Stay Organised: How to Track and Tailor Your Subs List
In the first post on this subject, I outlined why it’s so important to keep track of story submissions and how easy it is to become confused once you've fattened your story portfolio and you have stories going out all over the place, trying to find them a home. Today, I want to dive into the main platforms available to writers to enable this tracking, plus my own personal system. One thing there is no circumnavigating: there is no database that fits all purposes.
So, let’s first talk a little about how I organise my completed works on my computer. It is an unfortunate fact that it’s not possible to have one type of format for all venues. Some places request William Shunn (WS) format, some places stipulate no particular rules other than a 12-point readable font and no weird or arty formatting; no images. Many places ask for unmarked submissions so that readings are as unbiased as possible, particularly with competitions.
On my computer, hard drive, I keep two folders: WORK IN PROGRESS: FICTION and WORK COMPLETED: FICTION.
Under WORK COMPLETED: FICTION, I have sub-folders:
Completed (for versions where the plot, concept and themes are as I want them and I have finished line editing).
Formatted (most files here fall under either WS or WS_unmarked, and all of them have been proofread.)
Ready for Submission (for stories that have been formatted and have an accompanying cover letter, plus any other particulars the publication asks for such as a synopsis, author bio, etc.)
Accepted: Edits (for stories that have been accepted but edits have been requested.)
Published (I usually save these in PDF once any edits have been accepted. This is also to where I download a copy of the publication, if one is available to me.)
So that’s pretty much where I organise my finished pieces. Now we come to keeping track to which markets I have sent them and any responses I have received. I’m unfamiliar with how Duotrope works as an end-user, and vaguely familiar with Submissions Grinder, but one of them requires payment to use it (DT) and the other (SG) I found not very user intuitive, unless you are tech or stats-minded. Using Mocha or Submittable enables submitting stories directly to the publishers, but the problem with those types of databases is that they are all split up. To see if you’ve already submitted to a market, for example, requires logging into the various databases to check. Then there are all the places where you have to submit by email, and that involves searching through your folders to see what and to where you’ve submitted work. If you want to know if enough time has elapsed to query, you have to visit individual websites to remind yourself how long they stipulate you should wait before querying. Here’s a little more detail:
Submittable is probably the second most renowned platform next to Duotrope. Many, many publications only accept submissions through this portal. The advantage of this database is that you can submit your work to the publications you wish while also having the ability to keep track of their progress without having to manually log all the details on a separate platform. The downside is that not all publications use Submittable and could use their own submissions portal or just email, so you end up with more than one submissions tracking list. Other benefits for this portal include the ‘discover’ feature, which enables you to find calls not just for writing but art, too. As with almost all submissions portals, it is dominated by US publications and there is no way of filtering those out if you wish to submit outside of that market.
This is the most enduring and renown platform but it, unfortunately, does not come for free. I’m unfamiliar with its functionality, but from the research I have made it appears to use a more holistic approach than Submittable, providing articles, tips and insights into the publishing world and on being a writer, along with a well-maintained database of places to submit your work.
This is a database much like Submittable, but not so pretty to the eye and not, in my experience, all that intuitive to use. There is a filtering system, though maybe a little limited. Still, it’s free and has a good search engine, providing plenty of opportunities for writers.
This is my preferred platform. It is currently free, though I believe they are going to monetise it at some point. Still, for now, it has great functionality and is easy on the eye. It also has some prominent features, including matching your work to markets by genres, word count, pay rates etc. It also notifies you of upcoming submission calls, plus you can keep a favourites list. Keep track of dates, response times, your cover letters, their response emails, all from one place. And you can add markets to the database yourself for those pesky email-only submissions (or even hard copy subs!) At the time of writing, it does not have a country-specific filter, so – as with everywhere - US publications dominate the database and it’s difficult to search outside of that market. They have stated they intend to introduce this feature so non-US writers can better target their home nations’ publishing circuits, if they wish.
This is one of the few databases that enables you to centralise all your story submissions.
However, as these are all online tools, it is prudent not to rely on any single provider. It would be wise to keep all your submissions in a spreadsheet on your own PC, although that means manually adding all the details one-by-by, usually.
