Tracking submissions

[October 2008] In his endnotes for the short story “N.” in Just After Sunset, Stephen King postulates that “everyone suffers OCD to one degree or another.” What does that have to do with tracking submissions? I’ll get to that shortly.

I concur with King’s theory, though I would add that most people’s version of the disorder can be written off as mere quirks. I, for example, have a mild obsession with numbers. Even before the recent roller coaster ride on Wall Street, I monitored the Dow Jones values each day, and I keep tabs on the exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollars. When I’m at the gym, I watch the calorie counter and the heart rate monitor as much as I watch the TVs hanging in front of me.

Back in the 1990s, when I was cycling seriously, I kept a log that recorded my daily distance, time and calculated average speed. While I was riding, I focused on my rpm, changing gears to keep it in the 90-100 range.

Here’s one I picked up from my father: I keep a logbook in the car where I record the mileage and amount of gas at every fill-up. At one time, I used to enter that data into a spreadsheet and monitor mpg trends. It told me when I needed a tune-up clearer than anything else. My wife has given up asking me why I still keep track of that information. I can use the “tune-up” excuse, but that’s probably not the complete truth. I simply have a mild fixation with numbers. It doesn’t interfere with my life.

So, this is where it gets a little odd. I track my short story submissions at least four different ways.

The first thing I see when I enter my office is an erasable white board. It lists the short stories I currently have seeking homes, and the market they are with. I can tell at a glance when a story is fallow. When there are too many gaps in the right-hand column of that table, I make myself go on a submission spree. I usually try to get a story right back out again, as soon as I receive a rejection note, but sometimes other business makes me fall behind.

On the computer, I use a free download called Sonar 2. It allows you to enter markets, along with contact information, editor names, URLs, full guidelines, etc. and even has a feature that will print mailing labels for you, though I haven’t used that yet. I have my own special formula for preparing a postal submission, and haven’t found reason to deviate from it. The second part of the database lets you enter short stories. You can specify word count, genre, a synopsis, etc. These two lists meet when you match a story with a market. The front panel of the program displays a list of stories (sortable by different criteria) that shows how many days a story has been out or if it has been accepted/rejected, based on your latest update. If you make a sale, you can enter the amount and keep a running tally of income that way.

On the left-hand pullout tray on my writing desk, I keep a small spiral notebook. On each page I list a short story, its word count, and each new submission by date. When I get a response, I note the date. On the left-hand pages, I list possible markets for future submissions for that particular story. When I get a rejection, I can tell at a glance exactly where the story has been already so I don’t make the stupid mistake of sending a story to a market that has already rejected it.

Finally, I use Duotrope’s online submission tracker—but not for myself. I contribute to the database of response times to help build up that resource, which I use quite often to research new potential markets for stories. I never refer back to anything I enter.

Each of these tracking methods serves a different purpose, but it seems like overkill, doesn’t it? Perhaps a tad obsessive?

All I can say in my defense is that it works for me, and I never mind that I have to update information in four places each time I hear back from a submission. I wipe the market off the white board (or, in the happy case of acceptance, erase both the story and the market). In my spiral, I put a check or an X after the submission date and write in the current date. On my computer, I click the title of the story, click on the submission record, and check a box saying I’ve had a response. And, finally, I go online to Duotrope and add the submission and all pertinent information.

Maybe just one of these methods is enough for your purposes. Or two.

Or three . . .

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