I sometimes wonder how I manage to keep all the creative plates I spin from crashing to the ground and smashing into little pieces. Splinters that I know I would never find again, even with my varifocals on.
My writing process is a bit like that, I finish my synopsis, draft 1 is next, followed by reviewing my bio and the careful preparation of a covering letter that will hopefully make the gatekeepers want to read on. Have I forgotten anything? Is it in the right format? Is it what they asked for?
It’s as if my work-in-progress is taunting me, ‘ah, so you think you’ve finished’, it says in my ear just as I place my envelope in the dark post box mouth of destiny.
‘Spreadsheet’ it whispers on the wind as I head home thinking about all the potential mistakes I’ve made in what I’ve just sent out – a curse of being a writer.
I keep a spreadsheet for all the submissions I’ve sent out to Gatekeepers’ mysterious lairs. I tend to send out two at a time and I bet all of the companies you want to send your stories too prefer a different format, different amount of words, by e-mail, by post etc – the submission guideline list is endless but if you’re prepared, then you will be fine.
I use Libreoffice on Ubuntu but the selections and formatting are practically the same regardless of what operating system you use. To follow is a very basic example of setting up a spreadsheet to keep submission info in…
Open excel/equivalent and select new file. A fresh clean empty page will appear on your screen.
First thing to do before you do anything else is save your new sheet in an on-line folder you will remember. Where do you normally save your documents? C drive? K drive? Perhaps in the same on-line yellow folder where you keep all your story files? Maybe you could create a new folder and keep all your submissions in one place? I would recommend naming each submission folder by year or by publisher/agent – whatever works for you.
Once the clean sheet is saved, you will see the new file name appearing at the top of the page with .xls after it. Yay! Fabulous start.
What information do you instantly want to know from a glance at your spreadsheet? Here’s an example of some subject headers –
Company name – e.g Nosy Crow
Award – if applicable (e.g New Writers Award)
Required – e.g 3500 words from latest WIP, 500 word synopsis, covering letter, writing achievements… Remember to always check font formats from submission guidelines. If you need to complete an on-line form, it’s a good idea to draft up your responses elsewhere and copy and paste into submission forms when you’re happy.
Name – the editor/agent’s name would go here
E-mail – their e-mail address not yours. Yes, I have done that in the past.
Website info – best place to get info on that company/award
File name – add link to the file you sent to this company i.e c:/temp/writing/submissions/May 2017/My story by Great Big Jar 3500 words.doc – you won’t panic if they call or you can’t remember where you saved it. May 2017 should also have all the documents mentioned in the ‘required’ cell. Keep them all in the same folder and saved as what they are My Story synopsis, My Story bio, My Story writing achievements. so when you look for the yellow folder in the file path you will see them all sitting under there. Behaving.
Date sent – date you hit the black button of destiny on your keyboard or posted your pristine pages in the red box.
Deadline date – there will be a deadline date for an award here or put a date in this section that you want to reach before you check in with them. We all do it, so might as well have it in writing.
Reply received – you will be astonished at the difference in each companies reply – same day, same week, same month, a year – expect the unexpected and try not to bombard them with ‘have you read my sub yet’ e-mails. One chase up is enough and preferably after the time they have stated in their guidelines.
Pester date – this is the date that I keep a note of, it reminds me of when I can send a quick ‘have you read my amazing work, you have, haven’t you and you just don’t have the words to tell me how awesome it is and the contract is ready to go’ or not, but you get my meaning.
Now back to your page – you will see that horizontal columns are alphabetised and vertical columns are numerical. You can change the size of any cell by hovering over the line that splits one column from another, a double-headed arrow symbol appears. Just drag and drop to the size you need.
All the bold words mentioned above or your choice of headers can then be typed across the cells – Company Name in cell A 1, Award in cell B 1 and so on. If the heading is too long you just need to resize the cell as before. One you are happy with your row of horizontal headers, make them stand out – bold, italics, underlined, font, size – these tools can all be found on the bar at the top of the screen. Now you can add in all the submissions you have sent – using one line for each submission. If you’re feeling good about it all, leave a line between each one. Space them out, let them breathe. Go mad, add colour as the replies come in – green for YES they want more, red for not today thanks, orange for maybe?
If there are too many words in one cell – right click on the cell you want to increase in size, select FORMAT CELLS then ALIGNMENT and tick the box that says WRAP TEXT AUTOMATICALLY. The cell will automatically grow bigger to accommodate the words you have entered and will also change the row to sort itself out – streamlined and perfect.
Now that you have all this info there, you don’t need to worry about who’s still to get back to you etc. Start another WIP and carry on being creative. You have indeed made progress and there will be an agent/publisher out there for you, you just have to have a little hope.
Be Awesome. Always.