By Carolyn Moir
I've read a lot of writing how-to books. I
love them. One of the things they all agree on is that once you have a
piece of writing you like, you should send it out again and again and again
until it gets accepted. When I started doing this, I didn't have a good
system in place for keeping track of those submissions. I had no way to
record which story had been sent where. As soon as the first batch of
rejection letters arrived, I realized my mistake. The rejection letters
didn't have the name of the story on them, so I soon lost track. When it
came time to send the stories out again, I didn't know where I had already
Perhaps I thought they would all get
accepted right away. Perhaps I just thought I would always send every story
to a different and new market, without ever trying again. Whatever I had
been thinking, it was clear immediately that it wouldn't work. Even if
every story got accepted, how would I remember not to send a published story
That's when I developed the system I use
today. It helps me track the submissions for everything I write, no matter
what genre or category, and it allows me to quickly find the information on
new markets I had been gathering in preparation for a submission. I started
with a binder, paper, and several clear plastic sheet-protector sleeves.
On my computer I created a spreadsheet.
The first box was for the story title, the second box across the top was for
the market, the third was for the date I sent it in, the fourth was for the
date I was supposed to hear back, and the last was for the word Accepted
or Rejected. I printed out one sheet for every story that I had.
I wrote the name of the story in that first
box, and when I sent it out to a contest or magazine, I filled in all the
other information. I put the page into a sheet-protector, and into the
front of the binder. When the inevitable rejection letter came, I would
slide that into the sheet-protector behind the page. There were plenty of
lines on the paper to list the next market I sent it to, and the next, and
the next, and the next, until that story got published.
When I started using this system for my
other writing as well, I bought dividers and kept the spreadsheets for each
type of writing in their own section. For example, I have sections for
Essays, for Short Stories, for Poetry, for Articles, for Craft Patterns, and
even for Novels. Every kind of writing I do gets its own divider tab.
I also began to gather markets. In writing
magazines, on the Internet, from browsing through Writer's Market, from
announcements at school, I kept finding places to submit work. Again I
found myself with overwhelming amounts of information. So, I added them to
my organization system in my submissions binder. Within the divider tabs,
behind the spreadsheet of each type of writing, I put the markets for that
writing. Short story markets went into their own sheet-protectors behind
the spreadsheets of my short stories, essay markets and contests went into
their own sheet-protectors behind the spreadsheets for my essays, and agent
listings went behind the spreadsheet for my novel.
I didn't want to make a new spreadsheet for
every poem in the poetry section. It seemed like a waste, and the pages
would become overwhelming far too quickly, since I have many more poems
than, say, novels. I tweaked my system to work better with the bulk of
poetry by dividing the poems into groups by similarity. For each group I
made one spreadsheet and I wrote the title of each poem down the left edge
of the paper. Across the top edge of the paper I wrote each market as I
submitted to it. At first there is only one market listed at the top, and I
go down the page and put the date beside each poem that I submitted to that
market in that column.
The last step to this submission machine is
to label my rejections. When those SASEs come back to me, I pull out the
rejections and, if the manuscript isn't returned, I match it up using the
spreadsheet. Even though I put the rejection slip into the sheet-protector
with the spreadsheet, I also write the name of the story or poem across the
top of the rejection. This system is useful for acceptances too. You have
to keep track of that writing as well. I usually move those sheets to a
"retired" section, and keep any paperwork associated with publication in the
sheet-protector with the rejection slips.
Being organized about my submissions makes
me feel more like a professional writer, because it shows me that I am
taking my writing seriously. It also helps to take some of the stress out
of submitting. The more organized I can be, the more opportunity my work
has for getting published. The packet of information contained within each
sheet-protector allows me to see at a glance how many individual pieces of
writing I have, and to track how each story, article, or novel makes its way
into the world.
I have plans for even more levels of
organization. I would like to create spreadsheets for contests, too: one
spreadsheet for each month, and the contests listed by their deadlines.
That way when May starts, I could look at my May spreadsheet and see all the
contests I could submit to that month. Then, maybe I could create a list of
all the titles of my current unpublished pieces of writing, and I could
refer to that list when looking for something to send to a contest...
There are probably infinite layers of
possible organization. Of course, you can go too far, and I have to
remember that as important as organizing my writing is, and as informative
as reading writing how-to books is, actually doing the writing is the most