"How do you go about submitting your work? Do you have a system for keeping track of markets and/or pieces you've sent out?" --Ali
She asked this like it would have a simple answer....
What I do, when I'm looking to send stories out, is I first browse through various market sites (for some great resources, check out the links in "Where to Find Markets). A lot of them recommend reading an issue before submitting, and I completely concur with that advice. It makes it a lot easier to 'get' what they're looking for. However, there are some ways to get ideas for the right market without paying for 2,000 subscriptions.
1. Check out the websites. Most have at least one sample story--and here's a clue: they don't pick ones that are weak for their example...
2. Look at the "Best of..." and "O. Henry" anthologies. See what stories are from what magazines. This is the best of the fiction that's being published, again they are practically handing you exactly what they are looking for.
3. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES! They are not lying to you. They are not trying to bluff you. They are telling you what they want. Do it. If it's not for them, don't waste your time, your postage, or their future good graces.
Once I've browsed through--making notes on a scrap piece of paper regarding what story should be sent to what market--I write a cover letter. I paper clip the letter to the story that I'm sending to that market. (There are one or two magazines that flip out over paper clips, but don't worry, they'll tell you in the guidelines--but don't staple anything.) If it's an e-query, I note it on my scrap paper and save everything together on the computer. So, basically, I organize everything together.
Then I have an Excel spreadsheet where I have a different tab for each of my stories. Every time I send one out I note the following:
1. Name and address of the magazine, and the website if it has one
2. Name of the editor I addressed the letter/envelope to
3. Date I sent the work off
4. Magazine's estimated response time
I also have spaces for when the work comes back:
5. Date I received reply
6. Editor who actually responded
7. Whether or not it was accepted
8. Whether or not it was a form response--if there are sweet little notes like "Send us more!" then I make sure that the magazine is up top the next time I do a mailing.
I also mark whether or not it's a simultaneous submission, so I know that I can keep sending a story out if I want to. It's important when doing simultaneous submissions to keep track of who is who because if the story is accepted somewhere, you'd better talk to the other people fast...so they don't hate you. Generally, those magazines asking for exclusivity (read: no simultaneous submissions) are faster than those who allow them...but not always, so you have to keep on them. After their alloted review time is up (it's in the guidelines...), write them to follow up--politely, don't be a jerk. Sometimes things do get lost in the mail.