The best resources for writers are online—and free!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything writing-related, so if you’re not a writer, hopefully this post won’t bore you too much.

I cringe inwardly every time I hear about someone dropping $20 or more for the latest big fat book purporting to give you all the contact information for all the markets for your writing. For that matter, even though I blogged here about the best books on writing craft, I noted in that same post that most of the writing books I’d read weren’t very good, and that there’s tons of great writing advice online for free. With notable exceptions, most of the books I’ve read seem to be vague and padded out, as if some author decided they had enough platform now to crank out an easy work of nonfiction and rake in a bit of cash from it.


Image by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

Paradoxically, the free stuff online is often better because, I think, if the motivation for putting it out there isn’t money, it’s much more likely to be having something to say. Also, in a blog-like format, there’s no need to pad your one little nugget of insight with fifty-thousand empty words.

Whatever you think of my reasoning there, there really are a wealth of terrific resources online. Here are some of my favorites:

Let me begin with market information. Mike Resnick once wrote in his “Ask Bwana” series in Speculations that the big fat (expensive) market compendiums are no good because they’re quickly out-of-date—often before they’re published, and often knowingly so. He related the story of when he edited a short fiction venue that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Eventually he changed the policy, or the venue closed down altogether, but the listing stayed the same year after year. In his analysis, he noted that there really was no incentive for them to correct their listing, and particularly no incentive for them to remove it: people buying the big fat book paid for names and addresses of markets, and that’s what they got. Removing listings would only remove their main selling point.

Even if you discount deliberate chicanery, a book that comes out once a year can’t keep up with a website that is constantly updated. So here are three of the best: A searchable database of agents, and a separate one for publishers. You can customize your list  to only those agents or markets that fit your criteria, and then it will keep records for you of when you queried, what response you received, who asked for a partial, who asked for a full, etc. Can that big fat book do that? Most novelists I talk to have heard of QueryTracker, but I’m always surprised by how few short story writers have heard of Duotrope. Duotrope is the same thing more or less, but for short fiction. It’s searchable by genre, pay rate, word count, you name it. And it also will keep records for you on what you’ve submitted and when and what the result was. Also cool, it will (if you want) exclude already subbed markets or markets considering your other stories from a search.

Both of the above keep statistics voluntarily shared by their members, so you know how soon to expect a reply, what percent of members get rejected, etc. On Duotrope, I sort my search results by response time rather than by pay rate (after excluding the markets that don’t pay pro rates), because not waiting a year for a reply is more important to me right now than getting paid an extra penny or two per word.

Ralan’s SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza: Another short fiction collection, specifically for the genres noted in the site’s name. Duotrope is easier to search and has the advantage of tracking your submissions if you wish, but Ralan’s is still the source that most sci-fi writers swear by.

Now onto my two favorite writing websites:

The Other Side of the Story (with Janice Hardy): As far as I’m concerned, this is the best site out there for people learning how to write novels. I have learned so much from Janice that any advice I give is more likely to come from her than not. Just go over there and poke through her backlog of posts; you won’t be disappointed.

A Place for Strangers and Beggars: This is sci-fi writer Jim Van Pelt’s LiveJournal, and he blogs about anything and everything going on in his life: teaching, parenting, jogging, reading, writing, and more. But the specific entry I’ve linked to is a “table of contents” of his fiction-writing posts in particular. Jim is a geat short story writer, and reading through his posts on craft are an excellent Short Fiction 101 course, and again, all free!

And finally, the best site I’ve found on online networking—blogging, twitter, and so on—with occasional great posts on writing as well:

Kristen Lamb’s Blog: Kristen has a ton of commonsense insights (that are only common sense after she’s pointed them out) on the right way to blog, how to use Twitter effectively, how not to be a noisy, oily online jerk, etc. Little things like how to expand your audience by using hashtags on your tweets, and how to not clog up the stream when you retweet, by removing hashtags from your retweets. Man, I wish everybody on Twitter knew that.

There are a lot more excellent writing sites out there, but these are my favorites. I’ll probably post at another occasion about other blogs that ought to be in your feed reader—You do use a feed reader, right??—but at nearly a thousand words, this post has probably gone on long enough.

P.S.: I’ve pointed out that reading these sites is indeed free, but if you find value in them, you can pay it back in various ways. QueryTracker has a paid level which provides more exhaustive analysis features. I didn’t find them necessary, but if I ever found myself querying again I might join up just as a way to repay their awesome free service. Duotrope accepts donations. Janice Hardy and Jim Van Pelt are both great writers, and you can repay their generosity, if you find it worthwhile, by buying their books. Kristin Lamb also has several books out there which you can track down to have many of her best insights collected in one place. As I mentioned in this post, when you run across something worthwhile online, you really should try to reward the creator. Unlike the big fat books in the bookstore, though, these sources are all nice enough to let you try the goods out first and see if you like them.

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4 Responses to The best resources for writers are online—and free!

  1. I had never heard of Ralan’s. Thanks Joe!

  2. Joe Iriarte says:

    Excellent! Glad it was useful for you!

  3. Vivi Barnes says:

    Thank you, Joe! These are excellent resources, some of which are new to me. I also bought a book by Cheryl Klein at the conference that is really good: Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. Yes, I know, it’s not free, but thought I’d mention it.
    I’m worried about the ponies you’re giving away. I hope they’re currently on a huge farm, roaming free. Until someone comments, then they’re zapped into a portal to appear in someone’s living room.

  4. Joe Iriarte says:

    Nope. All ponies are shipped UPS.

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