Saturday, August 11, 2007

Charting Your Course

by Lu Ann Staheli

If you are serious about becoming published, then you are following my previous advice and sending lots of submissions. Keeping track of what you send, where you send it, and the response you receive is important, but there are more ways to track your history and chart a course for success.

Before I share my charts, let me give you an idea how to set up a workable format. First, create a computer file where you will keep these charts together. Next, as you begin each chart, set up the page layout to landscape instead of portrait. Each file will use a table, but the number of columns depends on your personal preferences. I’ll offer suggestions, but the choice is yours.

Currently, I am using five different charts, each with their own importance to me. I’ll share my ideas with you, and I hope you’ll find some of them useful as you develop your own charts that will keep you on course with your writing career.

1. Submissions Log: The main headings I use on this chart are Submission Date, Project Title, Publisher, Editor, Response/Date, but I also record specific notes such as e-mail or snail mail submission, SASE, query, cover letter, synopsis, or sample chapters, how long before a response is expected, and notes from the editor upon return response. This helps me know what my next step needs to be with this piece and the editor.

2. Idea Chart: If you’re anything like me, you have more ideas than you’ll ever be able to write about in a lifetime. I got tired of having sticky notes, scraps of paper, entries in notebooks and all sorts of other places with writing ideas scratched onto them, so I set up a three columned chart where I record the project idea, the format I think it will take, and some notes about a fleshed out idea, if I know that at this stage. This gives me a quick place to go when I want to record and idea or when I need a topic to write about.

3. Markets Chart: I read several publications that I would like to write for. I also subscribe to professional publications that announce markets. Although I have a current edition of Writer’s Market, this chart allows me to keep track of some very specific places I might send my own work. My columns are labeled Markets, Details, and Payment. Keeping this information helps me know which market to target for a particular idea or manuscript without having to research each time.

4. Agents/Editors: This chart is a quick place for me to check what agents and editors are out there, currently working and waiting to hear from me. I keep their house and mailing addresses here too, and update the listings when Publisher’s Weekly, SCBWI, or Children’s Writer list a move for an agent or editor.

5. Reading Log: As a teacher I require my students to keep track of what they read. I keep track of my own reading as well, and I’ve found this to be not only revealing about my habits as a reader, but it points me toward becoming a better writer, too. This chart records the date I finished the book, title, author, number of pages, and genre. As I review this list, I recognize which authors draw me in more than once. What books I read quickly. Which were agonizingly long to get through. Were there books that I abandoned? Answers to these questions cause me to focus on my own writing. What would someone else discover about themselves if they were reading my book?

Whatever charts you decide to keep, make sure you use them to help you not only see where you have been, but as a place to chart the course where you intend to go to as a writer.


Carla Gade said...

Thank you for this great info, advice, and encouragement!

Anonymous said...

Great ideas. I have a spreadsheet that I keep track of all of my submissions (and rejections). Even when a couple of years have passed, it's fun to go back and see how much I've progressed.

Jon Bard said...

On the subject of charts -- we've got some free charts to track your submission and other writing expenses. They're in PDF format.

You can find them at


Jon Bard,

Janette Rallison said...

Wow. I'm really impressed that you do all of that!

Annette Lyon said...

Aside from keeping organized, there's just something about writing what you've done and checking it off that's so motivating. Great ideas.