LitMatch: Research Literary Agents and Track Submissions

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Redesign Preview #1 - Motivations

Next month marks the two-year anniversary of In that time, it has grown beyond all expectations, both in terms of the information it presents and the number of people who use it. By all indications, the site has been a great success, and I'm incredibly proud of what it has achieved.

So, why make a change? And why now? Well, answering that question requires a little history...

LitMatch, at the beginning, was something that I started building for my own use. I was in the middle of shopping two novels, and needed a better system than the arcane, color-coded spreadsheet that was the bane of my existence at the time. My background was in web development, so I started building a database using the technologies I knew at the time. About halfway through, I realized that I was onto something that would benefit a whole lot of writers, so I expanded the scope, added statsitics, spent another six months on development, and LitMatch as we know it was born.

But, as excited as I was to share LitMatch with the world, the launch brought with it a certain sense of "now what?" I knew something was missing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. The site worked well for what it did, but its focus was extremely narrow. It was also hard to maintain and update, because the technology used to build it was no longer cutting edge.

There was also something of a sense of remoteness. I had built a website where people could share information, but couldn't connect with, or even contact each other. I wanted to get to know LitMatch users, and I wanted them to have the opportunity to get to know each other. I considered adding any number of social tools, from shared blogs, to forums, to out-of-the-box social networks, but each one just felt like a temporary fix.

So, from the beginning, it was clear that LitMatch would be a first step, but it wasn't clear what the next step would be. The more the site grew, the more it became clear that it would, one day, have to be replaced.

What also became clear was that there was a serious need for education among writers. I had initially assumed that things like proper manuscript format, how to write a query letter, and other key information was widely known. But as more and more people came to the site, the more questions I got about those topics. Many users were looking at me as an expert, when really I'm just a writer like everyone else. What I had built was a tool for informed writers, but what people were looking for was a tool that would inform writers.

Fast-forward to the stock market collapse, Black Wednesday, and related changes in the publishing industry, and it became clear that focusing solely on a traditional publishing model was short-sighted. In order to be successful in the long term, LitMatch would have to expand to encompass ALL the publishing options available to writers today.

So, the challenge was to create a website that covers the whole scope of not just publishing, but the writing world as a whole. At the same time, the site needs to promote learning and encourage writers to connect in meaningful ways. As if that wasn't enough, it has to do everything that LitMatch has always done, and make sure that existing users can continue to record and track the submissions they send.

And that's exactly what we've done! A new site is on the way, and it's almost ready for launch. Want to know more? Just stay tuned to this blog. In the coming weeks, I'll be previewing the new site, talking specifics about new features, and how we've made the current features even better. I think you're going to like what we have in store.

Next time, I'll be talking about submission tracking on the new site, what's new, and what hasn't changed. Until then, keep writing!

Christopher Hawkins


Lexi said...

Very interesting to learn how LitMatch was born. I'm impressed.

Victoria Dixon said...

Fascinating and exciting, Christopher. Thank you for all the hard work!