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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Back to My Roots

We’re on the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, a spin-off project of National Novel Writing Month. Camp allows a writer to set an individual word goal and offers an alternative option to log hours of editing. I chose to edit the material I wrote during the April version of Camp.

By snowyowls [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By snowyowls [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When I first started writing, I penned exclusively prose: short stories at writing classes and novels during NaNoWriMo. After about three years, I segued to poetry. For a long while now, I’ve wanted to return to writing short stories and other types of prose; whenever I’ve tried, I’ve been pulled back to poetry. But on looking at April’s material, I feel as though I’ve finally made a step in the right direction.

There’s one short story I like in particular. A Drink for Everyone is from the point of view of a woman who wants nothing more than to have enough money to get drunk, and the story sees her hit upon a way of achieving this aim. It’s sometimes the case that I like a story while I’m writing it, but not on rereading. In this case, I enjoyed the editing as much as the construction. At around 1500 words, it’s also a length that many publications will accept.

Other highlights of April’s material include a story about a group of people who live as though it’s 1999, a parody of an announcement at the end of the day’s TV broadcasting, and a response to a pastel drawing of a stacked shed that I’d forgotten I’d written.

A Drink for Everyone is only the first step to reintroducing prose into my regular output. Writing a story is different in many ways from writing a poem. Generally speaking, prose needs to have a plot or an inciting event, and the text might take no particular form other than the accepted rules of grammar. Poetry, by contrast, can muse upon a theme or a moment without necessarily having a narrative structure, though the words are often written to evoke a sound, a rhythm, or a cadence.

If I can climb into the prose mindset, and use the techniques I’ve learned since I last regularly wrote short stories, I believe I can find a balance between the two disciplines.

Cameron’s Rule

Last week, I was called a perfectionist, not as an insult but as a statement of fact. It is true I like to siphon out as many errors as possible – all of them, ideally – before the public ever see it. But what’s the best way to make sure mistakes are picked up?

Read a printed copy

Many authors are in the habit of writing their work directly into a PC. In many ways, this is ideal because the words are in digital form and can be corrected without fuss, or sent to a third party. But it is more difficult to pick up errors: Scientific American has a detailed article on the subject.

So consider printing out your work to give yourself the best chance. Some people also like to change the font. I accept that printing is not good for the environment, so I keep a folder of used paper and print on the back where possible.

Read it out loud

When many people read, they like to ‘hear’ each word in their heads as if it’s being read aloud by someone else. So reading out loud as an author enables you to imagine how the reader will interpret your words, and can highlight any overlong sentences or incorrect punctuation use.

If you’re unable to find the privacy to read out loud, the next best solution is to use text-to-speech software, plenty of which is available on the Web. You can then listen to it spoken through headphones. The voice tends to be a monotone – although still miles ahead of Stephen Hawking’s antiquated synthesiser – allowing you to concentrate more on the words themselves.

Ask a friend or a professional

Be careful who you pick for this: family members or friends might gloss over the bad bits. Make sure you pick someone who’ll tell you honestly what’s wrong with it, but will also pick out what you’ve done right. Asking a professional proofreader is a more expensive option, yet it can be vital in a novel-length work.

Pocket watch, savonette-type. Italiano: Orolog...
Pocket watch, savonette-type. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Give it time

When you’ve finished a draft, one of the best moves you can make is to leave it alone for a while. If you go back too quickly, it’s possible to read what you want to see rather than what’s actually on the page because your mind’s still thinking about the words that have just been written.

But how long should you leave it for? That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with. After much thought, I’ve come up with my personal method, which I’d like to name, in an egotistical manner…

Cameron’s Rule

As a bare minimum, for work of:

  • 1500 words or fewer, leave it 24 hours;
  • 1501 words and above, allow one minute per word.

By this method, flash fiction and some short stories would be left a day, while an 80,000-word novel would be left for nearly two months. Bear in mind these are merely minimum times. There’s no harm in putting away work – especially shorter pieces – for a longer time.

 

The bare necessities.

One of the best ways to edit a story is simply to give it time, much as wine tastes better when it’s allowed to breathe. But there will be times when there’s not a minute to lose and you’ve got to produce something out of necessity, and sometimes that leads to some excellent work.

I was once given a homework exercise from a writing class that was a fragment of a poem. Nothing was immediately coming to mind and I wanted to complete the exercise as I’d paid for the class. After sitting in the library then writing and writing for an afternoon, I eventually produced a rather short piece called A Big Leap but one I was fairly pleased with.

