For my birthday this past year, my wonderful boyfriend got me a very thoughtful and practical gift – the 2010 edition of Writer’s Market. For those unfamiliar with writer’s market, it is the authority on listings of book publishers, consumer magazines, trade journals, literary agents, and pretty much any other place you could possibly send a manuscript. No doubt about it – it’s a resource you need if you’re going to be a serious writer.

It’s also on the pricey side, as in you can’t remove from the reference section in the library. One great feature about the 2010 edition (10 years newer than my previous copy) is an included free year’s subscription to their website, www.writersmarket.com, which allows you to get involved in writer communities, sign up for webinars, and track submissions. I’ve been using the site for about eight months, and every time I use it, I get more and more frustrated.

First, the site is slow slow slow slow slow. That’s five slows. Dialup on a rotary phone slow. The first time I accessed the site, I wondered if I had a malformed URL. I didn’t. It’s just seriously that slow. Doing anything on the site takes about twice as long as it should. As a professional geek, I’d really like to take a look at their log files to see how long their server calls take and see what the hell is killing the site speed. If I could tell Writer’s Market to change one thing, it would be to speed up the site.

Second, their search logic is TRBL (pronounced tur-ri-bull).  Instead of doing the smart thing every search does, and list search results by relevance, they list them in alphabetical order, based on the full text of the associated page.

So, for example, when I search for a magazine called The Aesthetic, the search returns every market that includes the word “aesthetic” in their description, guidelines, or any other field on the market’s page, and since most markets try to describe what kind of aesthetic they are looking for, it returns a lot of results (slowly, I might add).

Which, for a magazine that starts with A, is not a big deal, but if I do the same search for Frank (which is an actual literary magazine), I get 10 pages of unnecessary search results, and the entry for Frank is on the fourth page of a search that takes 10 seconds, and another 5 to go to the next page.

I could go on and on with examples of how TRBL the searching is, but the site is currently timing out because I keep “overloading” it with queries.

Third, the site uses Silverlight to do its submission tracking. I don’t know a whole lot about Silverlight, but from what I’ve come to understand it’s an applet of some kind that sites can use to embed. The problem I have with the Silverlight web applet is that because the site is already Godzilla-after-biscuits-and-gravy slow, loading the flash animation for your foldering tree takes forEVer. And while it does a great job of caching the market information, you have to submit each manuscript one by one.

So, for instance, I have 5 poems to send to a literary journal. I search for the journal, save it to “My Markets,” access the Silverlight applet that is My Markets, find the folder, then submit one poem. After I enter the date information (which should REALLY default to today), I start over again. Silverlight reloads, I find the same journal in the same tree, and submit one more poem. And because the site is so slow, this takes a long time.

My fourth beef: there is no mechanism to withdraw a submission, which you have to do if you have any simultaneous submissions that get accepted somewhere else. Instead, you have to go  into the Silverlight interface, access the submission record in the tree, and mark it as a rejection. I get enough rejections without having to fake one.

Okay, so I’m a little harsh on site usability – but if you’re going to go web, do it right. I haven’t used the community forums much, mostly because it takes so long to navigate, but it looks like there are a lot of resources out there. And of course, tracking submissions in the Silverlight interface is a helluva lot more accurate and organized than I could ever manage – but it’s a web applet, so it’s supposed to do the work for me.

I’d be really interested to see Writer’s Market do some site rework, get some beta testers, and solicit some real feedback about what they could do to improve the site experience and eliminate the redundant work in tracking submissions.