I Paid for Duotrope Two Times

Dee Richards
4 min readMay 7, 2024

In 2020, I said “fuck it,” and started putting in publishing submissions at magazines and anthologies. I had always told myself that I would wait “until I was a better writer” to start seeking publication. At the time, Twitter was a great community for connecting writers. Through that community, I learned of Duotrope. It seemed awesome to have a place to track my submissions and report my successes — A for acceptance, R for rejection, W for withdrawal. 2020 looks like this: ARRRWRWAA. Looking at that, it meant I had a 33% success rate! And, to be fair, it wasn’t altered. I just got quite a bit of luck that first year. Riding high on that, I rolled into 2021. It looks like this: RRRARRRRRRARRRRRRWARARR. That almost appears like one of those string-of-letters eye illusions. Can you spot the acceptances? Then, 2022 happened and it was a terrible year for other reasons and my subscription had expired. In August 2023, I reopened my Duotrope because graduating college is kind of like a thing you do real quick between assignments, not like the thing of finality that it truly is. One day, I just stopped doing what I had been obsessively doing for 14 hours a day for 2 years. I had to turn in assignments somewhere! So, I went back on the hunt.

My 2023 Duotrope looks like this: RRWRRRR, but I got an additional five rejections after I gave up on reporting. My 2023 grad school applications look like this: RRRRWRRR. In 2021, I started at University. I studied writing and literature. I wrote what I believe to be the most impactful stories of my life. I was able to bring in references to classic literature on movements since the dawn of recorded storytelling. I worked with some of the best living writers of fiction and non-fiction available at the undergrad level. I won an award for my literary style. But nothing was picked up after all that toil. That is why my mind won’t leave me alone. They talk about post-partum depression around pregnancy, but what about post-partum depression from college? My mind can’t not fixate on how I came out of the gate at 33% acceptance rate and, over the next two years of study and practice, my acceptance rate dropped to 11%. The idea was that I would get better. That statistic is self-esteem-destroying for someone trying to shape their career later in life. Duotrope’s submission tracker serves to insult me every time I open it.

It may not seem related to state that my partner works in software development for a major publishing outlet. But it might be if I state that a large amount of tech workers I’ve been exposed to in our nearly 15 years together have been wary of social media. Whether I like it or not, Duotrope is a social media site. I have no question that it does help some people to know what submissions they did, and where. However, it might be worth mentioning that you can do this on a Google spreadsheet just as easily, and for free. Plus, the spreadsheet doesn’t show how you stack up against others (as Duotrope used to right in your submission tracker). Paying for a year’s subscription gives cause for me to revisit these statistics again and again. If social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are poisoning our self-esteem, causing children to have lifelong self-image issues, and doing it all for profit, how is Duotrope considered a tool alone? It has poisoned my self-esteem and caused me to want to submit far less frequently; I am paying them to do this. When I think of it, it feels like gambling, but the chips are my emotional well-being; they have my money either way. I put more chips in to try and prove to myself that I am a successful writer, and I’m willing to keep paying out real money to get that validation. And, just like that, Adorno and Horkheimer are like 🤷

If I’m being honest, I don’t need to make money writing. I don’t need to be a success. And, it would seem, I am not as great as that initial 33% might have suggested. I think it does come down to the commodification of culture, though. Make no mistake, I am KEENLY aware that I am not easily commodifiable. Trying to make my thoughts make sense to others is a challenge I’ve faced throughout life. You can see it above when I said: “It may not seem related to state that my partner works in software development for a major publishing outlet.” To me, this is a natural mode of thinking. State one thing, state the next thing, provide no external connection between them but expect others to implicitly understand the progression of thinking. The best explanation I have is: I’m neurodiverse. I will never be good on a level that connects with everyone. That has to be okay, since I don’t need the money or the success. Were my first submissions in 2020 delightfully unhinged, or did I just find the right market? Were my 2021 submissions too esoteric, or was I not doing my research correctly because I was distracted? Duotrope can’t answer those questions for me. All it can do is tell me empty statistics so I can compare myself to others. I’ve already bought into Duotrope twice. I have already tried to write what I think others want. I have tried to keep these thoughts to myself, but this is my writing, my thinking, my life. Maybe it will never be something that sells, but I hate cultural commodification. So, if you want buzzwords and hot takes, I guess you’ll be disappointed. I can only offer 11% of what you might want.

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Dee Richards

Dee is a neurodiverse writer from San Diego, with 3 awards in CNF & 9 short-form pubs. Subjects: feminism, identity theory, surrealism, horror, media analysis.