From time to time I post about "Money Matters for Writers." Generally these posts cover services that writers pay for as opposed to being paid for. The purpose is not to tell readers what services are worth the money, but to point out the pros and cons writers might want to consider before making their own decision.
Several months ago I posted about submission services in general. Recently a new submission service called WordHustler came to my attention, so I checked it out.
The first thing that hit me was the difference in pricing from, say, Writer's Relief. Last I checked, WR was charging anywhere from $125 for a la carte services (a list of 25 targeted markets along with mailing labels and cover letter) to a few hundred for keeping your work in constant circulation. WordHustler fees for submitting by post or online run from $.99 for under four pages to $8.99 ($.10/page over 50). This includes printing and copying, postage, and SASE. They also boast a database of "more than 3000 literary markets" available for free.
So what does WordHustler provide for the fee? It appears that writers upload their work, then peruse the database to find markets (as opposed to a service that targets markets for you). Writers then choose the markets they want to submit to and WordHustler does the rest. WH estimates that a 120-page screenplay would cost approximately $52 to submit, the largest part of which is $29.99 for a "directory service" (like Writer's Market?) The second largest portion of the cost is printing at $18.
In evaluating the service I went by what I normally submit, which is a short story of about 20 pages. Postage usually runs me about $1.89 plus an SASE for the reply (why do I need the entire ms back when I have it in Word files) is 42 cents. That's $2.31. I've never calculated the cost of printing out the story, but if my algebra still serves me, if 120 pages costs $18 to print then 20 pages costs about $3.00. Office supplies, again based on estimates for 120 pages, would be approximately 17 cents. I haven't paid for a database in years. So far we're up to $5.48 for a submission. Time saved waiting in line––priceless.
Well, maybe, but I usually use the postage machines at my PO and there are rarely more than a couple people ahead of me. More significant though, I submit maybe 3 ms per year by post these days. Mostly I submit via e-mail or online submission systems, which are absolutely free.
WordHustler's database is free (so is Duotropes and I get that in my e-mail each week). WH advertises that you can target markets by searching the Market Finder. I wasn't able to target more than genre, however more could be available if you register. I didn't bother to do that as I'm not interested in the service and I don't need more e-mails from services I don't use. They also advertise that the database is kept up-to-date, though when I went through the list (which is extensive I'll admit), I came across a couple of dead links.
So, is it worth the price? That's a personal choice. As a purely business decision, submission services aren't very cost-effective. Consider that, even if you get that one submission to the famous journal that pays $150 using a service like Writer's Relief, you'd have to get two of those a year, just to break even. If you go the WordHustler route and send out 4 submissions a month of 20 pages, you're talking about $192 per year––but remember, the markets aren't targeted.
Of course, in the writing game money isn't always the sole form of profit. (In fact, if you are in it for the money, you may just as well quit right now.) You may need that one publication to build your self esteem, or paying for a service that gets you into a well-known journal could provide a credit that opens doors at others. For some, writing is a hobby they engage in at the end of an otherwise lucrative workday. They may have money to spend for a service but not the time to prepare and send submissions and track them on a spreadsheet. That's another case where a submission service might be valuable.
As with anything you spend your money on, value is in the eyes of the beholder. Just make sure your eyes are wide open when you evaluate the benefit a service might have for you.