After a lifetime of writing, I’ve finally started actually submitting short stories for publication. (Yeah. Only took a few decades. Don’t follow my example, kids.) Writers tend to collect an awful lot of techniques and systems for the writing itself, but organizing around the business of writing can be a little harder for some of us to manage. In an effort to start strong with my record-keeping, I found myself on a whirlwind tour of submission tracking software and systems, so I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite options here. Everybody works differently: what keeps my ADHD-riddled brain on track might not work for someone else, so I’ve jotted down a few notes about how each one works, to help you find a method that works for you.
I’m starting here because after trying all the other options on this list, Trello is still my system of choice. After an initial learning curve — there are so many options that it’s a little overwhelming at first — I’ve wound up using Trello to organize just about everything in my creative life, from writers markets to story outlining to future blog topics. A robust system lets you organize everything you want however you want, with the option to use labels, tags, checklists, links, comments, files, photos, and just about anything else you might need. A built-in calendar lets you keep track of dates: when you submitted a story, when you can expect a response, when a market is opening or a submission call closing. Have a writing partner or accountability buddy? It’s a great platform for collaboration, too. There’s so much to dig into with Trello that I’ve built an extensive set of examples to help writers figure out the best way for them to set up their individual workflows. You can check out my blog post on the subject here, and find the examples here.
Pros: Endlessly customizable. Set up your own system, exactly the way you want it. Accessible with phone, table, laptop, ereader, etc., so you always have all your data with you whenever you need it. The fact that it’s cloud-based means you don’t lose all that work if you lose a device, either.
Cons: Endlessly customizable, so you really have to figure out how you want to use it. It does have some limitations and little things I wish I could customize further, but as it is it’s pretty darn perfect. For ideas on what you can do with it, check out my example set. This method also doesn’t allow you to track community data like average market response times the way other tools like Submission Grinder (see the next section below) do. Personally I use both Trello (as part of my general story development process) and Submission Grinder to track my submissions.
Price: Free, though you can also upgrade to a pro account for access to additional features. The free version is more than feature-filled enough for most individual users.
Submission Grinder has a robust market listing for short fiction and poetry markets, with excellent search options and a thorough tracking for your submissions. The interface looks a bit dated, but if you ask me the person running The Submission Grinder is an actual hero; the market listings are always up to date and thorough, everything’s easy to use, and it’s all blessedly free (though you’re certainly welcome to donate).
You can search for markets by genre, length, minimum pay, and other criteria. A couple of search features that make Submission Grinder stand out for me are the ability to search specifically for anthologies, for a certain minimum pay rate, and for market qualifications (like SFWA Recognized, Nebula or Hugo nominated/winning, etc). You can also search specifically for markets that accept reprints or simultaneous submissions.
Submission tracking from other users helps you estimate when you might hear back from a particular market, and one of the things I actually like the most is that the home page features a list of recent acceptances and rejections. I find it kind of nice to see those acceptances pop up in the list and always do a little mental “yay!” for those people; even though the rejections tend to be more numerous, as you’d expect, I still find it kind of motivating to see. Plus, it’s a great way to glance through a list of markets that may currently still be open, and spot some markets you might not have heard of before, before you click over to the next tab, “Recently Added Markets,” to see what’s new. Personally, I use Submission Grinder to find new markets, then add them to my own personal market list in Trello, but it’s probably a needlessly complicated system; I could just as easily just save my favorite markets in Submission Grinder and sort through them from there.
With the Grinder, and most of these other tools, you can keep track of your submissions in the same place where you’re finding your markets, which can be awfully handy. (In Trello, obviously, I’m keeping my records separately, but I also use Submission Grinder.)
Pros: Submission Grinder is free. It’s very simple and easy to get started with. Tracking your submissions here will help you quickly track not just what you’ve submitted but data built from the community’s data, like what average response times are for various markets.
Cons: It’s aimed specifically at writers of short fiction and poetry, so if you’re trying to shop something else, it might not be as helpful as other sites.
Duotrope is a full-featured hub for writers, where you can search for publishers and agents as well as tracking your submissions to those markets. This site works for both longer submissions like novels and novellas, and short fiction. To search for any kind of market, just go to the Search menu item and choose “Search for Publishers”. You can then make your search as specific as you’d like, to find markets by genre, style, length, and more. Despite a slicker interface, however, the search functionality here is a little less useful than Submission Grinder. If you want to search for science fiction, fantasy, and horror markets, for instance, you’d have to do a separate search for each genre, instead of being able to select multiple genres to search in. You can save your searches, however, which is a real time-saver.
The submission tracking process is pretty simple; you just add the story to the Your Pieces page, and then add which market you submitted to, and when, to the Your Submissions page. Data submitted by other users like you allows the system to tell you what the average response time for that market is, and when you might expect to have a response. (Obviously, it’s only a projection, not a guarantee.)
Pros: The interface is simple and modern, and it’s got plenty of features. You can also try it out for free for awhile, to see if you like it. It offers features and listings for more than just short fiction markets.
Cons: Really just that it’s not free, if you’d consider that a con. There are some search options that I think work a lot better on Submission Grinder, but really the two of them are very similar services with very similar functions.
Price: $5 per month or $50 per year.
4. Spreadsheets & Custom Databases
This is the preferred method for a lot of writers who just want a simple solution for tracking simple data. Personally, I’m extremely spreadsheet-averse in every part of my life, but spreadsheets seem to be one of the most popular ways to track submissions. You can determine for yourself what info you want to keep track of, give yourself a space for notes or a create a system where you rank markets by how much you like the cut of their jib. Whatever works for you. You can also make it as complex as you want to get, with all sorts of automated features that frankly, from my point of view, look like wizardry.
I haven’t found any examples of writers using database programs for this — though I’m sure they’re out there — but if you’re working with spreadsheets, you’re definitely not going it alone. Pre-made templates are available from Matt Bell, Ed Grabianowski, Jamie Todd Rubin, and probably others I haven’t stumbled across yet. Writer’s Digest also has Excel spreadsheets available for tracking a number of different things including pitches, payments, and queries.
Pros: Completely customizable; set it up however you want, add new columns and categories if you need to, it’s incredibly flexible.
Cons: You’ll need some spreadsheet or database skills, and you’ll have to figure out exactly how you want to set things up, since these aren’t pre-built systems.
Price: Free. For creating spreadsheets, Google Sheets (cloud based) or OpenOffice Calc (for computers) are good free options. Apps like Memento Database and PortoDB Database allow you to set up a completely custom, portable database that works for you.
If you’d rather not set up your own database system for tracking, you can get one that’s already set up for you. This app for iOS does the same sort of work as a spreadsheet or database, but it’s portable, it’s ready to go, and it gives you some different and useful ways for filtering/sorting and tracking your submissions. Story Tracker also has its own database of markets that you can access through the program itself, and can take you straight to further info like submission guidelines for the listed markets. I haven’t been able to try out this program personally because I’m not an iPhone user, but you can check out the app’s list of features and frequently asked questions to learn more.
Cons: There’s no app for non-iOS devices, and the other apps don’t automatically sync to one another, so if you purchase the version for your iPhone and the version for your Mac, they won’t automatically talk to each other. Your database can be backed up, and you can transfer data to and from your iOS and Mac using AirDrop, but it seems a little over-complicated. If you’re going to use it, going strictly for the iOS version seems like the best value and least complicated option.
Is one of these tools your favorite, or do you use another method entirely? I’d love to hear how you keep track of your submissions in the comments!