Writers end up creating a tracking system that works for them, however formal or informal. The kind of system is not important. What matters is if you can quickly check where you have sent your work, how long the journal has had it, and whether the work has been accepted. This is especially important if you are sending out simultaneous submissions. If a poem, story or essay is accepted in one journal, you’ll need to immediately contact the other journals where you’ve sent that piece and withdraw it.

Once a poem, story, or essay has been published, it generally cannot be sent out again. This is especially true of contests. Some journals will accept previously published work, but those are few and far between. You are more likely to find theme-related anthologies or publications that are seeking new or previously published work.

Because most publishers are looking for First North American Copyright, you should think carefully about where you want to send your work. If you start with the more prestigious journals and university presses, expect rejections. If you want to establish a publishing history, consider sending your work locally first.

Here’s my method for keeping track of my work:

• I have a file in “My Documents” labeled “New Poems,” and another “New Prose.” When I have time to work on my writing, I go to the work in these files. I generally keep different versions and drafts as separate documents, giving each a number. I also print out hard copies and keep the various versions in a hard-copy file.  When a poem or story seems “ready,” I bring it to my writing group and get their feedback.  Once I’ve considered their suggestions, when it seems revision isn’t making it any better (or me any happier), I send it out.

• Usually I send four or five poems out at a time. I expect to send a poem out at least ten times before it’s likely to find a publishing home. Maybe more often if the poem is more experimental, and therefore has a small audience. When I send short fiction or non-fiction essays, I send two or three, depending on length. With fiction and non-fiction, the rejection rate is a little higher – closer to 20 rejections for each acceptance. I use Poets and Writers Magazine as my guide for where to send my work. Or I follow suggestions of my writing group for journals and contests. Or I go with journals with whom I have a publishing history.

• In “My Documents,” I have another file folder labeled “Current Correspondence” where I keep every cover letter I send out. Each letter has the names of the poems or stories and the date. I give each letter its own file name with the journal or contest and the date.

• Every three months or so I go into that file to update it. If a journal has had my work for more than six months, I know its time to query about the status. I simply adjust the initial cover letter as an inquiry, and then send it off as an e-mail (if the journal has an e-mail address) or, if there is no e-mail address, I print the query out and mail it.

• When I receive a rejection letter, I go to the original cover letter and make a note of that. That way the next time I want to send to them, I will know not to send them any work they’ve already seen. I then put the letter in my big fat “rejection letter” file in my file cabinet. Sometimes I weep. Sometimes I eat chocolate. Sometimes I’m too busy to be bothered.

• When a poem or story is accepted, I go to the original cover letter and make a note of this. I then go through the other cover letters to see if I need to withdraw the work from any other journals. If so, I e-mail the journal right away.  I e-mail the accepting journal or send a quick note to say thanks or express my pleasure. Sometimes a publication will involve contract signing. Most often it doesn’t. When the correspondence is done, I place the acceptance letter in a hard-copy file with that journal’s name.

• I keep a drawer in my file cabinet for correspondence with journals, editors, publishers, etc. with whom I have some publishing history. Very useful when it comes time to publish a book. These editors are people to contact for possible blurbs or reviews.

• To determine when it’s time to start pulling a manuscript together, I use the NEA standard: at least 20 poems published in 6 different literary magazines.  A chapbook manuscript would be 20-25 pages; a book-length manuscript would be 60-80 pages.

One Response to “Keeping Track of Work You Send Out”

  1. DC in DC said


    I just found your website and am busily bookmarking the pages!

    My first poetry book, “Between Gods,” just found a publisher this year and will be released in March 2012. They do a fair amount of publicity work, but I’m now trying to figure out what I need to do locally to arrange readings and get the word out. Your articles are very helpful!

    The publisher’s web page for my book is here: http://www.cherry-grove.com/cowan.html

    Take care! Donna

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