Submission Protocol: For the Record

No doubt you’ve seen me post copious amounts of stats and analysis on this blog relating to my submissions, rejections, and acceptances. I’m able to do that because I keep track of every single submission I send and its outcome (plus a bunch of other details). You don’t have to be a stat wonk like me, but you should keep track of all your submissions. Here’s why.

  1. Avoid dumb submission mistakes. Once you get into triple digits with submissions that comprise dozens of stories, it can be pretty easy to forget where you sent each one. So one of the things I do before I send out a story, especially one that’s racked up a fair number of rejections, is to check my database. That way I can make sure I’m not sending it to a publisher that’s already rejected it. Full disclosure: I’ve actually made this mistake a few times. Wanna know why? I didn’t check my fucking database before I hit send. (Let’s call that a cautionary tale.)
  2. Submission analysis & targeting. Look, you don’t have to get all crazy with the data like I do, but having some data at hand can be useful to determine how your submissions are doing overall. You can look for trends and anomalies that might help you dial in your submission targeting. Are you only getting standard form rejections from that one magazine and then going on to sell those stories elsewhere? Yeah? Then maybe that market isn’t a good fit for your work. Are your horror stories landing at a market but they’re consistently rejecting your fantasy stories? Okay, then stop sending them fantasy stories. A submission database that keeps track of not just when and where, but also genre, length, and other details may slightly increase the likelihood of an acceptance.
  3. Big-picture progress. One of my favorite things about a robust database is it really lets me see how I’m doing month to month and year to year. I can see if my acceptance numbers (and rate) are improving, if I’m getting more higher-tier and personal rejections than standard rejections, and all sorts of other info that can be quite encouraging. Having a database can help you take a big-picture view of your work rather than the isolated snapshots that come with each rejection. That’s always a confidence booster for me.

I’ve told you why you should keep a submission database; now let me tell you how. My preferred method is to let someone else do the bulk of the work, which is why I track all my submissions through Duotrope. They keep that database for me, and I can filter by market, by story, by rejection (and type of rejection), and so on. I can also download all this data with the click of a button if I want to manipulate it further. Yes, Duotrope is five bucks a month, but if you submit as often as I do, I think that’s a bargain. The Submission Grinder (which is free) has similar functionality, but since I don’t use that service I can’t give you the exact details.

What if you don’t want to use Duotrope or the Submission Grinder to track your submissions? No problem. It’s super easy to set up an Excel spreadsheet that’ll do the trick. If you’re Excel savvy, you can even get a lot of the same functionality you get at Duotrope with a little work. What should your submission database track? Here are the basics you should include: story title, genre, length, market, date sent, date received, and response. That might look like this.

This is a cobbled-together snapshot of some of my own submissions as an example of how you might track your own (No, I don’t generally rock a 50% acceptance rate; I just grabbed a bunch of old submissions for variety). Pretty simple, right? I can sort and parse this data in a number of ways to get all analytical if I want or just to make sure I don’t send a story to a market that’s already rejected it. If you want a more functionality, consider keeping tracking things like the days between submissions and responses and if the submission is a reprint or a sim-sub. That’s all great data. Whatever your database looks like the real key is to be consistent and diligent with keeping track of your submissions. Record every submissions and every response right away (if possible). Yeah, I know recording rejections kind of sucks, but trust me, it’ll serve you in the long run.

How do you keep track of your submissions? Tell me about it in the comments.

11 Comments on “Submission Protocol: For the Record

  1. While it is generally not a good idea to send a story to a market that’s already rejected it (unless they asked for a revision, of course), it is not a carved-in-stone rule. Pay attention to staff changes. If the editor changes, you may want to resubmit. Several times I’ve sold stories to a magazine that previously rejected them because the new editors had different requirements or tastes.

    • Interesting, and I can certainly see your point if it’s an intentional, calculated thing. In my case, it was an unintentional (and stupid) mistake followed by an incredibly humbling and apologetic withdrawal letter. 🙂

    • Michael, as a follow up to your point. When you’ve submitted a previously rejected story to a market that’s changed editors and the like, do you let the new editor know his or her predecessor has passed on the story in the cover letter?

  2. Excellent. I was just about to suggest Duotrope as I was reading your article since I’m useless at tracking and so they do all the work for me.

  3. I use but it only tracks what I have sent to them for submissions and I cannot perform any calculations really unless I do it outside of the system. I have had a situation where I was denied by a magazine who posted their call for work on submittable to then be contacted by them and accepted to place it in an online form so technically I was accepted but outside of the system. I keep a very simple word file for other submissions outside of submittable. I have not made it as a table that I can perform functions in. I would like to grow to that level.

    • Honestly, you might as well start tracking via Excel (or your preferred method) now, especially since it seems your goal is to write more and submit more. I think it’s a good practice for any author to develop.

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  4. I’m currently using Excel with a format similar to your example. I’ve thought about making the jump to Duotrope, having read your praise of the product. However, I also use Excel to track my productivity (ie word count) over the months and years. And there’s always the fear of learning something new.

    • Well, Duotrope wouldn’t be that different than your Excel sheet. In fact, you can download any data FROM Duotrope in Excel format. The real pain would be porting all your submissions into Duotrope one at a time. That could be pretty time consuming. If you do it, though, the system itself is very user friendly.

  5. I have a Google Sheet and also use The (Submission) Grinder. I pay for Duotrope, as well, but might stop going forward. I used to track subs in both The Grinder and Duotrope in parallel, plush the spreadsheet, but tracking in three places got to be nuts, plus I don’t really like Duotrope all that much. I’d say Duotrope is the way to go if you don’t write speculative fiction, but The Grinder has great stats for speculative genre markets and THE GRAPHS! THE GRAPHS! The graphs are just the freaking best. I also like their dashboard and the submission stats they provide for each author (subs per year etc.)

    As for my Google Sheet, I track much the same info as you so, but in a different form. I have only one row per piece. The columns are: Title, word count (current), date of completion, places where I subbed that didn’t take it (italic if personalized no, crossed out if withdrawn) with dates in parentheses, where it is currently pending (or where it got accepted), the list of zines that I found suitable and where I plan to sub next if the current one doesn’t work out. I feel this way helps me easily access a list of zines the next time I have a similar piece or if someone asks where to send such-and-such a piece.

    Also, mostly to amuse myself, I color code (coarsely) by genre and status. Hot pink background with white letter for currently active subs. Martian green for WIP/planned subs. Purple with white letters for published short stories. Light green for micros. Cyan for published nonfiction. Navy blue for published reprints. I change these up when I get bored.

    Here’s a sample:

    • I like your system. Simple and informative at a glance. Wow, we really submit to mostly the same markets. 🙂

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