Tracking Your Submissionsby Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, April 1998
Being published is the goal of any writer, whether it is to be published in a small zine read by 100 people or in a magazine or newspaper read by hundreds of thousands of readers. In any case, quality of submissions is the key to a successful freelancing career, but successful freelancers have another secret; they do not sit back, relax and wait for a response to a manuscript submission, proposal letter or query. Instead, they immediately get on with their next piece or proposal letter. Because of this routine and the volume of correspondence it generates, professional writers must have a reliable system for keeping track of their submissions and related correspondence. Tracking submissions requires diligent attention to mundane details, not always the preferred activity for creative personalities.
Fortunately for those lacking a love of recordkeeping, there are several easy ways to track submissions which will allow you to reap the rewards that will come from having organized, detailed records. These records will provide you with crucial information about your success rate with certain types of publications and will assist you in budgeting your time and estimating your future income from freelance writing assignments.
Why You Need to Keep Records
One of the main reasons for tracking submissions is that the turnaround time of book and periodical publishers varies from as little as a few weeks to as long as a year or more, with the average falling somewhere in the middle -- about three months. Because of this lag in response time, successful writers immediately begin a new project as soon as the last submission is out the door. A freelance writer may work on several queries or articles during the time it takes to get a response from a publisher, thereby increasing the need for a practical and reliable method of tracking submissions. Without proper tracking it is easy to lose track of when or where a query letter was submitted which could lead to a writer inadvertently submitting the same query twice to the same place, or failing to query a potential market.
What You Need to Track
At a bare minimum you must track of the date you submitted the material, what you submitted and where you sent it. You should also record a follow-up date or a date upon which you expect to hear back about your query or submission. You will also want to keep track of what the results of your submission were, whether it was a rejection or a publication, and full details of any contracts that were negotiated or signed including what rights were sold. If it was published for payment, you will need to keep track of any monetary payment for tax purposes. In recording responses to a query or proposal you should monitor whether the idea was rejected or accepted. If accepted, you need to record what work needs to be performed as a result, and if rejected you should record any information regarding the rejection -- was it a form rejection? Were there any positive or negative comments? You should also save any notes or comments from an editor even if he or she is commenting on why they did not like your piece. Recording these comments can help you later when you analyze your records to look for patterns in responses to your material.
Triple Tracking Method - Using a Spreadsheet
Using a spreadsheet is one of the easiest ways to keep track of various aspects of a writer's job, such as finances and deadlines. However, a spreadsheet can also be used to keep track of your submissions -- a more detailed outlook can be found in The Triple Tracking Method found online at: http://www.writerswrite.com/triple.htm. One of the advantages in using a spreadsheet is that once you have the data entered you can then sort it instantly by submissions date, title or any other category you have created. Good spreadsheet software includes Microsoft Excel, Corel Quattro Pro or similar software packages.
Many writers use index cards, simply using an index card for each submission that was sent. Then the writer can flip through the cards to reference his or her submission dates. Small plastic boxes that can hold several hundred index cards can be easily obtained anywhere that you can buy office or school supplies. When you get a response to your query or submission, you can then record the result on the back of the index card. Different colored cards can be used if you want to distinguish between types of submissions such as queries, manuscript submissions and book proposals or if you want to distinguish between the genre of the submission such as non-fiction, fantasy or mystery.
Filing is also necessary for keeping up with outgoing queries and manuscripts. Keep a hard copy of your manuscript and cover letter or your query letter. When submitting by email you can copy yourself so that a copy comes to your address. This email can be printed out and filed as well. Filing can be organized in different ways. You can have different folders for the type of work it is: folders for novels in progress, short stories and freelance articles. You also can have a file for each individual article or story idea. In the file you can keep all correspondence, queries and a copy of the work itself. Another filing method is to keep folders for the individual markets themselves, such as a folder for Reader's Digest or Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. This is useful if you direct a lot of correspondence to a particular publisher. Even if you use a filing system, it is also important to keep a record sheet of your submissions so that you quickly can reference where your submissions have gone before you have to open the files.
Using software to aid you in tracking your submissions is an individual decision. Obviously, the goal of tracking your submissions can be achieved using any combination of the above methods, but the goal of software is to make things easier, so if you are willing to spend a few dollars this may be the method of choice for you. The 1998 Writer's Market (Writers Digest Books) (Book and CD-ROM edition) includes a software program that tracks submissions. Dolphin Software online at: http://dolphinsoftware.bc.ca/, publishes a program called The Working Writer. Other software tools for tracking submissions, such as shareware and freeware, may be found in software download sites such as ZDNet's software library located at: http://www.hotfiles.com. Another place to check is The Writers Club on America Online at Keyword: Writers Club which has a writer's library with downloadable software.
Benefits of Tracking - Analysis of Your Results
In addition to the benefit of being better organized as a result of recording your submissions, tracking can also provide you with information that you can study. This information can provide you with additional insight about how successful you have been and assist you in planning your future submissions. After you have tracked a number of responses to your queries and submissions you will have a better idea of how your work is being received. Analysis of your submission sheets can provide you with detailed data on how quickly publications and publishers get back to your queries, book proposals and manuscript ideas. Has any of your material been accepted for publication or published? What kinds of publications were these? Have you received any positive feedback from an editor? If so, you should likely try submitting there again. Look for negatives as well. Is there a story that has been rejected now for its fiftieth time? Maybe there is a flaw in this story you hadn't noticed? By tracking over a long period of time, you should start to see some trends, even if they are subtle.
In addition to information about how your work has been received, your submission records can also indicate your own work patterns. Do you tend to slack off after a series of submissions? Have you gotten back quickly to editors who have had a positive response to your submission? Do you work steadily or in spurts? Perhaps a thorough analysis of your records could help you find a way to manage your time more effectively.
It's Not Too Late Too Start
Don't feel discouraged if you have not been keeping detailed submission records up to this point. You can still try to recreate records of your past submissions, based on what you remember and what correspondence you kept. Hopefully you haven't tossed out any notes from editors, negative or otherwise. Just keep in mind that you can always start now and in six months to a year you will have records to review which can provide you with valuable data you can use to improve your success rate at selling your work.
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.