2013 has been the first year ever - ever - when I've had stories plural published (here, in the LS13 anthology, and here, in the Willesden Herald anthology). And it's still only June! I'm hoping to have at least two more published before the end of the year. The only way I can improve my embarrassing strike rate of 1 story per year, I realised, was to get my work off my hard drive and out into the world.
So, I developed a system. Being something of a systems nerd (there's no cure, apparently), I worked out a way of tracking submissions using a spreadsheet*. Doing this helps the whole process so much less painful. I am sharing this spreadsheet with you, everybody on the whole of the internet, because I'm nice like that.
In day to day internet browsing, I keep an eye out for submission opportunities. If I see a competition I want to enter, or a lit mag with its submission window open, I add it to my spreadsheet in the lower columns, making a note of the closing date and word limit. If I think one of the stories I have ready is worth trying in one of these competitions, I put the magazine's name next to that story title. (see spreadsheet for illustration). The whole thing is colour-coded. Blue for acceptances, Red for submissions, Black for places to try, Green for rejections, and Purple for stories I have withdrawn myself. This last one is key, and a kind thing to do for other writers. If a story gets accepted for publication somewhere, I make sure to contact the other places and withdraw it. This allows editorial teams to reduce the size of their slush pile, and get back to other writers more quickly. It's only fair.
The bookmarking and updating of the spreadsheet is something I do as I'm going along, but the submitting is something I set aside time for. Many of the magazines have slightly differing formatting requirements, and that in itself takes time. I set aside a couple of hours every month to get the stories I'm sending out into the right format, and then I send stories out - at the moment, I'm doing at least 2 a month. It's good to set a target for yourself, because then you're in the position of actually having to look out for appropriate submission opportunities. And please, for the love of God, make sure you're sending your work to the kind of places that are likely to publish it. Don't waste your time sending pulpy science fiction to Granta. You're only setting yourself up for disappointment. Know what kind of work you make, and what kind of magazines like it. Your submissions process will only ever end in tears otherwise.
One last thing. I always save my finished stories in two different versions - one that's been through a UK English spellcheck, and one that's been through a US English spellcheck. This makes it easier and quicker for sending versions out internationally.
Thanks for reading, and happy submitting!
Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut
Best of Young Brazilian Novelists Granta