One of the most important business skills a writer needs is the ability to track the submission process. There’s a maxim out there, variously attributed, which says: “serious writers should keep their work in circulation until it either sells or the ink wears off”.
It can be tricky to keep that circulation going, especially if you’re trying to get a variety of things published. The publishers and media have different requirements about what to send, how to send it, when to send it, the length of the overall process, and so on. This can be confusing.
It is important to record the details of each submission. Surely, there must be a bulletproof system out there, time-tested by professional writers, right? I have set out to find that system, so that I can use it in my writing career. These are the results of that hunt. I’ll be sure to share whatever I come up with, in case other writers find it useful.
Update: I’ve grown impatient waiting for the available software to catch up with the feature set listed here, so I’ve started a GitHub project, to build my own software, in the hopes of attracting a community around this idea. Perhaps we can devise an open source application to help writers to do this? For starters, I’ve build a prototype of the application, using LibreOffice Base. I’ll move on to using something more lightweight, stable and portable in the near future. Suggestions are welcome!
What to track?
For each manuscript
- name of your manuscript
- type of manuscript: magazine article, short story, poem, etc.
- number of times the manuscript has been submitted to any publication
- many publishers don’t allow simultaneous submissions, so, for each manuscript, record whether the it is “active” or not.
For each submission
- the name of the manuscript(s) you’re submitting. (If you’re a poet, you’re accustomed to submitting multiple poems at once. I’ve yet to find software that makes this easy to track.)
- A copy of, or an electronic reference to, the manuscript itself (as submitted at the time)
- a copy of, or link to, the cover letter that accompanied the submission (good for future reference)
- the date you sent the manuscript to the publication
- the title of the publication
- the date you received a response from the publication.
- the kind of response you received, which can be anything from form rejection to published.
- copy / linked follow-up correspondence, if any.
For each publication/venue
- the title of the venue
- type of venue: magazine, website etc.
- contact details @ the publication
- a copy of, or link to the publication’s submission guidelines (especially reading dates or deadlines)
For the writer
- A reminder to meet any upcoming submission deadline
- A reminder to follow-up on the submission after the expected turn-around time has passed
- The ability to easily sort the submission tracking information.
For extra credit
- track contests, their rules and deadlines
- track agents, their interests and contact info
This basic list can get complex very quickly if you’re tracking this information for one or more submissions to one or more publishers. It would help to have some sort of system, to organize all this information, either on paper or electronically. What’s interesting to me is that none of the software available for tracking this stuff seems to be able to track every bit of the items that you might want to track. (For example, I’d love it if apps of this sort would store a copy of the manuscript submitted, along with a copy of the cover letter. Sometimes time can pass between submissions, drafts can be updated, and keeping a record of these things can be very useful.)
Manuscript Submission Tracking Applications
There are many different software applications designed for writers who want to track their submissions. None of them do everything listed above, but many of them might be useful. Here are a few of the better ones out there. Recently, I found someone else’s list of even more apps for tracking manuscript submissions.
The Writer’s Scribe is created with Filemaker, so it should run on a Mac, PC or even an iOS device. It is definitely a full-featured option and it’s worth trying the 20 day demo version. Although it is designed specifically with short story writers in mind, you can customize it to your needs. It is a cheaper, very-full-featured alternative to creating your own database (with the full edition of Filemaker, which is not required for The Writer’s Scribe). Many of those features might prove to be overkill for you, or you may love them all, depending on your needs.
FileMaker is a Mac and PC application for building databases. The file can be stored in Dropbox, and made available to use from any computer, Mac or PC. I like this as a solution because I have been able to customize it, although I didn’t like doing the work to customize it. This is a decent method, but FileMaker is awfully expensive, especially if you’re only going to use it for one database. There are a number of free database templates you can download for Filemaker to get you started tracking poetry submissions or freelance articles. I combined a number of these to create my own database.
A spreadsheet is a great way to start tracking submissions, but once you start storing copies of the drafts as-submitted, related correspondence, and so on, you can outgrow a spreadsheet, so I’m focusing my search on databases and applications.
The (Submission) Grinder, launched a beta version in late 2013. This web-based submission tracker aims to take over for Duotrope, which now charges $50 per year for its service. The (Submission) Grinder even accepts an imported .csv file from Duotrope’s export function, to make the transition easier. The site is still very new, but it is promising and the site administrator is eager to hear from users. I would say that this submission tracker is especially for genre fiction writers who don’t need to track custom markets. Currently, you can only track a market that’s already listed on their site.
Submittable deserves some mention here. This submission manager by is used by magazines, journals, book publishers, and agents to receive submissions, but as a contributor you can use it to monitor any submissions you’ve sent via the application, at any of the venues that use Submittable. I wouldn’t be surprised if, someday, they add a way to track other submissions with this. Until then, like Duotrope, it’s only useful if you happen to be submitting to a publication that’s already on their list.
Writer’s Market provides a secure online service for Submission Tracking. You can purchase this service by the month, to try it out. The Writer’s Market software is easy to use, and it is integrated with the Writer’s Market directory of publications, which is quite useful. On the other hand, you cannot store information about a publisher who is not listed in the directory. Writer’s Market intends to add this feature, someday. Meanwhile, you might run into some trouble if, like me, you publish in obscure or non-paying publications. One-year access to this service is free when you buy a copy of the Writer’s Market Book. With an annual subscription fee, you would think this service would offer at least as many features as its competitors, but it does two things well — it helps you track submissions to the publications listed in Writer’s Market . It also helps you keep a list of those publications for yourself.
