Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Teaching a Class for Writers on Submissions Strategy? Better check my own stats first!

I'm gearing up to teach a local four-week summer class, Submission Strategies, and so I'm combing through my own mid-year stats. This includes tallying up: what's been submitted, how many times, to how many different venues; what's been accepted or rejected; what's been published or will be soon; how much I've spent on submission and contest fees; how/if I've placed in any contests; and what shape my "to submit to" list is in. 

Though I keep thorough records on every aspect of my submission life--via my own Excel spreadsheets, on Duotrope, and (automatically) at Submittable--this exercise at nearly the mid-year mark is proving enlightening. 

I discovered, for example, that although I thought simultaneous submissions were lagging, in fact, I've been keeping pieces circulating to about a half-dozen prospective venues at all times (this tells me I'm keeping up with making 'plan B' lists and then using them).

I thought I had on hand a low number of polished and ready to submit pieces, but in fact, I have more entries in the "pieces ready to go" column than I remembered.

I was heartened to see that I had submitted to a lot more new-to-me venues, and yet I also noticed that this meant my "to submit to" lists are being depleted and I need to plump them up with additional new places to try. Translation: spend more time researching venues that are a good fit.

My stats on what's been accepted or rejected weren't really a surprise. Don't we all have that mental tally in our heads pretty much all the time? But I noted that overall percentage of acceptances to rejections can be drastically skewed when one stubborn piece doesn't find a home until it's been rejected 27 times.

I was also unfavorably impressed with how much I've spent on submission fees at this point in the year. It's not a lot really, but it's more than I thought or budgeted for. Those "little" $3 fees do add up. I try to think of this as a marketing expense, and in a larger sense as a way to support literary publishing. Still, I wasn't thrilled to note that I'm more than halfway through what I'd mentally allotted for the year, and we're not quite at the halfway mark on the calendar.

I enter very few contests for short pieces of work (so have virtually no budget for that), but had earmarked more serious funds for entering my newly revised full-length memoir manuscript to contests run by trustworthy boutique or university publishers that offer book publication and a small advance. Likewise for entering a short essay collection in creative nonfiction chapbook contests. I'm on track in this budget area and have been a finalist in one chapbook contest, but most of the book pub contests won't announce results until later in the year.

I learned a lot more, and even did MATH (can I tell you how much this hurts my head?), finding the numbers that tell the rest of the story. A typical outcome went like this: an essay was first sent exclusively to one venue, which required a $3 fee. When that one said no, off it went to four others simultaneously (no fees); I withdrew the piece from the three I hadn't yet heard from as soon as one of the four said yes. But other pieces that made their simultaneous way round and round, sometimes added to the submission fee budget, though in a few cases, that was offset by payment. 

In future, I'm going to make it a habit to scour my submission stats this closely on a quarterly or at least semi-annually basis, instead of just skimming them along the way and waiting until January to look back carefully at an entire year.

I'd love to hear how other submitting writers handle tracking submissions and related stats.

Images: All Flickr/CreativeCommons. Submit - Amy[treespacestudio]Stats - SimonCunningham/LendingMemo;  Headache - PierreWillemin. 


Andrea said...

Thank god for Duotrope, or my submission tracking would be woefully, er, woeful. I once tried to keep a spreadsheet, but I never figured out how to set it up to my satisfaction and I rarely used it, so it is now defunct. I have finally started keeping a hand-written "spreadsheet" in my bullet journal, which I refer to far more often than my computer, with a page for each genre (nature, fiction, general cnf, books), and four simple columns: idea, WIP, ready to submit, possible venues. This is making me happy so far, and thanks to Duotrope, I know I've already made twice as many submissions this year than last.

Romilda Gareth said...
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