TimeOut
TimeOut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time later, the tutor alerted me to a flash fiction competition just three hours before it was due to close. I collated what were my best flash pieces at the time, gave them a quick edit, then sent them in. A Big Leap became my first published piece.

I’ve done this a number of times with my work. A looming obligation or a lack of time has a way of forcing you down an unusual path, or to come up with ideas that are unconventional.

This happened most recently in November when I was asked to write an original piece for performance later that month. After a slow start, it ended up being based upon someone I knew many years ago, but I probably wouldn’t have used him if I’d had more time to think about it.

On another occasion, I was all set to read out a particular piece at Hotchpotch, when I was inspired to write another one by a topical event on the news. If I’d left it until the following month, the impetus would be lost, and that gave me just three or four days to concoct the new piece. I’ve subsequently edited it and it now stands alone without the audience needing to know the topical references, and it’s one of my favourites.

But necessity, however superior a result it might produce, isn’t always to a self-imposed goal. When Anthony Burgess found out he had an inoperable brain tumour, he wrote several novels to provide an income for his widow after his death.

An Abundance of Apples (Part 5 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’ve been taking a break from my usual subject to make one of my stories available free online. We’re now up to the final part of An Abundance of Apples.

In part one and part two, we meet an orchard owner who starts to trade items in alphabetical order. In part three and part four, he keeps moving up the alphabet. Can he still reach Z?

West Hollywood Hotel

Naturally, a lot of my e-mails were coming from the US, and one in particular caught my attention: a four-night stay at the West Hollywood Hotel in return for the Beetle.

We spent evenings on the phone negotiating delivery of the car. We’d read up thoroughly on international deliveries since the Australia incident and we had arranged to pack it off, when by chance, Kelly spotted a news article.

A group of criminals had been passing themselves off as representing prestigious hotel chains and airlines, and they would take payment for stays and flights that never happened.

We’d been so swept up in trying to find a swap that we’d failed even to check their quoted phone number against the one listed on the real hotel’s website.

We felt like prize idiots. I made an online post to that effect.

My parents talked to me like I was five years old and told me this was a wake-up call, that I’d had a good run and I needed to stop now. Kelly had supported me unwaveringly so far, but even she started to express her doubts. I remained as determined as ever to see this through to Z.

Only Daniel didn’t care one way or the other. He’d forgotten his football obsession thanks to his new girlfriend, some little brat from his class.

While the flood of messages had slowed sharply, I still had a number of contacts willing to swap. I learned my lesson and no longer considered foreign offers but I found someone who wanted to swap my Volkswagen.

Wurlitzer Organ

We only played it for five minutes before the sound really started to grate.

Xylophone

Jeez, do you know how much a new xylophone costs?

I thought a few hundred at most, but even a second hand one can go for over a grand. I know this because the instrument dealer who inspected the Wurlitzer through thick glasses talked me through the entire history of the organ and current market values.

Yngling

“Yngling? That’s not even a word,” exclaimed Kelly. “Don’t you mean yacht?”

“It’s not a yacht,” snapped the outdoorsy type as he unstrapped the thing from the trailer. “a yacht is a completely different class of boat. This beauty competed in the Beijing Olympics, you know.”

“All right,” I concluded. “Leave it here. I’m sure we’ll get it swapped somehow.”

“You mean leave her here?”

I made a You & We post that night, asking if anyone could swap us for something beginning with Z. One more push, just one more, and I would have completed the alphabet. We waited a whole week for something suitable.

Zurich holiday

A local travel firm called Sea the World came to our rescue, offering a holiday for two to Zurich. We checked it out, and it was genuine enough. They wouldn’t take the Yngling off my hands, but their staff had been following my swaps, and I was prepared to treat it as one.

With no further swaps scheduled, only one question remained: who would use it? Daniel and his bratty other half threw a strop when they found out they weren’t getting it. Mum and Dad hadn’t taken a holiday for years, yet wouldn’t consider it. I asked Kelly but she’d used up her annual leave until after the voucher’s expiry date.

I turned to You & We. I wrote a summary of how this whole project had started with a few apples, then blackberries, then carrots, and so on, and now we were stuck at stalemate with our Z.

I received an urgent reply from the dealer who had tried to swap me for the iPhone. He told me to come down to his shop at the double, and he would, “complete the circle.”

He looked at the value of the voucher, ran some figures through a calculator and I arrived home with my final swap.

Apples

Last year, we ended up with too many apples. This year, we ended up with two Apple iPads.

<<<>>>

The usual angst and introspection returns next week.

