Edited in November 2014 to add:
So it's now been almost two years since I wrote this entry, and it's still getting a fair amount of google traffic. I feel at this point that I should declare a clear winner in my own personal "best free Duotrope alternative" contest: The Submission Grinder.
When I first published this article, the Grinder was still rough around the edges and not quite as useful as Duotrope, just because it hadn't gathered enough data yet. Now, a couple years later, and I can confidently say that The Submission Grinder is just as useful to me as a published writer of SFF as Duotrope ever was. I haven't had a Duotrope subscription in over a year, and I don't miss it. Better yet, the Grinder is improving all the time as the folks from Diabolical Plots add features and updates. The other sites on this list may still prove useful for you, but if you're looking for a free, one-stop Duotrope replacement, the Submission Grinder is it.
If you have any short fiction writers in your webosphere, chances are you've heard a lot of chatter this month about a website called Duotrope. For the uninitiated, Duotrope is a searchable database of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry markets. They also have a detailed submissions tracker and user-provided market response statistics, which helps writers gauge how long they might be waiting for an answer when they submit work to a particular market. It's a helpful website for writers trying to sell their work, and until now its been completely free to use. But earlier this month, the Duotrope team announced that they would be moving to a paid subscription model on January 1st—to the vocal chagrin of a large number of its users. The services they've previously offered free of charge (with regular pleas for donations) will now cost fifty dollars a year, or five dollars a month.
The corners of the interweb where we short fiction authors gather to encourage and console each other have been abuzz ever since. The response has been divided, but most of the writers in my circles (many of whom have been regular donaters in the past) have made it clear they won't be supporting Duotrope in this move, either because they think the subscription fee is too high, or because they think it will reduce the usefulness of the site. I'm in the latter camp myself. I wouldn't have a problem paying Duotrope for the awesome service they provide, but if they scare a huge chunk of their userbase away, the accuracy of their market statistics will undoubtedly be affected. Since that's the most valuable part of the site for me, this makes it hard to justify dropping the cash on a subscription.
So for those like me, who probably won't be returning to Duotrope tomorrow, I've compiled a list of websites that offer similar services for free. Many of these (particularly the market listings) are aimed toward speculative fiction, but quite a few of them can be used by authors of any persuasion.
Despite its antagonistic relationship with my eyeballs, Ralan.com is one of the oldest and most comprehensive lists of speculative fiction markets on the web. Ralan has been a regular part of my routine since I started submitting, even before The Great Duotrope Controversy of 2012. From pro to semi-pro or below, if they take SFF, you'll probably find them listed here.
Whether you have aspirations for membership or not, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website is a great resource for writers. Part of their membership requirements include sales to professional fiction markets that meet their approval, all of which are listed on their site. You can consider these markets vetted by the pros.
I'm not quite as familiar with this site as I am the others, but they've gathered a ton of market lists on this one page. I haven't investigated all of the links, so it's possible some of them might be out of date. Worth a look, at any rate.
Spacejock Software (owned by author Simon Haynes) has been releasing free software for years, many of it aimed at writers. Sonar is probably the best submission tracking software I've ever used, and has long been my primary method of wrangling manuscripts. The biggest advantage is that it's all on your own computer, so you don't have to worry about anyone's server going down.
Writer's Planner works very much like a web-based version of Sonar, tracking your submissions using the data you've entered. The key difference is this site's tracker comes coupled with a huge list of markets, which saves you the time of having to create one yourself.
Like Writer's Planner, the Writer's Database is a web-based submission tracker. They also allow users to share market information so you don't have to enter all of the data yourself, though their list doesn't seem to be quite as large.
When all else fails, you can always use a good old-fashioned spreadsheet to track your submissions. Most people (myself included) use Excel, but this is a list of free resources, so I'm going to recommend LibreOffice, a free and opensource office suit that comes with a great spreadsheet program.
Market Response Statistics
Hosted by Critters.org, Black Holes works similar to Duotrope's own response tracker. Users report the response times from their submissions, in hopes of giving each other a better idea of the wait times they might be facing for each market. While this site has nowhere near the number of data points that Duotrope has, I'm hoping that will change as former users look for a substitute.
Write 1/Sub 1 is a self-imposed challenge to write and submit a new story on a weekly or monthly basis, and has been a great motivator. Many members of the W1S1 community meet up on the Absolute Write forums, where we share condolences in the "Rejectomancy" thread and rejoice in the "Braggage" thread. It's not only great for moral support, but serves as a good way to keep up with some of the goings on at the markets we're submitting to.
The R&A Log is a shared blog that allows anyone to report their response times, organized by post tags. They have a decent amount of members who are fairly active, however it's worth noting that you'll need to create a livejournal account to participate.
Edited to Add:
If you've paid attention to the comments section for this entry at all, you might have been waiting for this one. The Submissions Grinder is a project helmed by Diabolical Plots, and has been designed as a complete (and most importantly, free) alternative to Duotrope. It still looks to be a little rough around the edges at this point, but it sounds like they have great plans for this service as it takes shape. Right now, they're focused on gathering data points and building their market list, which you can help out with by registering an account and importing your Duotrope data.
Did I miss any? If you're a short fiction writer or poet and you know of any other Duotrope alternatives, feel free to let me know in the comments. Good luck and happy writing in 2013!
Original photo by boxchain via cc. Modified by J.W. Alden.