Keeping on Track

It’s great having a polished story or poem ready to be sent to a publisher or entered into a competition, but then comes the difficult part: waiting for a response. Often it takes months, sometimes it takes weeks, and a select bunch answer in a few days. This is unavoidable.

But here’s what separates a beginner from a seasoned pro: the former often sits and waits for a response, while the latter almost always uses the time to work on another piece. It’s desirable to build up a portfolio because many publishers, and almost all competitions, say you can’t send the same piece to two or more different places simultaneously.

Novel submissions are different in this respect. Most agents recognise that a book is an all-consuming work, and that it could be sent to a number of other places. It’s good practice to inform the other agents if one takes it on.

Whichever situation you’re in, it’s important to keep track of what you’ve submitted to where. It might be a simple as keeping a list if you’ve only a few pieces, but I have dozens in different places, so I use a spreadsheet to record the details:

Submissions tracker

I’ve edited out the names of the publishers and the links to their submission guidelines as I might want to resubmit in the future. The last column keeps track of how many pieces I’ve sent out during the year. My target is at least one piece per week on average; I have a poet friend whose target is an average of at least one piece per day. Otherwise, the tracker is self-explanatory.

 

It’s also important to keep track of what you’ve had published. These appear on another spreadsheet, and I keep the manuscripts in their own directory.

In many cases, the rights revert back to the author after a period of around six months to a year, so the same piece could potentially be sent to another publisher further down the line. If you’re unsure, ask the editor.

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The Other 75%.

Just before I begin, a couple of an announcements for people in and around Dundee. Hotchpotch, the writers’ open-mike, is next Monday, 4 August between 7pm and 9pm at The Burgh in Commercial Street. I’m afraid I can’t make that meeting, but there’s a similar event for poets between 12pm and 4pm in Baxter Park on Sunday 10 August, to which I plan to go.

In an interview with the BBC, literary agent Johnny Geller stated that in a survey of self-published authors, 75% of those asked said it was a hobby and that he was interested in the other 25%. I think that’s a fair comment from an agent, as he needs his authors to make a full-time commitment. But I wonder how many of the other 75% would be willing to turn that hobby into a career if they were offered the right publishing deal? It can be a big step to give up the fabled day-job.

For me, it’s a trade-off between a permanent office job with a regular income versus handing in my notice and freeing up those 37 hours per week to write. There would need to be a compelling offer to give it up because if a book deal didn’t materialise, the organisation isn’t replacing lost workers so I would need to look elsewhere for another regular income.

The other consideration is how long to continue trying before finding another regular income. Six months? Two years? Until I feel as though I’m suffering for my art?

It is possible to combine the two. Oscar Wilde and Philip Larkin both worked other jobs throughout their writing careers, and I know an author who is currently employed by a major bookstore chain. The next time I have the opportunity, I’ll ask him whether he considers it a help or hindrance.

Hey hey, I wanna be a rock, er, film star

Finally, I took part in a low-budget film on Saturday as an extra. It’s called Shooting Clerks, about the making of the 1994 Kevin Smith movie Clerks. We were asked to dress in fashions of the period, so I wore a T-shirt, jeans, and a backwards baseball cap. By good fortune, I was meant to attend an open-air Grease singalong later that day. It was cancelled due to the weather, but I could have become John Travolta simply by removing my headgear.

There was no script available to have a nosy through so I don’t know too many specifics. We were simply given instructions when to laugh and applaud as if we were at a film premiere. But keep an eye out around its scheduled release date of 13 April 2015.