I had to mention submission trackers since this is something I have struggled to make work for me. When I started submitting stories to magazines a couple of years back, I mostly emailed my work, and if I needed to refer back to check the date or market of a submission (to write query letters, for example), I simply checked my sent mail.
However, as my number of stories grew, and I began doing multiple subs, I found that I needed a more sophisticated method of checking my submissions. I tried using a spreadsheet, but found that after submitting work, I forgot to update my tracker. This ended in a couple of almost sticky situations where I simultaneously submitted work, unaware that the same pieces were being considered by different markets at the same time. Thankfully, in those cases, I was rejected and hence, off the hook – phew!
Through trial and error, I found a submission tracker that works for me – a table which I keep in my filofax and update by hand – that way I can do it on the go. I now use 5 columns: the title of the work, the market it was sent to, the date it was sent, the response (either a tick or a cross and the date), and how it was submitted (electronically or by post). This helps me to keep a check on my query letters, or subs that have slipped through my hands. At the side of the table, I keep a note of the word count for each story, so that I make sure I don’t send something that is either too short or too long to the wrong market – no point alienating editors, and looking unprofessional at the same time.
My advice to writers starting out in the business is to find something that works for you, but not be too hasty about getting your work out there. Slow and methodical is always best – plus it gives you time to really go over your work with a fine toothed-comb and make sure there are no grammar or punctuation errors.