An Abundance of Apples (Part 4 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’m taking a break from my usual analysis to make one of my stories available free online. We’re now up to part four of An Abundance of Apples.

In part one, we meet an orchard owner who trades apples for other items, each one letter higher in the alphabet than the last. Part two sees him trade four more items beginning with F, G, H and I, while in part three, he trades a jigsaw. Now he has a power supply unit. Who will take it, and in exchange for what?

Qantas air tickets

“Well, mate,” said one of the DJs, “if you send us your power unit we’ll send you two hundred dollars’ worth of Quantas air tickets. What do you say to that?”
I had no idea what that equated to in pounds, but I stutteringly agreed. When our exchange ended, I checked the postal rates to the other side of the world.
You don’t expect the police to come and question you when you don’t know you’ve done something wrong, but I sharply learnt that it’s against the law to send certain types of battery though the post.

I told them that the Post Office assistant asked me what the package contained, wrote it on the Customs label, then sent it, no further questions asked. Fortunately, I’d kept the proof of postage and the receipt because the radio station promised to reimburse me for the cost of sending it.

The police accepted I’d posted it in good faith and returned the unit to me, but warned me, “Don’t do that again, son.”
I immediately informed the radio station. They arranged for me to go on air the following morning, when the DJ apologised for not realising the legal implications, and agreed to give me the Quantas tickets–actually a discount code to be used on their website–on condition that I gave the power supply to someone, “deserving.” I found a charity shop that accepted electrical goods, and the station sent me the code.

The publicity had generated dozens upon dozens of e-mails. Naturally, most of them originated from Down Under, but a few arrived from Britain and the rest of the world. I had my pick of the next item.

Rum

Kelly and I looked down the list of offers: a rowing boat, tickets to Riverdance, roast beef dinners for a year, even a rabbit hutch and occupant. But the case of vintage rum caught my attention.
I found out that 200 Australian dollars is about £118, and its value exceeded that of the Qantas tickets. Also, I reckoned it would be an easy thing to swap.
About the same time, I received an invitation to appear on the late-night Jerry Jakobson Show in New York. Not via video link; they wanted to fly me over there. They had a intriguing proposition for me. Naturally, I discussed it with my family before making any decisions.

It caused an argument. Mum encouraged me to go, while Dad said he needed me in the orchard. Daniel, meanwhile, went into another huff as he wasn’t going. Kelly gave me a shopping list of designer labels to buy in New York.

I went.

I had a hairy moment at Customs, when they kept me waiting to check it was all right to bring the case of rum into the country. Those two hours gave me the chance to contemplate how many people would be watching me. I got the jitters speaking to half a million Australians; the prospect of speaking to 4.2 million Americans made me want to step on a flight home.

Jerry helped me feel at ease off-air, then interviewed me on air for five minutes about the project, before pulling out the envelopes and explaining his proposition.

“We’re going to swap you for something beginning with S. One of these envelopes gets you a bespoke suit courtesy of one of New York’s finest tailors. A pretty good prize, huh? But one of them contains a subway ticket and the other one wins you a steak sandwich. I’m going to get a member of our audience to mix them up.”

I tried to keep my calm. A suit, a subway ticket, or a sandwich. Jerry held them out in front of me. “All right, buddy. Your choice.”

Suit

A camp man with a tape measure took every one of my measurements over the course of a morning, while a camera crew captured his comments, around the general theme of, “fabulous.”

Jerry had opened the other envelopes on camera. I genuinely could have walked away with a subway ticket. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have another Dolce & Gabbana suit again, and it disappointed me that I’d eventually have to swap it.

But I’d officially gone stratospheric. I threw myself into my orchard work by day, but Kelly became my unofficial agent by night, ruthlessly sifting through my scores and scores of e-mails.

Listening to the TV one night, I found my story had even made it into a sketch show.

You can’t hurry quality tailoring. I waited weeks for it to be delivered, but I had enough time to arrange not just the next swap but to plan for the next three exchanges.

Thunderbird

Stage one involved the wealthy-looking man, who got back to me with a classic Ford Thunderbird.

Underground carriage

When Transport For London said they would give me an old Underground train carriage, I asked how I would take it home with me.

But the deal they had in mind for stage two wouldn’t involve it physically moving. If I could take the car to their depot, they would swap me for the paperwork to the carriage. I would then give that back to the Thunderbird owner.

Volkswagen Beetle

At stage three, I swapped the Underground paperwork for a Volkswagen Beetle.

I tried asking him some friendly but probing questions about how he could swap the Grand Prix programme, the film stills, and now two cars, all so casually. But he wouldn’t say anything, other than they were both rusting and needed a lot of work.

