After I returned from the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I would occasionally hear my fellow writers encourage one another by sharing a tale of how many submissions it took to sell a piece. I started keeping count of the number of times things went out before they sold, hoping to encourage myself to keep going. But it was very unscientific. One problem was how quickly I'd give up on the pro tier when feeling discouraged. I wanted to follow Roger Zelazny's rubric, making a list of the highest- to lowest-paying markets, then sending a story down the list until it sold or got shelved. But in addition to making exceptions for unexpected projects with exciting themes, I too often found I'd doubt myself and my story's worth after a few tries, then give up on potential pro sales.
However, several of my stories sold to pro markets after having exhausted all potential matches at semipro and token pay tiers. This was a revelation to me, clearly indicating it wasn't that my writing lacked quality—it had simply not yet found that one editor who loved it.
I started thinking about ways to improve my submission strategies. I added a count of acceptances, and each time one came in, I updated the average number of submissions needed to get there, per type of work (fiction, poetry). Instead of counting up how many submissions an individual piece had endured, I now had an average that seemed to stay fairly consistent. This was so encouraging I found myself attaching less importance and disappointment to individual rejections, instead seeing them as a chance to send the work back out and move closer to that magic number.
Most recently, I've been compiling individual statistics by the year. I get a better picture of where I'm doing well, so I can capitalize on my strengths. I can also see potential problem areas where I might want to improve. Best of all, I can see the average number of submissions needed for a sale is steadily diminishing.
I'm hoping that something about my quest might help inspire a eureka moment about your own work methods. Though your process may end up much different, just in case it is a useful starting point, I'll outline how I gather statistics while tracking submissions. Please don't be daunted by the level of detail I keep. You can keep as little or as much as you want, using any type of file you like.
I started with a word processing file using tables (which I’ll describe at the end for those who prefer it), then moved to a spreadsheet structure, which I love for its ability to sort, count, and find data.
Some of the useful features of my spreadsheet include:
- Sorting by length of poem or story, or by type of poem (formal or free verse)
- Sorting by market, to see what's already gone out, whether something's there currently, typical length of time to respond
- Where to send the material next, with suggestions grouped by pay tier
- Sorting by whether the material is currently out or previously published
- Sorting by when things were submitted, with the newest first, so I can count submissions by time period
In the next article, I'll describe the setup of my own files by way of example, but you should experiment and find what works best for you. Good luck, and keep on plugging away at those submissions!
For more information about Adele Gardner (writing mysteries as Max Jason Peterson), visit their website: www.gardnercastle.com. Halloween Hearts: Poems by Adele Gardner is available through Jackanapes Press.