I first began grappling with the Hydra which is getting published in 2000. Fresh out of college, I set about sending off my work in the hope of seeing my writing in print. Once a month I sat down to assemble submissions which in that day meant getting out my high quality yet plain stationary, looking up names and addresses, making sure I had plenty of stamps, and creating a query letter, sample, SASE combo to be sent out into the great wide world. Then I would enter the information (who, what, when, where) into my Excel spreadsheet and try to forget about all the submissions to keep from fixating. As rejections (or on rare occasion, revisions or acceptance letters) came in, I would update the spreadsheet. The next month I’d do it all again with different names and/or stories. It was the way of the fledgling writer.
Now, the world of the writer has been transformed into an entirely different animal. The internet has allowed niche, genre, indie, and online only publications to survive without the costs of having to physically print their wares. For writers, the submission process has evolved in our favor. Most publications accept at least email submissions; many have online submission managers that allow the writer to track the progress of their submission. Gone are the days of wondering if the work was ever received. Sending out simultaneous submissions is much more cost effective (basically the cost of your internet provider). Finding the right editor or agent to address your work to is a snap as most publishers/journals/agencies keep updated websites that guide the would be submitter. Many of those agents and editors also have blogs or FAQ pages where they talk about what they look for and provide tips on how to make a positive impression.
On the downside, email makes it more tempting to badger publishers and agents about the status of a submission. Most sites implore writers not to do this; they may even give a time period after which it becomes okay to query about the work. Email cover letters and submissions lend themselves to an informal tone and more typographical errors. It is essential to remember that even when emailing the rules of etiquette and grammar should apply. Always proof the email before hitting send, especially checking that the file is attached (if applicable). Having to send an “Oops! I Forgot the Actual Story” follow up email doesn’t make the strongest initial impression.
Despite all these advances, some things still remain the same. A writer must know the needs and tastes of the publication before they submit. Research is key: reading the journal or other books by that publisher, reading any interviews with the publisher, looking closely at their guidelines.
I have recently started using Duotrope, a free submission manager. What’s great about this site is that not only does it keep track of your submissions, it allocates much of the research needed to one place. There are overviews of thousands of publications, their policies, their current submission periods, and often interviews with the editor(s) of the publication. Especially helpful is the weekly email that tells who is now looking for what, what contests are open, what publications are defunct, and so forth. So far I have found it incredibly useful. For the moment I am still using my trusty Excel spreadsheet–it’s simple, but it works for me.