Organizing Your Writing--Part Two--Submitting and Networking
by Michelle Jean Prima
In a previous article, I showed you how to organize your writing with both paper and electronic filing systems. This article will help you keep track of your submissions, and supply you with networking hints to make the connections you need to become tomorrow's best-selling author.
Now that you have a completed project, you can start submitting your work to contests as well as editors and agents. Why wait until the work is complete before submitting to contests? Well, you really don't have to. In fact, contests are a very good way to get objective feedback. Because people who don't know you would be judging you, they are apt to be more honest in their opinion. But there is a drawback.
Suppose you've written your first chapter, taken it to your critique group, rewritten your first chapter, submitted it to a contest, received feedback, rewritten it again, submitted it again, until it is so polished and perfect you know it will final, if not win, in the next several contests. That is all well and fine, but sometimes we spend so much time refining our first chapter, we don't move ahead on the project. What if, in one of those contests, the final round judge asks for a full manuscript? Then what? You call and tell her you haven't written another word on the book, and she'll have to wait for six to eight months to see the manuscript? Sure, she'll probably remember the book when she sees it, but she'd remember it more clearly if it arrived on her desk two weeks after the request, not six months.
Contests certainly have their place, but don't stop writing to refine your work for contests, and don't write to suit a contest. Find a contest which suits your manuscript. Above all, keep writing while you are waiting to hear back.
Which brings us to keeping track of submissions. Once you start submitting to editors, agents and contests, you need to keep track of what went where. Many writers have several projects going on at the same time, and even several versions of the same project. So how DO you keep track of it all? You can track your files on paper, electronically, or both. If you choose to do it electronically, you should keep a hard copy back-up also.
For contest entries, fill out the necessary forms, print out your submission, pre-print an SASE postcard to indicate your entry has been received, and send off your entry. After mailing, file the rules with the notification date highlighted, along with the receipt from your postage in your “Pending” file. On regular maintenance of your “Pending” file, check the date finalists are to be notified. If that date has passed, contact the contest’s category coordinator. Once all materials from a contest have been returned, keep what is useful and toss the rest. Use whatever comments judges make to edit your manuscript, or possibly use in a cover letter to an editor or agent. Keep receipts for expenses incurred in your tax folder. Write thank-you notes to the judges, then toss the remainder of the papers. File papers you decide to keep in the file box you created for that project.
You can also track submissions through your tickler file. Write deadline dates on index cards and file them behind the appropriate month. Check your tickler file on a regular basis to check progress on your entries.
To keep track of contest entries electronically, the best way is in a spreadsheet program. Set up columns for Contest Name, Sponsoring Chapter, Contact Person, Title of Manuscript, Material Submitted, Date Entered, Date Postcard Returned, Date of Finalist Notification, Date of Winner Announcement, and Results. Fill out the information as it occurs. Every so often, print out the spreadsheet, and you’ll have an overall view of all the contests you’ve entered and when you should be hearing back. This system takes more time, but may be more effective for you than the Tickler File. Again, use what works best for you.
Keeping track of submissions to editors and agents works much like contest entries. You can keep a hard copy, an electronic file, or both. After sending out a query, check the editor’s or agent’s guidelines for response time. Write that timeline (or date) on a copy of the query, and file it in your “Pending” folder. If you get a request for more material, staple a copy of the second cover letter to the query, write the new response time on the letter and return to ‘Pending” folder. Once you receive a final reply, all correspondence for that manuscript can be filed into your portable file holder or accordion file.
You can also track entries in your Tickler File or in a spreadsheet. Enter the name of the manuscript along with the date a reply is expected. Give the editor or agent a week or two after the expected date, and if no word is heard, contact them. They may give you a new date, which you would then record on the index card or in your spreadsheet program, and re-file. Always include the agent or editor's name, address and phone number in your files. Then you won't have to look it up every time you need to contact them. Again, use the system which works for you.
As I said before, you sometimes send out different versions of your project to different places. To keep track of what went where, keep a copy of the submitted material (cover letter, synopsis, chapters, etc.) in a separate folder for that project. Name the folder according to the destination/date. For example, a contest entry to Chicago-North would be named "Fire & Ice Contest 2005." A submission to an editor at Avon would be named "J. Doe--Avon 031505." And so on. Then, when you receive a revision letter or request for more material, you will know immediately which version you sent. Regarding dates, your computer automatically stores the date the folder was created. But I suggest using the date in the folder name also. That way, you will know at a glance whether the newest version went to an agent, or an older one went to a contest, and so on.
Once you are active in the writing and submitting process, you will be networking more and more. You need to get your name out to the public before you publish, so when you do publish, your name will already be recognized. But how do you remember who you met where, and what they write, or what they said about your writing?
First, you need to create a folder or rolodex for business cards. Each time you receive a card from someone, make a notation on the back of the card identifying where you met the person, and what they write, or any other interesting fact about them. For example, you met another historical writer who has been to London recently and talked about the wonderful book stores there. Months later, when you're planning your own trip, look through your cards for that "London book stores" note on the back. Drop the person an e-mail and ask them for the names of the stores.
Or, perhaps you met Agent 'A' at a reception. She handed you her card, and mentioned she likes Victorian romances. You make the notation "Victorian" on the card. Then, when you are ready to submit, you'll try her first, since you know she likes the time period about which you write.
To store this information electronically, transfer any names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. of contacts to a database as you collect them. This will also build your mailing list, both before and after you are published. Include a field for where you met the person, (this will not be added to the mailing label). This sort of information is useful when you meet this person later, or when you write to them. Including a note about a past encounter will make the correspondence more personal.
As a writer, or any other business professional, you are networking any time you are out in public, be it the grocery store or a conference. You should always have a business card on you, and you should always ask anyone you meet for their card. Keeping these cards in a file or database will make your promo and marketing a much easier task.
For resources on Organizing or Writing, see the "Writer's Resources" section on our Researching the Romance page.
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Copyright 2005, Michelle Jean Prima