The Luminary Writer’s Database is a web-based service for submission and publication tracking. It is free to use, and you can share information about publishers, with listings and comments. This isn’t a very popular website, judging from the number of user-submitted publisher entries. A few “coming soon” announcements littered throughout the website indicate that good things might be in the works for The Writer’s Database, so you may want to keep an eye on this one. (The writer’s database gets honorable technical mention for the use of VCARDs and RSS feeds. Its free, too.)
Literarium is a web application under development that looks promising. The web app is based on a Windows application, its predecessor, named Write Again, which is still available although I haven’t tried it. I worry a little that the development time for Literarium may be too slow. My hope is that Duotrope’s move to a paid model might spur some more rapid development for these kinds of apps, and if that happens, the most rapid developers will win the race.
An apparent newcomer on the scene is iWrite Assistant, which I recently discovered via the ever-useful ProfHacker blog. iWrite Assistant is a no-frills web application which seems to be designed with academic publishing in mind.
Duotope is a wonderful way to discover new markets for your writing, with its huge and growing directory of publications, but it doesn’t let you track submissions to anything that isn’t already listed in its databse, which renders it useless for anybody working with obscure or very new markets.
It’s free, but charges a fee to get some of the more detailed information about the markets listed in its very detailed library.
QueryTracker.net is specifically designed to track submissions to publishers and agents, and includes access to a contacts database. Subscription to the database appears to be a paid feature.
Critique Circle Submissions Tracker offers a free web-based submissions tracking service. A log-in account is required. Apparently designed specifically for genre fiction writers and only contains two fields: “title” and “notes.” This is not more useful than a spreadsheet and therefore not worth the effort of creating a login.
Assignmint is a silicon valley startup company in its early stages. Its proposed website would connect publishers and writers.
Sonar is a manuscript submission tracking program that does pretty much everything that the Writer’s Market web service does, for free. Sonar isn’t integrated with a publisher’s database, so you’ll have to enter that information in yourself, but that won’t kill you. This is the software that I eventually chose for tracking manuscripts in Windows.
The Working Writer for Windows is currently unavailable, pending a new version for Windows 7. If the quality of its website is ay indication, it should be a free app.
Writer’s Database for windows is one I just heard about but haven’t tried.
InkLink is quite old now and kinda pricey but for somet time it was one of the more popular Windows programs for Submission Tracking. It’s easy to see why. This thing is loaded with features. The interface was easy and simple, and so was the user’s manual. In addition to listing manuscripts and publishers, InkLink would help you catalog things like travel expenses, too. The “reminder” feature was good, letting you know that its time for a submission’s second inquiry, etc., but it wouldn’t send you an e-mail. (The idea of a mobile alert is too new for this thing). Inklink would also help you create a writer’s resume, using the data you had already entered. Inklink charged $90, which seems steep, at first, but it is a one-time fee, unlike Writers Market.
S.A.M.M manuscript tracker is free, for Windows and even DOS but it is no longer actively developed.
SubTract is free to use and keeps track of things you have written, as well as any submissions you have made to publishers, magazines etc
Write-Again is still operational and supported, but no longer in development. It offers, in addition to submission tracking, a task list, project list, etc. This is not free software, but a demo version is available.
Power Tracker is windows software that is now more than 10 years old but may be useful for users of older machines.
StoryTracker is manuscript tracking software for iphones and the like but, for my part, I don’t enjoy doing that much typing, copying and pasting from an iOS device. Luckily, there is a version of StoryTracker for the Mac (and one coming soon for PC). I have high hopes for StoryTracker. There’s a demo version that you can use to try it out. When used in tandem, these two applications should prove to be both powerful and portable. With these, a database of publications or contacts can be exported or shared, which could lead to some interesting, sharable collections of lists, or perhaps even some compatibility with the directory web apps mentioned above?
“Published!” by Ritsah Software and is pretty good not as simple and pretty as Manuscript Tracker was, and definitely more expensive.
Mariner Software makes some great apps for writers, and their Montage and StoryMill apps both have built-in submissions tracking, but that functionality is only available inside of programs that do a lot of other things. Whether you use Montage or Storymill, you probably already have a dedicated writing application, and you might prefer to do your submissions tracking elsewhere.
It’s a shame that this software is no longer in development, but I hope it can serve as an example for the new kids on the block.
The Slushomatic writing submission tool is compatible with windows and mac computers. Its author describes it well. “Slushomatic is a tool for writers to create and track their submissions to magazines. In addition to being a database for tracking stories/articles, publications and submissions, it will also format your document in the standard style required by editors (i.e; headers, line-spacing, font size, etc..), and auto-create cover letters based on the fields in your database.” Personally, I like to use a word processor for word processing, but it is nice to have a copy of the article stored inside the database. Its also nice to be able to create pdf files, but again, a modern word processor can do that. Slushomatic is open-source software, so it has the potential to grow into an even more powerful writing submission tool. Update: Sadly, this open-source tool seems to have become unavailable. Does anyone know of its fate? I found a copy of it available from Archive.org which says it was licensed GNU GPL so it may be possible to revive it?
Bento was not a tool for tracking manuscript submissions but it is a “personal database” tool. It might seem intimidating, but really Bento is very easy for writers to use. For the price of most of these dedicated tools, you can have an open-ended tool, and use it to track manuscripts, your book library, fictional characters, or whatever you like! This one is certainly worth a look for the mac users out there. Sadly, Bento has been phased out in favor of the company’s more popular Filemaker.
Manuscript Tracker was a probably the best application for tracking submissions on the Mac, but sadly the Lion operating system has rendered it useless because it is too old and has not been updated to keep up.
TiddlyWikiWrite was built using TiddlyWiki, and had a lot of potential to be awesome but it is apparently abandoned now.
WriteTrack was a small application for Windows which never made it out of the Beta stage and is no longer actively developed.