You Track Your Submissions (and Rights) Because Its Good Business

Yesterday I posted about tracking your unfinished work and the major advantage that comes from taking a story all the way through to the end. Today I handle the other half of Elizabeth @ Earl Grey Editing’s query:

TRACKING YOUR SUBMISSION (AND YOUR RIGHTS)

Tracking your unfinished works is a personal decision. No-one is going to care if you just shove all your work into a folder and forget about it, and it’s not going to affect anyone but you. You do it because it makes life easier.

Tracking your submissions, on the other hand, is a core requirement of the writers business, particularly at the earliest stages of your career when you’re doing things on spec.

Basically, this one is non-optional if you’re writing to have a career.

When you submit a story or a novel, you record where it’s gone (ie the magazine and publisher) and when you sent it. When they send you a response – positive or negative – you record when it arrived. You do this for every story, every submission. You keep this shit up-to-date.

The logic behind it is simple: editors will generally only look at something once. Unless they say the words I would be willing to look at this again, if you did a rewrite, they are not interested in seeing this particular story/novel again.

In the short-story world, there is also the general expectation that most editors have that they are the only person considering the story right now. If they say yes, I want it, they don’t want to hear that you’re waiting to hear back from magazine X, or that you’ve already sold it to Magazine Y.

Basically, you track submissions so you’re always certain that a) you haven’t submitted this piece to this particular magazine before, and b) you aren’t selling the rights to something that have already been sold to someone else. This is just good business.

BEST PRACTICE: DO IT NOW

When you start out, you assume this advice won’t apply to you. You have one or two stories. They’ve been submitted to a handful of places. How on earth would you ever forget that?

Trust me, you will forget. Somewhere around the time your tenth story is on its tenth submissions – which, lets be clear, is nothing in terms of shopping a story around; it means you’re just getting started – your memory will start getting fuzzy. Around the point that you’re shopping around your fiftieth story, trying to remember anything is accompanied by wry laughter.

You set up this habit early because it’s easier than setting up a system ten stories in.

PICK YOUR TOOLS

Your submission tracker is essentially designed to record two different sets of information:

  1. Places you have submitted this particular story.
  2. Submissions you have sent to this particular market, both current and previous.

The first is useful for when you have to send a story out – it allows you to quickly scan and figure the short-list of places for it to go next.

The second is useful because generally – with short story markets, at least – editors only really want to submit one story at a time.

There are a bunch of tools people use for this. Back in the old days, when I was still submitting poetry, my submission tracker was a folder full of loose-leaf paper. Manual updates happened with every submission, although it was rarely as efficient as I’d like.

These days, if I were starting from scratch, I would build a submission system in excel. Or, the internet being the internet, I would type the words submission tracker, excel, into google and look at the systems other people have built and offered around.

Alternatively, the Sonar Submission Tracker system put together by Perth writer Simon Haynes is a slick, simple piece of software. I used it for a few years, when I was starting out as a writer, and I keep meaning to fire it up again and replace my current system.

My current system is Duotrope, which is a paid service that comes with all sorts of loverly, loverly bonus data. That said, it only allows for the tracking of open call submissions – anything you’re writing by request or invitation will need to be tracked elsewhere.

This isn’t something that will matter too much in the early stages of your career, but even a moderate amount of success will lead to folks contacting with you with interesting opportunities.

CHOOSE YOUR TOOL WISELY

As mentioned above, I use Duotrope. As mentioned above, it’s problematic. For one thing, the disparity between the Australian dollar and the US dollar means that it’s no longer the cost-effective tool it once was; for another, the vast majority of my creative output over the last few years has come from invitations to submit, rather than blind submission.

I maintain Duotrope because, quite frankly, moving away from it would be an incredible pain in the ass after 200+ submissions and seven years of data. I’m only producing a short story or two every yeark, which makes it easier to put off the migration. The moment I start doing more, it’s probably time to overcome my inertia and move to a new system (probably excel, since Duotrop will download the CSV as a back-up).

When you make decisions about your system, it’s worth looking forward. Odds are, the system will be with you for a long, long time and it needs to stay useful in the long term.

ONE FINAL THING: RIGHTS TRACKING

There are no shortage of people with advice and systems for tracking submissions. It’s one of those things that every writer will tell you about, and they’ll make their recommendations based on similar sorts of logic as I’ve used above.

But, since we’re on the subject, I’d like to bring up the one form of tracking every writer should do, even if 99% of writers don’t: track your goddamn rights.

The moment you get your first story/novel published, fire up a spreadsheet and start tracking the rights you’ve granted. Roll through the contract and copy them all down – first world rights, audio/podcast rights, electronic rights, all of them. Make a note on when those rights will revert to you, and how much you’re being paid for them.

Or, if they don’t revert automatically, what you need to do in order to get them back.

Make a note of any restrictions and allowances that are granted (for SF short stories, it will usually be a waiver on the exclusive period if it’s been selected for a Year’s Best anthologies).

Creating a rights document for your work means you need to pay attention to the rights that you’ve granted (more important than you’d think), and it creates a central repository you can check whenever someone queries whether, say, reprint or audio rights are available.

My record is a story that has gone into reprints four times, in various capacities, and at every stage I’ve had to cross-check the request for rights in the new contract against the rights granted in previous ones. This is a relatively simple process, if you’ve been tracking this religiously, but it gets messy as hell if you have to find all your old contracts and go through them one-by-one.
I prefer relatively simple. If nothing else, it means you’re essentially getting paid for six seconds of additional work instead of six hours.

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