Good Writing Records

Good Writing Records

by Deb Brammer


Which publishers did I submit a particular short story to in the 1980’s? Which ones bought it? What rights did they buy? How many times has it been reprinted?


What articles have I submitted that have not been accepted by a publisher yet? Which ones have I sold first rights to and have not been published yet? Which ones have I sold first rights to which I can now sell to someone else?


Whatever happened to that story I wrote a long time ago for a particular editor? Did I ever hear back from him? Do I need to check on that story?


How many articles and short stories have I published? How much money did I make from my writing three years ago?


I can answer those kinds of questions about practically any article, short story, or book I have written within a few minutes. Why? I started a simple program for keeping records back in the 1980’s. And now I am ready to share my secrets with you.


Back in the 1980’s before I owned a computer I subscribed to a magazine called “The Christian Communicator.” One of their articles suggested a good way to keep records. I adopted that system to fit my own needs. Today you might be tempted to put all of your records on computer. You can do that. You can even keep making back-up copies in case your computer crashes. But there is a definite advantage to doing it like cavemen writers did, on 3 x 5 index cards.


Let me explain to you what I do and then you can adapt it however you want.


Every time I send out an article, short story, program, or book proposal I make a card on it. At the top of the card I put the title. Then make columns to list who I send it to, the date I sent it, the rights I’m selling, the date it is accepted, the date it is published, and how much I got paid for it. I may also list the age group the article or story is targeted for or the subject matter.


When I send the piece I put its card in a section called “in the mail.” That way I can quickly tell how long it has been gone and if I need to politely inquire about its status to make sure it doesn’t get lost.


If the piece is accepted I put its card in the section that pertains to it. If the editor bought full rights to it I know I can’t sell it again so I put it in the section labelled “accepted–full rights.” When it is published I can file it under “published—full rights.”


If the editor has bought first rights I’ll file the card under “accepted—partial rights.” When it gets published I move it to the section labelled “published—partial rights.” I know that articles and stories in that section can be resubmitted when I find the right market.


If the piece is rejected I file it in the “rejected” section. I may try to figure out why it was rejected or if it needs rewritten, but these are pieces I can now send to another editor.


As you get more things accepted you can add more sections. I have a section for teen articles that have been published with full rights and one for adults and kids. I also have a section for series of articles and one for books and one for programs.


Why is it so helpful to have each article or set of articles on one card? You can move them around. You can count them to see how many articles you’ve had accepted. You can immediately find articles that are ready to re-submit. Each time an article is reprinted or earns new money, you can write that on the card.


If you start a similar system early in your writing for publication, you can easily find all the information you need. I mainly have two problems with it. (1) I forget to make a card and (2) the editor changes the name of my story or article and I have a hard time finding it.


In the old days I also had matching file folders where I stored the manuscripts while they were in the mail. These days you can just keep your files on computer. Of course, you need to make sure to keep back-up files. You’ll also need files for your checks and contracts.


Don’t forget to leave one file for fan mail. J You may not get much of it, but save what you get for days when discouragement sets in. Print out emails and add them to your files before they get deleted. If calling it “fan mail” makes you feel arrogant call it your “encouragement file” or your “blessings file.”


Once you have your record-keeping file in place you just have to fill it up with cards by continually submitting manuscripts for publication.