It was nice recently to have an email conversation with fellow writer and translator Zack Rogow in which we discussed (among other things) the ways writers track their submissions. He had recently written a blog post about this, and when updating, kindly quoted me discussing the program I created in the late 1980s to track my submissions. I thought I’d add a little more detail here, but you can follow the link above to see what others have to say on the topic. Many use Word or Excel files to keep track of their work. Admittedly, my system is overly complex, but that is the result of many years of tweaking and of the power of Apple’s Hypercard program that I initially used to create it.
The program began relatively simply as a pair of databases to keep track of submissions. Hypercard worked on a model of index cards, so I could create a set of index cards with all of my poem titles and a list of every magazine where they were sent. Then I had another set of virtual index cards that listed the address information, submissions guidelines, etc. for all the magazines I had sent to.
Because I like to mess around with some basic programming, I wrote scripts that would allow me to search one set of cards from the other, and then I wrote scripts that allowed me to enter information in one place and send it to the other set of cards. I’ve usually started with the publisher card, added a list of titles (I’m a poet, so sending 4-5 poems at once is common), then I can highlight those titles and click a button that adds the publisher to the title card for each. I keep track of the date sent and the response.
Incidentally, I long ago decided to use the term “returned” when a poem is sent back to me. “Rejected” is just too depressing, and often isn’t really accurate. I have a comments field where I can add any personal comments I get, so I know what has been said.
Eventually life got more complicated as I sent out more and more poems, so I added a series of scripts to read the two sets of cards and generate reports. Then I added a script to generate a cover letter file for each submission — it exported the address and titles sent so I could write a cover letter. (I don’t use this feature too much any more, now that there are electronic submissions). When I started applying for grants and contests, I created a different set of cards for these (since the submission process is a bit different).
Once I published a book, I added more records for book sales, reading engagements, invoices, income and expenses (for tax purposes), etc. If I weren’t a bit of a geek, I wouldn’t have ever gotten this complex with it all.
The one drawback to my system is that it was written in Hypercard and then ported to SuperCard once Apple discontinued Hypercard. It relies on this program to run, so I have to keep a working copy and getting the data out is an interesting proposition. Someday, I might like to export it all to a PhP database and use open source software to access it, though that would involve reprogramming everything, so it’s probably a job for my retirement or for when the need arises. For now, I keep working with my clunky but powerful system.
Once upon a time, I had a dream of marketing the program as shareware, but the reality of that is I would have to write a really good help system to allow others to use it. There are so many things about it that I just know how to do, and that would be nearly impossible to explain to anyone else. But the basic concept could be ported to just about any relational database.