My goal for this series of blog posts is for writers to save themselves a lot of time and frustration. This series is meant to get you on the path toward publication, provided you put in the work of writing and revising. Don't worry if you don't follow all these recommendations--who could? I'll be the first to admit that even I'm guilty of sometimes not using my time wisely--look for my tip on social media! But overall this series contains hard-won truths on how to make writing a bigger part of your life. I hope it clarifies the publishing guidelines, professional etiquette, and protocols you may have been unsure about in the past. More than anything, I hope it puts you on track toward opportunities you may not have imagined.
There are many ways you can choose to organize your creative writing submissions. I'm more of a minimalist who tends to avoid spreadsheets at all costs. Instead I keep a running Google document on Google Drive that details all the necessary information for my pieces that are on submission. The important facts to keep track of are:
1. Name of the journal or magazine
2. Name of work submitted (i.e. poem title, short story, review title, etc.)
3. Date submitted
4. Hard-copy submission or electronic submission
5. Result (acceptance/rejection)
These categories are by no means absolutely necessary, but they've come to be the most important facts for me to keep track of, though I imagine every writer handles records a little bit differently. Keeping records will make your writing life easier and help you avoid potentially messy situations. For example, say you get a short story accepted for publication; you can quickly glance at your records to determine where else the story may have been submitted and contact the other editors to withdraw the piece from consideration immediately. Most journals don't mind simultaneous submissions, but they do ask to be notified right away if your piece has been accepted for publication elsewhere. Many editors of literary journals are writers themselves, and they know that staff decisions on a piece can often take several months—why tie up a poem for that many months when the journal may not even elect to publish it?
Your submissions process will change over time. Personally, I like keeping everything on Google Drive because I'm often at different computers, and I like that with a simple login I can have my entire submission tracker at my fingertips.
If you still despise keeping records on your own, literary journals have made record-keeping a little easier for everyone involved. The website Submittable is used by many journals (both print and online) these days to manage literary submissions. By creating an account (this takes less than a minute) you can see where your work has been submitted. Categories like "Received, "In Progress," and "Accepted" help writers know exactly what stage their work is at. I think Submittable is a great tool and has benefitted many, many writers. Because not every journal and magazine uses Submittable, you really do need your own backup submission tracker.
Tasha Cotter, @TashCotter, is a poet and fiction writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and the full-length collection, Some Churches (Gold Wake Press, 2013). You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com.