I was looking for some ideas on the best way to track story submissions and was surprised on how little I found. I'm sure there are plenty of good article on keeping records of your stories but since I was thinking about it I thought other people might be wondering or have some ideas on how to do it better.
The first thing is what you need to keep track of with a story. At the bare minimum you need to know where you submitted your story and when. This is the bare minimum because you need to know when to check on the progress of a submission and when to give up on hearing back without risk of offending. That length of time is subjective and it isn't the point of this article but it's best to simply go by the length of time they say. If they say they will get back to you in sixty days, don't write asking for updates until it has been sixty days even if that seems a long time.
Of course there are other things you'll want to keep track of as well. One of the vital ones is everyplace that the story has been submitted to before. There is simply no value in wasting your time and the time of a publisher by sending them something they have already rejected. This will also help you keep track of how many times the story has been submitted.
Beyond that you have things that are nice to know. If you get any type of personal response with a rejection not only is it worth noting what it said, but who said it. This isn't just useful but it can also be surprisingly encouraging. I remember way back when I was starting I got a rejection letter for a story I sent to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The note on it was short and something to the effect of not what we're looking for at the moment. I felt the same pang everyone does when they get a rejection letter. Then I looked at it a bit more carefully, and specifically the signature. It was signed by Gardner Dozois.
There aren't a lot of editors I know by name but Gardner Dozios is one of them. I don't really understand what an editor does well enough to comment on his skill, but I know that I've loved a lot of things with his name on it and the idea that he had actually read something I wrote was excited. I also know enough to be fairly confident that he hadn't been the only one to read it. I would bet money that there was at least one person who read it first and believed it was good enough to show to him, and it's likely, from what I know of how many submissions they get, that there was another person involved before he saw it as well.
Another note I got back was a bit more frustrating but also enlightening. It pointed out a typo on the seventh page of the story and the need to edit better. I agree with anyone who says that I need to edit better because everyone everywhere can stand more editing, but there's a lot more information imbedded in than that you might think. First, she made it to the seventh page of a nine page story. Secondly, if I had been successful with telling the story she either wouldn't have noticed or wouldn't have cared about the typo and third, I knew considerably more about that editor and how to make her happy.
It can also be useful to keep copies of anything you send with a story. This is going to be primarily cover letters and summaries. Sometimes you will keep those the same for multiple submissions and sometimes they will changed each time, but either way knowing what you sent to someone can help you figure out the response you get.
I'm not a terribly organized person so how to keep track of all of that is probably presented best by someone else but I'll tell you how I used to do it and how I do it now. I used to have a physical file folder. I would print a copy of the story and put it in the folder, along with a paper that had a list of submissions. When I got a rejection I would add that to the folder as well as writing down the information. This kept everything in one place and made it very easy to make certain I didn't accidentally submit a story that I had already sent to someone else.
The weakness, besides the destruction of trees, was that I didn't have a good way to see stories that had been gone a long time without a response. This didn't come up often as most people are fairly good at responding but it did happen. I tried to fix this by moving the folder to the front of the cabinet every time I sent it out and that helped some but I still had to look at the back to double check and that tended to take a while.
In the last decade things have been more centered around the computer since everyone accepts electronic submissions. (Or at least I haven't found anyone who doesn't.) But the problem is largely the same. Keeping a folder for every story isn't a terrible idea and I may start doing that. But there are some software solutions.
For this I'll largely have to trust other people as I haven't used any enough to really suggest them. Writer's Write's article http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/apr98/tracking-your-submissions-4987 , which is by far the best I found on the subject suggests The Working Writer http://dolphinsoftware.bc.ca/, and while it seems a bit dated it would likely work. There is also a story tracker app for the iPad/iPhone that has generally good reviews. I also found Submission Tracker http://www.submissiontrackerapp.com/ and while it has nothing to do with writing since it's for tracking submission is Mixed Martial Arts I found it way to entertaining to leave out.
Perhaps the easiest and best way to do this though is with something may have heard of called spreadsheet. I am completely out of my depth with suggesting how to do this, but for making a list like this I know it works well and other people have suggested that. http://theadventurouswriter.com/blogwriting/how-freelance-writers-track-article-pitches-submissions/
Now to the real point of this article. If you are a writer or someone who is simply good at this type of thing I am pleading with you to share anything you know about how to do this better. I have described a number of processes I have used and I can keep track of things using them, but I'm not a fan of anything I've done and I'm sure someone out there has found a far better solution. Please share that solution with the rest of us.