Not a submissions database, but worth mentioning...
I’m a huge fan of Trello as an organisational tool, but in the context of the other platforms, this is not a submissions portal in and of itself. However, it is a great tool for centralising your submissions and tailoring lists of publications to your tastes, geographical location, pay rates and those editors who are potentially warmer to your work. I’m going to give you the basics of how, but you’ll need to explore Trello and watch or read their own tutorials to get the hang of how to use the tool (it’s really not hard – so, so easy, in fact).
I use a combination of both Literarium and Trello. A quick overview: as Trello is a productivity app, you can share to it from any browser (you might need to install a share extension on desktop to enable this.) This means that if I find a market on Literarium and submit a piece, I can send it to Trello and, if I’m on the fly, deal with the details later on. Same goes for any publication’s web pages – I can share the submissions page directly to Trello and go into the app after to add details, set due dates, reminders and attach my story files.
To give you a better idea of how I organise my Submissions board on Trello, here’s a handy screenshot.
As you can see, I’ve set up list columns on the board for each genre or particular tastes or styles of readership I’m particularly interested in courting. Note that one of those columns is for British publications. Because I am yet to find a submissions database that will filter by nation, and the existing databases are swamped with US publications, I’ve created this filtering system of my own so I can focus on submitting work in my home nation.
You will notice quite a few other details:
- Due dates
- Comment bubbles icons
- Paperclip icons. (attach your story file links from Google Drive/Drop Box/OneDrive, etc.)
Moving along a little, you can now see columns In progress, Rejected and Rejected: asked for more. The latter is for submissions that have received some sort of positive remark or encouragement or have specifically asked to see other work. This is a great way of creating a list of publications that are more open to your style than others.
After these columns, I have shortlisted, accepted, published and publication/payment date. Shortlisted is another column worth nurturing well both for market types and to get an idea of which pieces are potentially going somewhere with perseverance.
And just so you don’t feel completely dejected about your own work – the rejections columns stack up a lot more cards on Trello than the acceptances. It’s a fact of writerly life. You just have to keep plodding onwards. When you get a rejection, search for a new suitable market on Literarium and send it out again before you even give your inner critic the chance to yell 'imposter!' Being a writer is like taking on a dog – it’s not just for Christmas; it’s a dog-life long commitment. Keep going, keep submitting, don't stop to dwell. It might take two years or twenty before you see the fruits of your labours pay off.
Let’s have a look at what’s inside a Trello card. As you can see from the screenshot, there is a description area, a due date set and an activity area – this last one is where you can make comments on the submission. I add all the responses I receive on that submission in this section. You can copy the card each time you submit the story to a new market so that the history of those responses is kept on the cards. The activity area is also where you can keep a copy of the cover letter, though I actually have a whole separate column dedicated to cover letters, author bios and story synopses.
The other glaring feature within the card is all the labels along the right-hand side. I’ve used those to indicate pay rate, awards and any publications that are considered ‘up there’ on the scale of being ‘noted’ by the industry. You can use labels however they suit you, of course.
Using the due date feature, you can set when a submissions call deadline is due to end or a date to contact the publication, according to their wait times. (You can also add start dates if you want to monitor a submissions call window from when it opens to when it ends.)
Trello is a great tool – not just for subs, either – but you probably also want to have a copy of your submissions history on your own computer, just in case any of these websites go down. You can keep an updated spreadsheet of all your submission by connecting Trello to a Google sheet on your Gdrive through Coupler.io AND set it to update once per day/week/month. Download it regularly to keep a copy on your computer hard drive. All bases are covered!
There’s a ton of uses writers can benefit from using Trello. Tracking short story or novel subs and keeping them organised is one of them, but it’s also great for storyboarding novels. I’ll leave you to discover how that works on your own.
The last Sunday of the month next time falls on the 26th December. I’ll try and post our next subject then, but, as it’s Boxing Day, I might full-well throw it up on the site later in the week. If you’d like to receive a notification for that, please do sign up to my mailing list.
Next time, it’s all about YOU – The Trickiness of Writing Second Person POV Narratives.