re closed for poetry submissions right now—see if you can find anything on their website that clarifies when that category will open back up again. 

Submittable: Sending In Your Piece

Once you’re in the right submission category, you’ll be taken to a form. It’s pretty simple to figure out, so I won’t over explain this—here are just a few tips:

  • You’ll usually be asked to add a title for the submission; this could be the name of the piece, if it’s a single-piece entry. If you’re submitting a batch of poems or short-form prose—make sure the magazine allows this before you do it!—you could call it “Four Poems” or whatever suits. 
  • If there’s a field for a cover letter, paste it in there and don’t include it with the entry itself. (For a recap on how to write your cover letter and format your manuscript, click here.) 
  • If there’s a separate bio field, paste your (third-person) bio in there. If not, you can include it with the cover letter, but check the magazine’s submission guidelines first; some magazines don’t want you to include a bio. 
  • You may be asked to declare any content warnings or provide pictures. These things are usually optional; if it’s not relevant to your piece, simply skip those steps or write “not applicable.”

Then, upload your file (usually as a .doc or .docx, but check their preferences) and click “Submit.” You’re done!

Submittable: Next Steps

After you’ve submitted work, you can sign back in to Submittable any time and monitor your submissions. 

Immediately after submitting your piece, you will see it in the Active Submissions tab with a dark blue rectangle that says “Received.” This simply means that the submission worked and that the magazine has your piece. (You should get an email to this effect, too.)

At some point, which may be later that day or ten months down the road, the dark blue rectangle will become a light blue rectangle that says “In-Progress.” This may get you excited, but really it means very little. 

Almost any action on your piece will trigger that change—it could be that all an editor has done is downloaded the piece to their computer or organized it into a filing system of some sort. Your piece might sit at “In-Progress” for six months before anyone ever actually opens the file, let alone reads it. 

There are all kinds of blog posts and articles out there trying to help writers demystify the “In-Progress” tag. They’ll say things like “if a piece has been In-Progress for X# months, that’s a good sign!” Unfortunately, those tips are mostly useless. And length of time a piece has been In-Progress may have nothing to do with whether it's truly under consideration — a magazine might just be overwhelmed with submissions or disorganized. Don't pin your hopes on this!

Finally, your piece will eventually be either accepted or declined. You’ll get an email when that happens, with a response from the editor—it may be personalized, but most often with rejections, it’ll be a form response along the lines of “Thanks for submitting, but it’s not for us.” Don’t take it personally. Check that one off your list, and submit it somewhere new!

If a piece is accepted, and you’ve simultaneously submitted it elsewhere, Submittable provides an easy way to withdraw your work—simply find the piece in your Active Submissions tab and click “withdraw” to remove it from consideration (ideally, with a friendly message letting them know the piece has been accepted elsewhere).

What about Duotrope?

Duotrope goes a bit beyond Submittable, in that it allows you to conduct extensive research on the industry to help you decide where you want to submit. 

It’s not necessarily a “must-have” in the same vein as Submittable; you can get by in your writing career without an account. However, there are a few reasons to consider it. You can:

  • Look up individual magazines and learn all kinds of facts about them, such as their submissions criteria, their acceptance rates, their average wait times, whether (and how much) they pay, and other details.
  • Search for magazines that meet certain criteria, e.g. magazines that accept stories more than 7500 words or magazines that don’t charge for submissions. 
  • Keep track of your submissions—all of them, including the ones you’ve submitted to via email or snail mail. Submittable only keeps track of your submissions via Submittable. 
  • See what various editors have had to say about things such as the types of pieces they’re interested in and how much attention they give a piece before they reject it. 

Duotrope can also be useful for helping you stay up to date with what’s happening in the literary magazine world. One of the useful features of the site is that it’s constantly updated and each week they note on their site how much information they have updated.

Activity in the Past 7 Days:   7,009 submissions reported,  1,162 listings updated,  28 new listings added,  284 listings audited,   1,894 listings checked.  – Duotrope site, week of 11 Feb 2022

Duotrope isn’t free, but it’s reasonably affordable; current rates are $7.00/month CAD, or you can get two months free if you sign up for a year. If you’re not sure whether it’s for you, you can sign up for a week-long free trial and get a feel for the software before you have to commit to it. 

Duotrope also offers users the option to sign up for Duosoma, its own submissions software along the same lines as Submittable, though it’s not as commonly used by magazines. Thankfully, Duosoma is free to use even if you don’t have a paid Duotrope account.

Submittable vs. Duotrope

You don’t have to choose! In North America at least, Submittable is more commonly used by literary magazines to accept and organize submissions so you’ll definitely want a Submittable account.

Duotrope is worth exploring as well, especially if you are new to the world of literary magazines and want an easy way to explore and do some research to extend your list of lit mags you’ll plan to submit to.

There are many resources out there for writers, but these are two of the biggest names in town. If you’re just starting on your journey to publication, sign up for a Submittable account today—you’re going to need it!—and check out the Duotrope free trial to decide if it’s a good fit for you.

Literary Magazines, Demystified

This is the fourth blog in a series on publication in Literary Magazines. For six months throughout 2021-2022, I’ll be posting one blog each month that covers different aspects of lit mag publishing, to offer you some support as you submit to lit mags. 

Here are the previous blog posts in this series:

Publishing in Literary Magazines (Intro)

How to Submit to Lit Mags

How to Build Your Lit Mag List

And if you’re able to join me on Fridays at 5pm Eastern, I’ll be going Live each week on my Facebook page to talk about all things writing. Once a month when I post a new blog about lit mags, I’ll also be giving away a gift subscription to a new literary magazine so do follow me there and join me LIVE for a chance to win.

Your Lit Mag Publishing Toolkit