 

Next week: West Hollywood Hotel.

An Abundance of Apples (Part 3 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’m taking a break from my own angst and introspection to make one of my stories available free online. We’re now up to part three of An Abundance of Apples.

In part one, we meet an orchard owner who starts off with too many apples, and begins to trade them for other items, each one letter higher in the alphabet than the last. Part two sees him trade four more items beginning with F, G, H and I, while his bratty younger brother constantly stands in his way. In part three, below, he’s now in possession of a jigsaw.

Jigsaw

The publicity generated by the paper showed little sign of slowing down, so in quick succession, I received a jigsaw from another well-wisher.

Not a jigsaw puzzle, an actual saw that’s used to cut the pieces.

King Kong stills

The wealthy-looking man who offered me the Grand Prix programme wrote back, offering to swap the jigsaw for some rare stills from the classic film King Kong.

I decided to start photographing the items, starting with the saw, as they were becoming more interesting.

Around the same time, a woman called Kelly, around my age, requested to be mutual friends on You & We. We had three people in common and I recognised her face, although I couldn’t remember where I’d last seen it.

Laserdisc player and discs

The things people keep in their attic. Someone swapped me the King Kong stills for an obsolete laserdisc player and four Jean-Claude Van Damme films on discs the size of bicycle wheels. What’s more, it still worked, and we spent the evening watching Universal Soldier.

For the first time since being in the paper, I had a little trouble finding a trade. My inbox still filled up daily, but only with offers of cheap items, including a map, a family bag of M&Ms, and half-a-dozen marbles.

Mink coat

I finally traded my retro technology for a mink coat. A fake one, of course.

I stood back and took stock. I’d come so far in less than a month, and all after an off-the-cuff observation. All my life, I’d been a trader in one sense or another, and I still saw it as an achievable challenge.

The national British newspapers ignored me, except one rag who reported that Margaret Jeffrey had given me the idea. Then I received an e-mail from a researcher at an Australian radio station asking me to contact them. They wanted to speak to me live on air when I reached the letter P.

Necklace

Just as I celebrated reaching the halfway mark, the mysterious Kelly wanted to see the coat, and offered a sterling silver necklace in return. After a few minutes’ online conversation, I realised her true identity: Irene’s daughter.

I asked why she wished to get rid of the necklace. She told me her father had given it to her one birthday. I didn’t ask directly, but I came away with the distinct impression that she and Irene wanted nothing more to do with the man.

I couldn’t stay angry at Daniel forever and I brought him along when I went round to complete the exchange. She tried on the coat and it fitted her neatly. We chatted for ten minutes, which turned into an hour, which turned into a very bored little brother.

I’d driven nearly all the way home when he said from nowhere, “Did she ask you out?”

“No,” I replied.

“But she asked you if you wanted to have dinner with her some time.”

I’d dismissed it as a rhetorical question, but thinking back, I realised she’d been serious. For a selfish brat, he could be astoundingly perceptive. I rang up to accept when I got in the house.

I thought a necklace would be snapped up, especially as it bore a hallmark, but I hit a wall. The effect of the newspaper article had almost worn off. I began to doubt my ability to reach O, never mind Z.

Obsidian pig

It took nearly a week, but I arranged to swap it for a decorative pig made from obsidian.

The snag? Kelly and I had already booked a table at a popular restaurant for 6:30pm, but the swapper could only meet me at 7pm. Kelly understood the magnitude of my project, but the other diners thought I’d run out on her.

Another week passed, and another date, but nothing to swap for this pig. I sat down and wrote a plea on You & We. I read it back the next day, and it sounded quite desperate, but Kelly had passed it onto her friends.

Power supply unit

In less than six hours, a hire shop in town swapped my obsidian pig for an ex-rental industrial battery, designed to provide emergency power in the event of an electricity failure.

“That’s my mum’s birthday present sorted,” commented the manager, examining the pig.

I immediately notified the Australian radio station, who arranged to make a voice call to me over the Internet as it would be higher quality than a normal phone, and free of charge. Daniel set it all up the previous evening, and bored me stiff with the technical details.

Evening drive-time in New South Wales is breakfast time in Britain. I’m accustomed to getting up at that time, in fact I’d kept working in the orchard all through the project, but I was not accustomed to having my voice broadcast to half a million listeners from my kitchen.

I honestly can’t remember a large chunk of our conversation, and wouldn’t let anyone play me the recording, but I gave out the You & We address and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

 

Next week: Qantas air tickets.