Sunday, May 1, 2016

How to Keep Track of Your Writing Submissions

One type of housekeeping that every writer has to do is to keep track of submissions. This task has become slightly easier since the advent of Submittable, a software that many literary magazines use to handle submissions. Submittable was founded in 2010 by a filmmaker, a musician, and a novelist who wanted to democratize the submissions process.

Once you have an account in Submittable, you can go to the SUBMISSIONS menu and view several different sub-menus, including ALL, ACTIVE, ACCEPTED, DECLINED, and WITHDRAWN. I do find it useful to check my Submittable account periodically to remind myself about what work I’ve sent out and to view results.

The problem is, not every magazine uses Submittable. Many have their own submission interface, and some still only consider hard copy submissions. Submittable alone will not enable you to keep track of the manuscripts you send to magazines or publishers.

All the writers I know have some form of personal database to keep track of their submissions. This is particularly true for poets, who have many individual titles and may submit numerous poems in various combinations to different magazines at the same time.

I find it fascinating that every writer I asked has invented his or her own system for keeping track of submissions. Writers use a variety of software, from Word to Excel to FileMaker Pro, and a range of different notation systems.

I noticed that certain fields are common denominators in all these databases: title, name of magazine or press submitted to, date submitted, and decision (accepted or rejected).

Some writers have their own codes to make the fields easily searchable. The poet Robert Thomas told me he uses a table in Word with these abbreviations in the left-hand column: “X means it’s submitted somewhere, blank means it’s not, and ! means it’s been accepted. If I sort by that first narrow column I can see at a glance what’s out and what’s not.” Interestingly, Robert includes poems in his database that he has not yet submitted, so he can consider those poems when he’s ready to send to a magazine.

Robert Thomas
The writer Jeanne Wagner uses an ingenious color-coding system in her database to indicate whether a poem has been accepted or not: “I keep track of all my submissions on Excel. It’s very simple. The first column is the name of the journal or prize, 2nd the name of the poem(s) the 3rd the date submitted, 4th the result—award amount or publication. In the space to the right, I occasionally make a note, i.e., ‘editorial comment received,’ ‘accepts pre-published,’ ‘don’t resubmit.’ I highlight the positive results in red (publication or award), the rejections in blue, and the withdrawals and non-responses in green. The accepted poems are underlined. I don’t send in a query about my submission until it is well past (at least a month) the date for response listed in the journal’s guidelines.”

Jeanne Wagner
The poet Kendall Dunkelberg has his own method: “I have a system, developed in the 1980s first on Apple’s Hypercard and migrated eventually to SuperCard, that keeps track of submissions, magazines, and grants. It runs reports and even helps me manage readings and book sales." Kendall has written a blog that explains his system in greater detail.

Kendall Dunkelberg
The poet Melissa Stein works with a different software: “I’ve been using an old Filemaker Pro version forever. I’m surprised it still functions. I usually do simultaneous submissions. I generally email magazines immediately when something is accepted.”

Melissa Stein
Each of the poets I queried had his or her own method. It turns out my own method is a lot more obsessive than the other poets I asked.

I use a Word table with all the columns that the other poets mentioned, but I also have a column labeled Previous title. I often change the title of a poem or manuscript during the period I’m submitting it, and I want to be sure that I find all the previous submissions if I have to notify an editor that a simultaneous submission has been accepted elsewhere.

I have another column called Reminder Sent. Two or three times a year I go back over my Word table and look for submissions where the magazine has not responded. I usually wait at least four months before sending a reminder to a literary magazine. The reminder I send is a very brief email just giving the names of all the poems I submitted, the date I submitted them, and a quick note saying that I hope they will let me know soon if they would like to publish any of the poems. In my Word table I enter the date when I send an email reminder to a publication I haven’t heard from, so I don’t repeat reminders.

I also have a column called Address, email, or online submission manager to keep track of how and where I actually submitted the work. If I know which editor I sent the poems to, I include her or his name in that column. I find it reassuring to attach a name to my submission—it makes me feel a more personal connection to the journal. But I also include the name so that any correspondence goes to an individual, not just to an inbox.

When I get a response from a magazine or publisher, I always make a note whenever the response invites me to submit work again, and if there was a personal note, similar to Jeanne Wagner’s database. Maybe once a year I look for those entries and resubmit to one or two of them, starting my cover letter by saying that the magazine invited me to resubmit last time.

I also have a column for the announced publication date of an accepted poem, and a column for the date when it is actually published. Sometimes works are accepted and not published when expected, or ever. I like to keep tabs on that so I can find out if and why a publication is delayed. In an extreme situation, I will resubmit the work if the magazine ceases publication. That can happen, unfortunately.

There is an online submissions tracking system that you can pay for called Duotrope®. Duotrope costs $50 a year, and in addition to providing a way to track your submissions, the website offers a search feature to find publishers, an index of listings, and a calendar of upcoming deadlines. Personally, I don’t think this is a service a writer needs to pay for, but if you can afford it, this seems like a reasonable solution as well. 

Whatever method you use, make sure that it’s easy to find previous submissions, especially if you submit work simultaneously. An important part of a writer’s housekeeping is to notify editors when work is accepted elsewhere, so that publications don’t spend time evaluating a submission that is no longer available.

Zack’s most recent book of poems, Irreverent Litanies
Zack’s most recent translation, Bérénice 1934–44: An Actress in Occupied Paris by Isabelle Stibbe

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe TankaThe Villanelle
Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer
Writers and Collaboration
Types of Closure in Poetry