The Submissions Tracker

I’ve been falling behind on my submissions to publishers.

One of the most important steps a writer can take is to keep track of the submissions made. Below is an excerpt from my own tracker, a Google Documents sheet. You can click the image to make the text larger.

An excerpt from my submissions tracker

Publisher

When you routinely send pieces to publishers, you start to develop a gut feeling about those to avoid. One publisher seemed evasive about giving anything more than an e-mail address and a Skype number, while another promised a cash prize for the winner but stated that the piece wouldn’t be published unless they felt like it. If it feels dodgy, steer clear.

I now send my work almost exclusively to publishers rather than competitions, although I’ll make an exception on occasion. My main motivation is the cost of submission, which often seems disproportionately high, but I also tend to find them less well-organised than commercial publishers.

Submission guidelines

I can’t stress this enough: read the submission guidelines, then read them again, ideally out loud. The publisher will usually be specific about the type of work wanted, the word or line count, the format in which it should appear, the method by which it should be submitted, the deadline, plus any other relevant information such as a brief biography. Great story and poetry templates are available at William Shunn’s website.

Whether or not it’s requested, make an effort to find out the name of the editor or the person who’s taking submissions. Don’t worry if you name the wrong person; it shows you’ve at least done some research.

I’ve had experiences where submission guidelines for competitions have been unclear or even self-contradictory. If you’re in any doubt about them, don’t hesitate to ask the organisers. That signals to them that their explanation isn’t clear.

Deadline and Submission date

I know it sounds as though I’m insulting your intelligence, but don’t miss the deadline if you can possibly help it. The overwhelming majority of submissions are done online, and most publishers will accept entries up to 11:59pm on deadline day unless otherwise specified. For the few places that accept or insist upon postal entries, it’s worth checking whether the publisher wants your letter by the deadline, or whether the postmark date will be taken.

If your submission is late, there’s no harm in a phone call or an e-mail to the publisher regarding whether it’ll still be accepted.

Decision notified

We’d all love to be told instantly about the result. I once posted a piece on a Monday and received a rejection on the Friday morning, but that’s a rare experience. Publishers receive dozens or even hundreds of pieces, and you could be waiting up to six months for a response.

Always be aware that you might not receive any response at all. The New Yorker, for instance, advises contributors that owing to the volume of submissions, they should assume it’s a rejection if they haven’t heard within 90 days.

Title (s) entered

Very often, a publisher won’t allow a short story or poem to be under consideration by anyone else; that’s why it’s wise to have a number of other pieces to send elsewhere in the meantime. If you’re a novelist submitting to an agent, however, simultaneous submissions of the same book are acceptable.

I store each of my stories and poems in individual PC folders. Whenever I submit somewhere new, I always create a new file within the folder containing the latest revision and specifying where it’s been sent.

Entry method

Most submissions are done by e-mail and few are done by post, as explored earlier. Shorter pieces might be accepted by filling in a form on the publisher’s website. The Submittable  site is popular among some publishers. This not only accepts documents online but allows you to track the status of every submission.

Whichever online method is used, you’ll usually receive a receipt by e-mail. By post, place a stamped and self-addressed postcard in the envelope so the publisher can signal when it’s been received.

Overall submission count

Every year, I set myself a target of submitting 53 pieces to publishers; one a week on average, plus one for the extra day or two that comprises a year. It’s a generously low target, but my immediate mission is to catch up and keep pace.


Postscript

I normally try to stick to one theme per entry, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the Rappers Versus Poets event hosted by the BBC on Saturday night. I know a few of the poets, either personally or by sight, but I’ll leave you to watch it and find out whether they won or lost.

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Slam

For a few years now, I’ve been going to the StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews. On Saturday, I was invited to compete in the Slam, hosted by Paula Varjack. Although I’d applied some time ago, I was only told that week I’d been granted a place.

There are a few simple rules:

  • The running order is drawn from a hat.
  • In round one, everyone is allowed to read a poem for up to two minutes. You’ll be stopped if you run over.
  • In round two, after the interval, the top four scorers from round one are given 2½ minutes each to read another poem.
  • The 2017 Slam Champion is crowned.

    English: Textbox at the Casa Encendida (2008) ...
    English: Textbox at the Casa Encendida (2008) – Textbox is a performance space for spoken word poetry and literature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first poem was always going to be Crossing the Road, published last year; it’s punchy and takes less than a minute to perform. The strength of this Slam is that there’s no ‘house style’, so the contenders spoke on subjects as diverse as ageing, love, insomnia and contemporary politics. Just about everyone put in a sterling performance, including the other first-timers, and I thought I made a good job of mine.

