I screwed up earlier this week. I submitted a story to a pro market, and verified its status the next morning. Imagine my dismay when I saw, in the list of previously rejected stories, the same one I’d just sent them.
I did what needed to be done, promptly sending a withdrawal and apology to the editor. My next step was figuring out how I made the mistake in the first place, which led to writing this post.
I’m a pretty avid supporter and user of Duotrope. It’s the first place I go to look for markets and where I primarily track my submissions but, as it turns out, with some omissions. On top of that, I was using a mix of spreadsheets but those were entirely current, either.
Numbers (or Excel) worked well as an offline solution, but was getting cluttered. I decided to switch to Google Docs and create multiple spreadsheets — one per story — to track submissions. It was an interesting experiment, but only added to the confusion (not to mention a duplication of effort).
Disheartened, I started re-examining the problem. The spreadsheet(s) I had only tracked the most basic information: title, market, dates submitted and responded, status and comments. That’s not enough, though. I also keep a list of stories written and their status and was duplicating information between the two lists. There’s also tracking what rights were sold for acceptances, which I wasn’t tracking. Ugh.
With only a half dozen stories sold, reprints aren’t something I’m worrying about yet but I’ll need to be. I also need to know which rights I’ve sold — print vs. Electronic vs. Audio. A story sold once is a story that can be sold twice.
Databases, which I’m all too familiar with, seem like overkill. Any solution needs to be simple or I’m just going to get frustrated building it or using it. I know some people are happy using a simple document ala Word or a notebook (one page per story) but that lacks the ability to quickly search for specific information. Back to a spreadsheet I went.
Using one document to track them all, containing three spreadsheets:
The index is just that, a list of relevant details (title, log line, genre, themes, status, and notes) of each story I’ve written. I’ve color coded the status so I can quickly see if it’s in need of revision, rewriting, ready for submission, etc.
History is where I’m tracking the lifecycle of a story, from draft to submission. In one glance, I can see where a story has been and where it’s at. If I decide to trunk a story, or bring on a collaborator, I know exactly when that took place.
Another benefit I’m finding is that an occasional comment from an editor might have been filed away and forgotten, with months between rejections. Seeing them together on one page with other responses, patterns start to emerge that might have seen me make revisions to one or two stories before sending them back out.
In Rights, I’m recording the title, market, and which rights I’ve sold, along with the effective dates, how much I’ve been paid, when I was paid, and when rights revert back. If, at some point in the future, an editor asks me if I have any reprints to sell them, it’s a simple matter of filtering by date. Also, when it comes time to do taxes and I’m wondering how much money I’ve made from writing, I have that recorded, too.
A sample spreadsheet, with totally fake data (although I kind of want to write The Bromantics, now) is available here.
There is no perfect solution to this problem, I think, because it’s different for every person. Reading Jennifer Brozek’s guest post about managing her freelance schedule, for example, gave me the idea to use color coding. It’s an adaptation of process, find what works and abandoning what doesn’t.
The more you write, the longer your inventory becomes and managing that isn’t going to become easier. I wish I’d done a better job of record keeping at the start, not just so I wasn’t spending hours trying to fix the mess I have now but so I had more accurate notes, like when I finished drafts or made revisions.
I’m curious what you’re using to track their submissions (non-fiction, short fiction, or novels), and how happy you are with that process. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.