Aaron Gilbreath had a great essay on Tin House’s website about tracking lit mag submissions, which he has done on paper for years. He says, “It took years of tracking subs for me to realize that part of the charm of my paper system is the handwriting. I like the look of it. Not because it’s pretty–it’s barely legible–and not beucase it’s mine, but because it’s human. When you’re receiving form letter rejections addressed to ‘Dear Writer’ and signed by ‘The Editors,’ it’s nice to see the intimacy and warmth of handwritten text, something personal, even when it’s you writing to yourself.”
I completely get this. For years I’ve used these two sets of index cards for short story submissions:
They’re cross-listed with one set for story titles and one set for journals so I’ll know at a glance if a magazine has something and what stories are where. For years students have tried to talk me into Duotrope or at least a less pathetic excel sheet, but I’m with Gilbreath, it’s the personal touch of the index cards I must be drawn to, the old office efficency of index cards in a box.
Whatever your system, be sure you have one and you keep it up-to-date. Like Gilbreath says, “If you’re a submitter, two things are essential: order and efficiency.” It might seem unmatched to a writer’s temperament, but I know from working the other side of the desk that an editor is hoping to say yes and looking to say no. Don’t give them a reason as silly as you didn’t follow their guidelines.