Making it as a writer: Tracking your queries
By Alicia de los Reyes
A few weeks ago, I was working on an article about tracking pitches using a spreadsheet. Midway through my draft, I took a break to look at my own spreadsheet.♥
My spreadsheet, a Google Doc, is where I keep notes on all the pitches I have sent out, whether they are non-fiction pitches (usually, asking a publication to give me the OK to write a story), fiction submissions (my story is complete and I am simply asking for publication), or queries (polite pleas to agents to represent my work —now no longer needed).
This spreadsheet keeps track of everything “out” and I update it religiously. I don’t archive a rejection from my inbox until it’s recorded; I celebrate an acceptance with purple highlighter. My spreadsheet, in addition to keeping me on track, is a record of everything I’ve done so far with my writing. I’m proud at how far down you have to scroll to get to the end.
So, as I was scrolling through my spreadsheet, checking for boxes that hadn’t been updated in a while, I noticed that I had last pitched the blog network Patheos three weeks prior. Three weeks is about the cut-off for an acceptable non-response in non-fiction; often, a non-fiction publication will say “If you haven’t heard from us in three weeks, X.” X might be “you can consider it a pass” or “please feel free to follow up”.
Three weeks is also an acceptable time to follow up if even if there are no guidelines listed on the site — at least, in the non-fiction world. Fiction has much longer deadlines; 2-3 months or more seems to be the norm (in my experience) for a response.
(This is understandable; most fiction journals are volunteer-run, while non-fiction publications tend to make money. Fiction journals also tend to get many more submissions than non-fiction, and non-fiction publications publish more often (especially mainstream monthly magazines), meaning their appetite for new writers is necessarily greater.)
All this to say: I needed to follow up with Patheos.
I sent off a quick email to the editor (“Just wanted to check in and make sure you had gotten this…”) with my original pitch attached. I wasn’t expecting anything: Patheos is a very large multi-religion blog network, and the people I aspired to rub blogging elbows with are well-established bloggers in their own right, many with theology degrees I’ve never even heard of.
But guess what? I got in [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/surprisingfaith].
Last time, I wrote about persistence. But persistence is a value, and without a concrete plan to be persistent, it might remain something you firmly believe in but do nothing about.
My spreadsheet makes it easier — or even possible — for me to be persistent. I seriously doubt that I would have remember to follow up with Patheos had I not recorded the date on my spreadsheet.
Why? As writers, we keep a lot of balls in the air. Whether you are submitting short stories, pitching mainstream glossies, or querying agents about your first novel, you should be doing it often. I shoot for 3-4 “serious” pitches (with in-depth ideas, reporting, and some research done) to non-fiction outlets each month, plus a few “smaller” pitches (to writing websites, other bloggers, and smaller outlets) each month. (I should try to pitch more, but that’s what I consistently find I have time for with life and work to balance.) I try to resubmit my fiction to 5-6 new journals each time it is rejected.
I would not be able to keep track of any of this without my spreadsheet.
Though much of writing craft focuses on how to be a better writer, a lot of the game of getting published is being a polite writer. The rules for fiction and non-fiction responses, as I mentioned above, are different. Stepping on an editor’s toes, even inadvertently, can mean your pitch or story is ignored, no matter how well-written it is.
There are dozens of resources out there for how to query an agent, pitch a non-fiction publication, and submit short stories. But the key is to keep doing it. A spreadsheet makes it easier to avoid re-pitching the same publication, following up too quickly/not at all, and pitching too many places at once. It also makes it easier to keep track of editors’ names, responses, and feedback you can use next time.
Looking for a spreadsheet of your own? I shared a link to mine here. You can download it, fill it with your own information, and update it whenever you get a response.
And guess what? You’re suddenly, magically, persistent.
Alicia de los Reyes is the Seattle-based author of DIY Chick Lit: A Writing Guide and DIY Writing Retreat: A Guide to Getting Away. She is working on a non-fiction book about a year in an evangelical church. Find more of her writing at aliciadelosreyes.com.