Monday, December 28, 2009

Mentor Monday: Keeping Track

At a recent meeting one we talked about (indeed, I think we committed to) "getting something in the mail" - a group New Year's Resolution, if you will, to submit or resubmit a manuscript (some of us have done nothing but Notable Women for a year now . . .). One member mentioned a manuscript she'd like to send out again, and that she couldn't remember where it had been in the past. This got me thinking about the tracking system I used when I was writing a lot of magazine articles on spec. . . .and that sent me in search of an article I wrote about said system. I offer it here, with some revision, for any writer who is thinking "this is the year I'm going to organize my marketing efforts!"

Your system can be a computerized spreadsheet, a card file, or a set of shoeboxes under the bed. One shoebox, section or worksheet is for ideas (this is in addition to and separate from the file folders, shoeboxes or ’74 Buick into which you toss clippings, pictures and notes that you might use someday). Here you capture those inspired thoughts that present themselves at the most inopportune moments. You hear a news story about a dog that rescues a child from an oncoming train while you’re driving the preschool carpool. “What a great story,” you think. “I could do a picture book about that.” But you’re working on a magazine article about using orange peels to clean carpets, and by the time it’s finished you’ve forgotten all about the hero dog idea. With the ideas file, you put some keyword about your idea at the top of the card (or in the first field of your record). Jot any useful information underneath (the date you heard the story would be a good clue). File it.

Some day when you can’t come up with anything to write about, pull out that ideas file and page through it. If one idea (or a combination) strikes a chord, start writing. And create a new card, for the manuscript section of your cardbox (or sheet in your spreadsheet file, or whatever). Include your working title, tracking number, or other identifier. Note the date you begin working on the story. When you finish the first draft, note the length. You may want to keep track of major revisions here as well (do you save revisions with distinctive names, so you can go back to them?) When you submit the manuscript, create a card or record for it in a section called "submissions."

Your submissions records will contain the name of the piece and its final word length. When you send it out, note here the market, editor’s name, and the date. If the piece is returned, note that date and any comments. If you revise it, make a note, and when you send it out again, record the new information. When it sells, note that, and add a line when it’s published. Reprints should get recorded here as well (may you need additional cards!)

The final section of your tracking system is the "markets" section. Set up a record for each market you send manuscripts to, so it cross-matches with the submissions records. The markets files contain detailed information on each publisher: what kinds of material they publish, what rights they buy as well as addresses. Note editors’ names and titles (and update them when they change jobs). If you meet an editor at a conference or a friend recommends one, make a note of that so you can mention it in a cover letter. Finally, as you submit to various markets, note the manuscript title (or tracking number) and the date here just as you note the market and date on the manuscript card. This will keep you from inadvertently submitting something new to an editor who is already sitting on one of your pieces. Purchases and publication information can be recorded here as well if you like, creating a history of sales to a particular market.

If you hear of a new publisher from a friend or discover a promising magazine in a waiting room, create a record for it and include as much information as you have about that market. Make up records for publishers you flag in your writer’s guides or other research. When you’re trying to decide where to send a returned manuscript or casting about for new fields to explore, paging through your markets file will remind you of this discovery.

One final bonus to this system: if you’re ever audited by the IRS, you’ll have documentation of your working writer status. Happy tracking!


Mur said...

Always good advice, Sally, and the final paragraph is especially important for just-starting-out writers.

I'm Jet . . . said...

I second that, Mur. Useful post, Sally!