The exact number of points given by the judges were not revealed, but five people progressed to round 2 because two contenders had scored exactly the same, none of which where me. The ultimate victor was Kevin Mclean, who goes on to compete in the Scottish Slam.

I’m not disheartened by my placing. I’m accustomed to performing in front of large audiences, but not with a competitive element. So what I want to do now is sharpen my skills even more by studying what other poets do and how they appeal to the audience.

Elsewhere at the festival, I witnessed excellent performances from Jackie Kay and Sarah Howe, and I chatted to the latter for a while. I also bought Paula Varjack’s book, and filmed performances from poets inspired by looking around St Andrews.

Paper View

Last week, a friend was complaining about a major writing competition that still only allows postal entries. I’d also submitted work because it’s a prestigious publication, but I agree with her point of view. Considering the hundreds of manuscripts that must be received – versus the tiny portion that makes the final cut – this seems a colossal waste of paper, not to mention the needless postage time and cost.

Many competitions offer the postal route as an alternative to an online submission, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor is there any issue with posting work that must be physically held to be appreciated. But there are still a bunch who want normal prose and poetry to be sent on paper.

English: A stack of copy paper.
English: A stack of copy paper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until the 1990s, this was how submissions were made. Internet access and e-mail accounts were generally the domain of academics and computer enthusiasts. Come the next decade, however, and newer technology began to creep into people’s homes. Nearly 17 years after the millennium, online access is nearly universal in the Western world, and postal submissions now look incredibly outdated.

That’s not to say I don’t like a paper book. In fact, some recent research has concluded that sales of e-books are falling. But a book is the final product; the process of gaining the interest of an editor or a competition judge ought to be as quick and cheap as possible.

Yet I would like to understand the other side of the argument. Do you run a publication that only wants submissions on paper? How does it benefit you? What would make you consider accepting online entries?

 

What’s The Story?

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned that I rarely post my work on the Web. This is because I enter competitions and contact publishers. The rules invariably state that any story submitted should never have appeared either in print or online.

I have one story that’s already in the public domain, and I’m going to share it with you below. I wrote it for a Twitter friend, and it gives you a flavour of my style, although I don’t usually write in American English.

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Text In The City
By Gavin Cameron

Monday, and for the third week in a row, I took to the streets of downtown Ladymill. I had made some acquaintance with a few of the commuters, one of whom had bought me a cup of coffee every day last week.

But as pleasant as it was to meet these people, I wasn’t doing this for the friends. I desperately needed something that nobody seemed able to give me. I perhaps should explain why I attracted so much attention. I’d been carrying two dry-erase boards attached by two ropes over my shoulder.

The one on my front read: NEED A JOB. CAN’T GET MORE WELFARE. Oftentimes, the rain washed off the semi-permanent ink and I had to rewrite it two or three times.

The blank board on my back allowed potential employers to write down their details. So far, I had only attracted a couple of comments, including KICK ME and I’M WITH STUPID.

But I believed this Monday would be different. Perhaps it was the optimism from the sunnier weather, or that the commuter’s coffee had gone straight to my head after an inadequate breakfast, but I definitely felt a new sense of being.

As the commuters thinned out at around six o’clock, no doubt rushing home for a well-earned beer, I considered finishing up for the day. But I had no beer, just leftover Chinese food.

I walked to the train station, when a man in an expensive-looking suit approached me. Over these three weeks, I developed an ability to tell when someone was about to speak to me, and I spoke first to show I wasn’t afraid to take the lead. “Good evening. I’m Rachel Morton. Can you help me?”

The man nodded. “I think I can.”

Excited, I replied, “Oh that’s great. What kind of work can you offer?”

“I work in advertising and marketing. Have you any experience of the industry?”

“No,” I replied, “but I’m a fast learner. You can even give me a week’s trial, but I’ll only consider a paid trial.”

“Don’t worry,” replied the man, “I would pay you, although it’s minimum wage. And to be fair, you don’t need much experience.”

“I’ll consider any reasonable offer.”

“I have an office a couple of blocks from here. How about you come in tomorrow morning? Here’s my card. Bring a resumé and some ID.”

I arrived as instructed wearing my most professional outfit. The office looked very glassy and modern, and didn’t contain many staff, so I could work almost uninterrupted. Yes, I could do this. No more rainy days wandering around town. I was now an office worker. I signed a month-long contract that day.

I soon found out why there were so few staff. This advertising company wasn’t offering a desk job. They wanted people to walk around the streets with billboards strapped to us.

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