I haven’t always been an organized person. Ask anyone who knows me, and watch them squirm as they search for a polite way to say I’m a disorganized scatterbrain who too often has my head in the clouds instead of firmly on this planet.
In the past, my chronic disorganization and indecision (and the resulting procrastination) has caused me untold angst. Scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes of upcoming anthologies or themed magazine issues have gotten buried under piles of paperwork, to be rediscovered long after deadlines have passed. I’ve missed submission windows, only half-remembered names of online magazines that would have been perfect for certain pieces (didn’t I jot down the address somewhere?), forgotten markets I’d written pieces for had permanently shut down, forgotten that I’d already submitted a particular piece to a particular market, and more.
And, trying to hunt around for a suitable market to submit a piece after it’s completed is time-consuming and inefficient. After-all, some markets only have one or two submission windows a year.
I dread to think how many opportunities I’ve let slip by over the years because of my disorganization, how much more productive I could have been, and how many more sales I could have landed if only I’d been more organized.
Finishing and editing the many short stories and non-fiction pieces I started wasn’t enough. I needed to start tracking submissions, logging markets and submission guidelines, and upcoming themed issues or anthology calls. It seemed like a good idea to collate my story and article ideas, too, as well as details of my finished pieces. All in one place, all in one document. In short, I needed to organize.
So I started an spreadsheet. I created separate sheets for separate things and, over the years, this spreadsheet has evolved as I’ve figured out what information is useful. I can’t imagine how I’d do things without this repository of information.
It’s a funny thing to say, but I love my spreadsheet! I find it comforting and helpful. It saves time, helps me prioritize, helps me be more productive, hit deadlines, and be more targeted with my pitches and short story submissions. And, as a result, it’s helped me sell work. So, what exactly makes up this magical, all-knowing, wonderful aide to my poor, addled brain? Let me tell you…
One sheet is for recording fiction markets who pay 3c/word minimum (with columns including name of the market, genres accepted, story requirements, style, submission windows and themes, if applicable, word count limits, pay rates, whether they accept simultaneous submissions, whether they accept novellas, whether they accept SF stories, fantasy stories, horror stories, website addresses and editors’ names/email addresses, submission guidelines, rights required, and date last updated by me).
I have a separate sheet populated with similar information for non-fiction markets (with columns to cover things like whether a market accepts personal essays). I have a sheet for anthology publishers where I log current calls, a sheet for my story ideas, a sheet for non-fiction ideas, with lots of useful columns, including an assigned priority number. For example I might label an idea ‘1’ if I should get it written for an upcoming deadline, and so on. I also have a column to log where drafts/notes are located (invaluable as I have so many notepads on the go). I also have a sheet to log details of completed pieces, and a sheet for tracking submissions and sales.
Because I use a spreadsheet, it’s easy to sort and rank information depending on what I’m trying to do. I’ve frozen the top row of each sheet so the column headings are always visible, and I use auto-filters to exclude items from my carefully-populated columns, or rank them according to different criteria. I can quickly see which markets might be suitable for a piece, and so on, or which piece should be the priority to work on for an imminent deadline.
I decided it would be helpful to add yes/no columns for certain things. The beauty of yes/no questions is that you can get rid of unsuitable markets for a piece very quickly and you can add these columns for whatever info you like. Here are some of mine: Does this market accept novellas over 18,000 words, yes/no? Flash fiction under 1000 words, yes/no? Simultaneous submissions, yes/no? SF stories, yes/no? Do they accept personal essays, yes/no? Opinion pieces, yes/no?
Let’s say I’d written a 19,500 word SF story. I’d click the auto-filter at the top of the column asking whether markets accept novellas, then click on the column for SF stories. Bam! Out of 206 markets, now I have a choice of 21 possibles. A quick click on the blank fields for whether the market accepts literary-style stories only (my story is not literary) and now I have 13 possibly suitable markets left to choose between. Now I can read through the submission guidelines carefully, and see if they have current themes or upcoming submission windows. A choice of 13 is much easier to manage than 206.
As long as you keep your spreadsheet fields correctly populated, you can drill down to whatever you need quickly and easily. And, you can easily check where and when you’ve already sent a piece, to avoid duplicating submissions. (How embarrassing when that happens!)
I don’t need to say this, but I will; There’s no point in sending pitches or pieces to inappropriate markets with the hopes of landing a sale. There’s no point in pitching something vague for a non-fiction market that is asking for very specific pieces, or sending a poem to a magazine that doesn’t accept poetry, or sending a SF story set on a different planet to a magazine that states in their guidelines they only want SF stories set on Earth. You might wait with hopeful anticipation of a sale, but this kind of approach will lead to nothing but disappointment and irritation – for you and for the editors who received your submission.
So, if you haven’t already, get organized. This isn’t a prescriptive Thou Shalt Do It This Way, although you might find it helpful to capture all the information that’s useful to you in one Excel document. And, that includes listings for transient things, like anthology calls or themed issues as you come across them, or where you’ve jotted down an idea, or started a handwritten draft.
And, a final word to the wise… Constantly updating details in your spreadsheet can be a way of procrastinating. Just be careful you don’t start working on the spreadsheet exclusively instead of writing!
Avery Springwood is a science fiction writer and photographer living in the UK. When she’s not working, she can be found spending time with her family and their beloved cockapoo, or trying to find time to read speculative fiction stories.
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