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This month we have expert advice from Simon Whaley on how to collate data, Ten Top Tips covers exercising your writing muscles and Student Successes is a corker. Useful Websites looks at sites that provide free access to books and Inspiration is, hopefully, inspirational!

Data Collator By Simon Whaley

One magazine I send short stories to takes 12 weeks to make a decision. Another always accepts material within three weeks. And I know which editor needs a second nudge to make a decision on an article idea I pitched to him. How do I know all this? Because of the data I collect. Why do I collect this data? Because as self-employed people, writers need to know what is going on with every one of their submissions, at any time.

Every writer needs to keep track of their submissions, whether it’s books sent to publishers and agents, short stories submitted to magazines or competitions, or articles supplied to newspapers and magazines. Administration may not be the most exciting part of your writing career, but it’s important you treat your writing in a business-like manner. Thankfully, you do not need a degree in business administration, because you don’t need a complicated monitoring system. A simple spreadsheet can be a powerful tool.

Your spreadsheet should have the following headings:

  • Reference Number: I give every one of my projects a unique reference number. It begins with the year and then has three digits. My first project in 2012 had the reference 2012001, my second, 2012002, and so on. In theory, I can have 999 projects in any one year. (That’s sufficient for most prolific writers!) Immediately, this system tells you how many projects you’ve created in one year and, because it is unique to each project, it’s the perfect unique reference number to quote on my invoices.

  • Manuscript Title: Recording the title is useful because I remember titles more easily than reference numbers. Sometimes I might change the title of an article or short story, if I’m trying a different market, so recording the title every time I submit a piece of work helps me to keep track of this. (If I have one reference number with two different titles, then I know it’s the same project, but with a different title.)

  • Word Count: Again, because different markets want different word counts, I record the word count of each submission I make.

  • Manuscript Type: This is straightforward: Novel, Non-Fiction Book, Article, Short Story, Letter, etc. (Again, if I like a title, I may use the same title for a short story that I used for an article, so this category helps to distinguish between these different, but similarly-titled, projects.)

  • Submitted To: This is the name of the publication, publisher, or competition.

  • Date Submitted: The date my work was sent off.

  • Current Contact Status: I find this column particularly useful. In it, I record a two or three word phrase. Examples include: Acknowledged Receipt (for those times when editors confirm safe receipt of your submission), Competition Closing Date (for any competition submissions I make), Awaiting Publication, Awaiting Payment etc.

  • Date Replied: The date I received a response.

  • Accepted / Rejected: Somewhere to record the results of my hard work!

  • Published: The issue, or date of publication.

  • Fee: The bit where writers rub their hands together!

  • Date Invoiced: It’s useful to record the date that your invoice was sent.

  • Due Date: Recording when your invoice is due helps you to monitor income and outstanding payments.

  • Rights Sold: It’s important to keep a track of which rights you have sold in a piece of work. If you’ve sold First British Serial Rights to an article, then you still have the right to sell it in other countries too, such as First North American Serial Rights, or First Australian Serial Rights. Recording which rights you’ve sold in which piece of work enables you to maximise your income by exploiting other unsold rights.

  • Notes: This is a general column for me to add any further notes about a particular submission, or to record any problems I’ve had along the way, and to make a note of when I’ve sent duplicate invoices, statement of accounts etc.

 

This may seem like a lot of information to collect, however, you only need to complete it whenever you send off a piece of work, or receive a response. Over time, the information builds and becomes immensely useful. Using a spreadsheet to collect this data makes filtering it simpler. Give the first row of your spreadsheet the names suggested here, and then make this top row your Filter Row. (In Microsoft Excel, highlight the row and then select Data, from the menu bar, and then Filter.) Small, drop-down arrows will appear for each column, and from here you can select the specific information you want to search for.

When you receive an acceptance, or rejection, you can use the Manuscript Title filter to find all of your submissions with that title, and then you use the Submitted To filter to find the specific submission of that manuscript to that publisher.

The Current Contact Status column is really useful. Every month, I filter for those submissions that are labelled as ‘Awaiting Payment’ to check for any outstanding invoices. If a manuscript is rejected, and at the time of rejection I don’t have an alternative market identified, I mark this column as ‘Available to Submit’. I regularly check for any manuscripts with this status, so that I know for which pieces I can seek out new potential markets.

An empty record is useful too. Search the Accepted / Rejected column for rows with no data, and you know that this is a submission where the outcome has not yet been decided. Look at the Date Submitted column to see when you sent it. If it was relatively recent, then you know there’s no need to worry just yet, but if you haven’t received a response after six months, you may wish to consider making enquiries with the publisher. This is where the data really comes into its own. Before contacting them, you can search the Submitted To column for any previous submissions to the same company. Look at the results. You may be able to work out an average response time for past submissions, and from there decide whether now is the right time to chase, or not. That’s how I know about the magazine that takes 12 weeks to make a decision on short stories submitted.

Do you need to know how much money you’ve earned this financial year? Easy! Search the Accepted / Rejected column for the accepted pieces, then refine your search by filtering the Date Submitted column for work sent during this financial year. Then look in the Fee column for the amounts received.

Collecting data can give you confidence and make you more professional in attitude. I recently sold an article to an American magazine. The editor wanted to check that I hadn’t already sold First North American Serial Rights, so I confirmed that I hadn’t and clarified the dates and publications I’d sold First British Serial Rights and First Australian Serial Rights. He replied, “Wow! You certainly know your business. In that case, I’m happy to buy First North American Serial Rights.” So, who knows? If I didn’t keep these records, perhaps the editor might not have bought that feature after all. Collecting data is not just about recording those successful sales; it’s about maximising sales too. Knowledge is power!

Simon Whaley is the author of hundreds of articles, dozens of short stories and ten books. His recent book is The Positively Productive Writer published by Compass Books. For more about Simon, visit his website at www.simonwhaley.co.uk, and for other useful advice to writers, check out his blog, Simon Says! at http://simonwhaleytutor.blogspot.com.