The image is a notebook with a pair of spectacles on top. A writing pen is nearby. In the near distance are more notebooks.

My Poetry Submissions System

My system for keeping tracks of poetry submissions is a spreadsheet-free zone. It involves paper, pen and coloured pencils. It isn’t for everyone but it works for me and I thought I’d share it with you.

First, I keep track of all of my submissions in a little book. It was a freebie from a Poetry School stand at Aldeburgh Festival in 2015. Inside the book, for each submission, I write the date, the name of each poem I’m including, the name of the magazine/anthology/publisher/competition I’m submitting to, and the approximate date I should hear back (most places give an estimate of how long this will take). Once I’ve heard back, I colour the poems either green (if accepted) or red (if declined). In this way, all of my poems, and their outcomes, are collected together in one paper document.

Because I’m working towards a collection of poems, that is, I hope in time to publish many of my current poems together in a book or pamphlet, I’ve recently added another feature to my submissions system – a single sheet of paper divided into boxes. In each box I write the name of poem I’m working on, even if it’s not quite finished. Poem titles might not be finished, either, and are certainly not yet set in stone. Once the poems are more or less finished, I shade the box blue. If I receive an acceptance, I shade the box green. In this way, I can see on one page all of my current poems and how they might sit together as a collection. I keep this sheet of paper on the wall behind my desk.

There are some poems in my little book, even ones written several years ago now, that have not seen the light of day in any magazine or book or competition. Perhaps they never will. But, of course, they are still available to me for general plundering – a line or two, or a title – you never know when a poem will complete itself.

Now that I’ve shared my system, I realise how messy it looks. I can’t apologise, it’s a system that works for me. How about you? Are you a spreadsheet person or do you, like me, prefer pen, paper and shading in colours? Or perhaps you have an even messier or even more organised system. Do spill the beans – but be careful not to spill any over your poems.

10 thoughts on “My Poetry Submissions System”

  1. I do the same as you and write everything in a book. I hate spreadsheets. I’ve used the book method from the start. However, last year I began using index cards as well. This works well when I have to submit again to another publication. I can see straightaway where the poem has been before. If you think your book looks messy, you should see mine!

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    1. Haha! I might have to include index cards – especially as I’ve recently begun to simultaneously submit (never done this before) to more than one place. I can see the great advantage of spreadsheets but I’m so fond of my pen and paper!

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  2. I have a spreadsheet with details of blog posts including my poems and of the few other places they may have appeared. I have not submitted most of them anywhere, but I keep a submissions file (word document) with details of any writing I submit and the outcome. I can see the advantage of your system, Josephine, especially if you write all your poems on paper first. I have written some of mine straight onto the computer.

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    1. I don’t think it matters where you write your poems, since the submissions are completely different. I tend to start off with pen and paper but transition to the computer – and of course all final drafts are on the computer. I suppose I like keeping a paper record of submissions without a need to switch on the laptop!

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  3. Great to have an insight into your system, Josephine, thanks for spilling your beans :-). I use neither notebooks nor a spreadsheet to keep track of submissions, instead I have a system of Word doc files within files within files: the top layer is titled simply ‘Poetry’ then within it another titled ‘Submissions’ and within it a Word doc titled for each magazine I submit to. Inside each of these, I just keep a running list – top-down – of the date and list of poems submitted, and when I get an Acceptance or Rejection I mark that next to the title of the poem, along with the anticipated publication date. Elsewhere in my ‘Submissions’ file is a Word doc of Available Poems which I keep updated at the same time – removing titles from the list as they are accepted, and adding the title, magazine and publication date to a running para at the bottom. Reading this back it all sounds uber complicated but actually it;s very easy to use!

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  4. Yes, my ‘system’ is similar to yours, non-spreadsheet and involving red and green for acceptance or decline. It occurs to me there’s no need to turn the business of poetry into a miserable desk chore!

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  5. I use a spreadsheet so I can easily see which poems are currently ‘out there’ and where (unshaded), where they’ve been rejected (pink-filled) and how many times they’ve been submitted. Accepted poems are shaded green and moved to the top with the other lucky ones. I also keep a Word doc of published poems with magazine issue numbers/dates. I’m always interested to hear what works for other writers so thanks for sharing your system, Joesphine 🙂 x

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