Accomodated Ate the Competition, and is
Looking for the Next Snack
Submittable simplifies the submission process, keeping both publisher and writer accountable and organized. For the writer, it tracks which pieces have been submitted, where they were submitted, and what the status is (accepted, rejected, in-progress). For the publisher, it compiles all of the submissions, gathers the necessary data from the contributor, and allows the editorial team to vote on and discuss which submissions to move forward with. Over the past decade, it’s launched a multitude of features to ensure the process works for everyone… and now, it’s focusing its attention on new markets.
When you land on the home page, you’ll see the phrase “social impact platform” repeated several times. The only place to find the word publishing is in one of the drop-down menus (nearly at the bottom of the list of industries that they serve). When did this beloved tool for literary magazines become a confusing corporate giant? The fact is, it always served this audience, it’s just recently begun to center it. Submittable is ubiquitous among publishers and writers, and there is little more profit to gain from the publishing industry. It’s understandable that the stakeholders would stop emphasizing that area of business.
SubMishMash, Talentd, and More History
Founded in 2010 by Bruce Tribbensee, John Brownell, and Michael FitzGerald, Submittable (then Submishmash) was “submission management for journals and magazines” according to their website at that time. Their logo was a tilted perspective of a thin orange book over an arrow.
The original plan was a tool for writers, but Duotrope was already a robust platform. Connecting writers meant building something like social media (an incredibly competitive market), so they decided to focus on helping publishers. In early 2010, the founding year, they mentioned seeing opportunities for the platform outside of writing and publishing.[Robinson, 2010] As of that day, they had 300 publishers signed up, and were increasing rapidly.
By 2011, the website was already listing more uses than just writing and publishing. Festivals, competitions, academic admissions, grants, and other applications were welcomed. At this time they created a second platform, Talentd, which was meant to simplify the hiring process.
In a December 2013 interview, Michael Fitzgerald, explained the reasoning behind the name change from Submishmash to Submittable:
“we kept running into problems with large universities and businesses. The IT people and administrators were suspect of something called Submishmash. It was always a struggle to get them to write a check, and our bills were piling up. So we renamed it to Submittable. It’s a little soul-crushing, but our revenue instantly doubled.”
-Co-founder Michael Fitzgerald, Interviewed by The Believer Logger, 2013
There isn’t much information on the success of Talentd, but the website remained static until December 2017, when it began redirecting to Submittable.com, with this note: “Talentd simplified the hiring process. What changed? Just the name. Talentd is now Submittable, the best way to accept, review, and manage any application—including job applications.”
Screenshots of the Homepage, 2010-2022
So… What Happened in 2017?
In 2017 the company received an investment of $5 million from a venture capital firm, True Ventures. Their pitch included the news that they had grown more than 400% over the past three years, and would be using the funding to invest heavily in marketing and sales. [Erickson, 2017]
They also took this opportunity to announce the beginning stages of what I’m discussing in this article:
“Now that we have the whole ecosystem, we are turning it inside out and creating [a] giant marketplace where anybody who is a creator can find venues looking for content and anybody looking for content can find creators”
-Co-founder Bruce Tribbensee Interviewed by David Erickson, 2017
This wasn’t the first time they received investment funding in the business. In 2012 they received 200k from Y Combinator a business incubator that also provided training to the team. They received additional grants from the state of Montana, and investments in 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019!
Where are Their Competitors Now?
The largest competitor to Submittable in the publishing world was the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’ (CLMP) Submission Manager, but it no longer exists. Submittable and CLMP announced a partnership in 2019 that provided a steep discount to Submittable for all CLMP members, and CLMP shut down their own management system. [Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, 2019] It was a mutually beneficial deal, and ensured that Submittable could focus its efforts elsewhere while still serving the literary community at a discounted rate.
Tell it Slant was another submission management platform for writers, but they were founded the same year as Submittable, and they decided to step back and focus on other initiatives instead of going head-to-head with this competitor. [Hanel, 2016]
And that’s basically it for competitors in the publishing world. Journals that don’t use Submittable tend to use Google Forms, letter mail, or email. There are some benefits to using more basic systems; the additional obstacles can reduce the number of submissions to a manageable level, and it can also be more accessible to those without access to the internet.
There are other platforms that assist with connecting writers with the right opportunities (Literistic, Duotrope, etc.), and other business-focused submission management platforms (SurveyMonkey Apply, OpenWater, Blackbaud Grantmaking, Submit). Submittable has confidently taken the position as the submission management tool for writers, and they don’t need to market themselves to that audience anymore. Also, publishing is small. Submittable is a tech company with a lot of room to grow, and if they stayed focused on publishing and literary magazines, they’d need to remain small with the industry. Instead, they’re ramping up their grant application, job search, and scholarship tools.
Are They Succeeding Outside of the Literary?
Submittable has been receiving a variety of software awards from companies like featured customers and Capterra. Awards have been in contest management, events management, grant management, forms automation, and applicant tracking. On Capterra, they’re categorized as software built for non-profits (third on the list in that category), and the first task in the description is grants. On featured customers they’re categorized as grant management software (ninth on the list in that category). They aren’t leading the industry in this area (yet) but they are moving fast, thanks to marketing company Literal Humans, who documented the marketing success from 2019-2020.
Alright, but what about the Publishing Tools?
They’re still there. Like many writers, I opened an account just a few years after they launched, so I logged back in recently to see what the platform looked like. My account is still active, and it looks pretty much the same as it did a few years ago. I can search for writing opportunities, see where I’ve submitted in the past, and submit new writing. The difference? Now I can also use it to search for a job and local events.
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