Updated: Jun 16
When you first started out, it seemed so easy. You had writing exercises stored in a folder on your computer entitled WRITING within a sub-folder entitled EXERCISES. You had a handful of short stories you’d merrily typed and saved in WRITING and within sub-folder SHORT STORIES. You could pluck out any of these files with a mere couple of clicks and get working on them.
This was back in the days of blissful ignorance – before you realised there were such things as first draft, redraft, revise, rewrite, experimental pieces and THINGS THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO CAUTERISE HUMAN SIGHT. And this was all before you decided you'd take the plunge and WRITE THAT NOVEL.
After a few years, you’ve got a ton of short pieces, long pieces, novel drafts, half-baked novel drafts, completed drafts, really completed drafts and really, ABSOLUTELY FOR THE FINAL TIME completed drafts. Then you have formatted, marked/unmarked, accepted/for edits drafts.
Your mind is getting confused as to which folder you saved that absolutely final, final, final doesn’t-need-any-more-tampering-with-for-REAL draft and now you seem to have more than one final version.
I’ve posted before about software that will help you write that novel from first draft to formatted submission and keep each version in some kind of easy-ish filing system. Some of those tools are still around and have been improved, and some are either outdated or better options have come to the market. (at some point, I'll update that article.) While you might struggle with keeping your drafts organised, now that you've advanced towards publishing your work, you may have found a similar situation crops up with the stories you’ve been submitting.
Keeping on top of where you’ve submitted stories; which publications sent an outright ‘no’ and which ones sent words of encouragement; where your work has been accepted; the publication date and under which publishing rights the piece is sold and for how long you must wait until you are free to republish it: these are all areas that can make you just as disorientated as staying on top of your story files.
In part two, I’ll go into my personal organisation methods, but today let’s just address why keeping story submissions organised is so important.
Submitting rejected stories to the same market or agent.
Every publication or agent stipulates that – unless they specifically ask for a rewrite and resubmit – do not resubmit rejected pieces. However, authors still do so. Generally, it’s not because they are arrogant arses who think the editor’s got it wrong and should give it a second look, but a genuine mistake: they have forgotten where they submitted it and didn’t keep track of their story submissions. Of course, it’s forgivable a couple of times, but if a writer repeatedly submits the same rejected material to one agent or publication over and again, one begins to wonder where their head’s at.
Receiving form rejections all the time.
If you have a story that’s been doing the rounds for some time and it’s only receiving form rejections, you’re either submitting it to the wrong markets or it needs more work – possibly another couple of revisions. It’s easy after a couple of years to forget just how many times it’s been refused. By keeping track of story submissions, you get a visual on how many times a piece has been rejected and, if those rejections are stacking up, it tells you something. It’s likely you need to revisit the piece.
Submitting stories to publications that want to see more of your work.*
You got rejected (boo) but you got a nice note from the editing team telling you they would definitely like to see more of your work. THESE REJECTIONS ARE SO IMPORTANT. Keeping track of these is imperative. They like your writing, the idea, your style, your voice - something. Yet, something major enough in the story also didn’t work for them. Something either the editors didn't feel was a reasonable ask to change or something that would require too much editing. These are the guys you should be focusing your efforts towards. If you track them separately from the form rejections, you can filter yourself a list that increases your chances of acceptance and stop wasting time on markets that will never say yes.
Filtering by genre/audience.*
Yes, another useful filtering category. Sometimes it’s worth publishing to markets that might not pay you or might not be too well-established on the basis that it’s where your target readership lies. Keeping a note of places that cater to your specific tastes/kind of stories is worthwhile.
*These last two points enable a much more targeted approach to your submissions process. There are still many publications out there who - despite the easy facilitation of providing a couple of free copies on their website for potential contributors to read and gauge what they publish - insist that you purchase copies of their journal or magazine in order to know if your writing will fit in with their tastes. Rather than splurging out left, right and center on every magazine the writer comes across, a mixture of submitting to personalised rejections and targeted audience should indicate from which markets to buy issues for the purpose of market research.
Many publications out there stipulate no simultaneous subs. This means that if you submit a story to their market, they don't want you to send the story to other markets for consideration at the same time. This is often because they either get so few submissions - or so few quality submissions - that they cannot afford to hold on to a story, only to find it gets swiped from their hold pile in favour of another market.
As is often the case, writers forget whether their stories fall under this condition and it is a real pain in the backside having to hunt out the market each time to check. If you have a good organisational system, you should be able to view this at a glance.
Not hearing anything for ages.
You sent a submission by email, and you haven’t heard back. How long do you leave it before a follow up? Leaving yourself a note for what wait period the publication has set saves you heckling busy editors prematurely and enables you to see all follow-up dates for your stories at a glance. (Did I say heckle? I meant ‘harass’. Erm, no, I meant bother. Oh, damn it! There’s no good way to say it, but I’m confident you are neither heckler, harasser nor bothersome.) It also reminds you to chase up those publications that are taking longer than usual.
Accepted work – keeping track of publication dates and payments
Oop – Hello? You got an acceptance? Yay! But you need to keep track of publication dates so that you can plan your schedule to participate in marketing your story and the publication's issue/book release date, and any associated events such as blog tours, etc. And because it’s payday – many places pay upon publication in the instance of short fiction. Should your payment not come through, you also need to have an easy reference of the history of communication between you and the market in question so you can follow up on wayward pay.
Accepted work: the importance of tracking exclusive rights and their time limitations.
When you first sell a story to a market, it’s usually under first exclusive rights. That means you can’t publish it anywhere else before they do. The market should stipulate a time limit in a couple of areas:
- How long they retain exclusivity after the date of publication (could be 3 months; could be a year).
- How long they retain the right to exclusivity in the event they do not publish on the date they have stated or do not publish at all. FREX, sometimes, staff shortages can delay a publication date and the magazine wants to hold on to the story until they can release the issue. Sometimes, publications have to go on hiatus for any number of reasons (lack of funding, family crises, etc.), but they hope to relaunch as soon as is feasible. These types of situations don’t happen often, thankfully, so retaining publishing rights on a story for a period is just a failsafe, in the instance of something truly awful getting in the way. Don't worry, if this does happen, the retaining period is not usually for too long.
In either instance, you need to keep track of when that story is out of exclusivity so you can submit it elsewhere or self-publish it, so that you don’t get into any sticky legal disputes.
Next time, we'll look at various options of tracking submissions and I'll go into detail on some of my personal favourites. If you have any particular suggestions you'd like me to look at and include in the next article, please leave links in the comments below and I'll do my best to include them.