Submitomancy

The awesome among you may recall my post a few weeks back about Duotrope and its implosion as a useful tool for me.  Fortunately, the universe is a nifty place full of people willing to go do stuff I think is important for me.  One of those people is Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, whom you may remember as a two-time winner from the Query game last year.  She’s running a crowd-funding campaign to fund her Duotrope replacement, Submitomancy.  She let me pick her brains about the stuff going on behind the scenes to get Submitomancy up and running.  Since it’s the behind the scenes things that brought Duotrope down (as far as I’m concerned) this was really neat.  And now I’m going to share my peak behind the curtain with you.

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Whenever I start a project like this, I know I’m in danger of actually doing it the moment I crack open a spreadsheet.  What was your first go-to for organization and planning in the early days of Submitomancy planning?

I try to start every day with a short writing period. I write 750 words as quickly as I can of whatever is in my head. It’s a brain clearing exercise. My goal is to get through it in under 20 minutes; my best time ever is 11 minutes. When I started to think about what I would really do, if I could design a submission system from the ground up, I wrote 750 words in 13 minutes and I wasn’t finished. I’d barely even begun. That’s when I knew I was in trouble.

Ha!  I know that feeling.

I know you put out feelers asking Duotrope users for what they wanted from an alternative. How did you prioritize different features and elements of the project?

I started with my own process. I’ve been using a combination of Sonar3, a custom spreadsheet and Duotrope, so there was a clear starting point of “how can I combine these things”. I never have as much time as I want for writing, so the whole point had to be that the system would make me more efficient than I currently am. Then I talked to other people to find out about their processes and asked what features they would like. Some of these were obviously amazing and fit right in. Others were less obvious to me but I could see the value. A key question was whether adding a feature was going to be confusing or slow users down. I’d love to track a million different fields when it comes to manuscripts because it would be interesting, but I also know that if I’m faced with a fifty-page form to fill in, I won’t bother. So finding that middle ground has been a challenge.

I have been pretty harsh about tagging features as Stage 1 and Later. If a feature isn’t required to launch a functional service, it gets filed under Later. The balancing act is to keep the development time down and still have as many exciting options as possible at the start, in order to get critical mass in the userbase.

How do you go about determining the expected development time for a given feature?

I document the feature in fine detail, ask the programmer for an estimate, and then double it.

What’s the plan for maintenance and adding new features after Submitomancy goes live? Will you be doing additional fundraisers to pay for development of features, or will that be coming out of subscription fees?

I don’t plan to run further fundraisers.

Running costs and maintenance need to be covered through ongoing subscriptions but in the first instance, I’m underwriting the cost. The Indiegogo funds will go straight into development, so the more the campaign earns, the more features will go live at launch. My plan is to get Submitomancy off the ground with founding members and then use the submission fees to cover the costs. Additional funds will then go into further development.

As a side note: this means that if you want all of your contribution to go directly into development of cool features, you should pledge now, rather than subscribe later.

Nifty.  Last question: What’s been your biggest lesson, take-away or point of enlightenment in setting up this project?

When I was planning the project, I thought a lot about risk. Most of the risks, both mine and contributors, could be mitigated through the crowd-funding campaign. I wouldn’t ask anyone to invest their time and effort unless we had enough users to make it worthwhile.But I was worried about risking people’s goodwill. I worried that by pushing this project, I’d use up whatever goodwill I’ve created within writing communities and with my writerly friends. I mean seriously, I’ve self-published a book, I’ve launched a crowd-funding campaign, now all I have to do is start hosting dinner parties to sell expensive chef equipment to win the annoying-friend-trifecta.

So before I actually went public with this, I actually sat down in the dark and thought, is it OK if this uses up all your friendship points and you don’t get to ask for any other favours from people. Ever. And in the end I decided that yes, this was a thing that I really wanted to do and I would ask for help and support and then I would shut up and not bother people again. I knew it was a very real risk and I decided to take it anyway.

The reality has been overwhelming. I’ve asked people to help me with getting the word out and not anyone has rolled their eyes or sighed heavily at the imposition. It’s been the exact opposite: so many people have offered their help and even insisted that they want to help more, it’s just unbelievable to me. And I guess it turns out that, honestly, it’s not about me. There’s not some sort of favour bank where I’m making a big withdrawal and hoping I don’t hit bankruptcy. People are giving me credit for putting myself out there and trying to make this happen. I’ve not lost any friends, I’ve made new friends.

And forgive me if I sound overwhelmed but that’s just stunning to me. It’s the last thing I expected. And no matter what else happens, I feel like I’ve been given something precious.

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