Is there anything you recommend writers do after their piece is published?
Many things—and my responses here are for individual pieces. What writers should do after (and before) book publication becomes another book, or at least another series of responses to questions like this.
After you publish an article, essay, poem, story, or other short piece, I recommend action in two main areas, roughly “external” and “internal.”
Think of this area as anything outside your workspace. Even though your article may appear in a small (even obscure) publication, off- or online, it’s still an accomplishment and a credit. So, consider these aspects after your piece is published.
Write to the Accepting Editor: I think writers often take editors for granted. Editors have a hard job too, and they often must plant themselves in sterile cubicles surrounded by piles of submissions and impossible lists of tasks and deadlines. So, on publication, and after I’ve gotten the check and complimentary copies and bought another two dozen myself, I like to write the editor.
With thanks for the fee and issues, I also praise (a) something about my article (other than the brilliant writing). Possibilities: the crisp layout or a photo that captures the essence of the piece, and one or two other things about the issue. This may be another author’s particularly helpful column, a moving poem, or an article that taught me something new.
Sometimes the editors reply with gratitude, sometimes they don’t. Whether or not they respond, I always feel good writing these notes. I believe they will feel appreciated and, even subliminally, hold a special place for you in their hearts and article planning boards.
Tell Everyone: We writers may have a hard time self-promoting, especially if our piece appears in a publication no one but four depressed poets have ever heard of. Nevertheless, publication—any publication—is cause for pride (the good kind) and declaration.
So, practice. You can be casual but purposive, in person or on the phone.
Your friend: “Hi, how are you!”
You: “Great, thanks [don’t stop], and my latest news is that my essay on how not to let your child get in the way of your writing is published this month in Parenting Away."
Now: Wait for the congratulations. Then lower your eyes, smile a little, and murmur, “Thank you . . . so much.”
Create your own variations—it will get easier, more natural, and you’ll be getting excellent practice for when your master tome hits the bookstores.
Keep Good Records: We may scoff or groan at what seems like an accountant mentality about keeping records. After all, we’re creative. But, the greatest artists in every field can’t function without lists—of paint, brushes, solvents, notebooks, printer cartridges, pens, chisels, mud, mixing bowls, music paper, not to mention computer folders and files and somewhat organized places to park supplies for quick access in creative sessions we’ve planned or that descend on us with ferocious urgency.
Your system of cascading post-its may have been good enough for the acceptances you got once a year. But now you’re publishing more regularly (!). It’s not wise to rely on your memory or those scraps that can whirl like a tornado at the first sneeze. So . . .
Track Your Pieces. As you send out your work, keep track of what and where.
Various types of software are available for tracking. Free systems include SAMM (http://www.sandbaggers.8m.com/samm.htm) and Writer’s Database (http://www.simonkewin.co.uk/writedb.htm). Fee-paid systems can be found at The Working Writer (http://dolphinsoftware.bc.ca/software/writers/index.html) and WritersMarket.com.
Study what these offer and see whether they’re too simple, complex, or totally unfathomable. Browse the Internet also for others; use keywords such as “writers’ tracking tools,” “writing query tracker,” and “software tracking for writers.”
After studying several types of tracking software, you may choose to create your own system. Many writers use Microsoft Excel. I’m allergic to Excel and so designed simple Microsoft tables, one for each year, with columns that make sense to me (important consideration), and the entries in reverse chronological order. Here’s a sample:
*Rejected. If you want a more positive cast, use “NTT”—“Not Today, Thanks.”
Keep a List of Credits. Please curb the groans. A list of credits can be
invaluable, and the sooner you start the less you’ll have to catch up with. Think of this list as your writing resume. As you publish more, you can add to it (a great confidence booster).
I’ve arranged mine, again in reverse chronological order, by year and month. Each entry lists the name of the piece, the publication, volume, issue, date, and, if the piece was published on the Web, the URL. You can also order your list by genre—poems, essays, articles.
And . . . I added a delicious section labeled “To Be Published.” Even if you have no entries right now, add this heading at the top of your list, and think of it as your affirmation of what will take place.
Keep Good Clips: In the table above, notice the comment in the first entry in “Comments.“ At the magazine’s request, I whipped off two sample clips of previous work. They were in my “Sample Clips” folder, nicely labeled by title, number of words, and date. Like your list of credits, your collection of clips has many uses (another article).
B.C. (Before Computers), I laboriously made hard copies of my articles at the local copy shop and tucked them into a file in one of my file cabinets. Today, electronics trump xerox.
If your article has been published in a hard-copy-only publication, take an issue and scan the article into your computer (labeled properly, of course). Most of the time, the “scan document” choice works well, even with some graphics and an illustration. Otherwise, you can use “scan picture.” Aim for the sharpest image of the article. Scanning the article as a pdf (which should be one of your scanner’s choices) is the most versatile.
Speaking of the pdf, portable document format—this is an unsung electronic miracle! The software converts anything to a pdf—meaning that a “picture” is taken of your work, saved, and cannot be altered. So, if your article was published online only, in a journal or blog (like this one), summon the pdf .
The most well-known pdf software suite is Adobe Acrobat. You can get various packages with different levels of sophistication for a range of prices. Adobe it is excellent, always upgrading, and with many tools for manipulating your pdfs (kind of fun too, but that’s another article).
Other pdf converters, called writers, are available and they are fine—and free. Two I use are Nitro PDF Reader and Creator (http://www.nitroreader.com/) and CutePDFWriter (http://www.cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp). Whatever software you download, play around with it and you’ll get to know how to use it. With a pdf writer, you can transform your articles (and documents) into this form to store, copy, send, print, and cherish forever.
To Conclude, For Now
All of these steps and suggestions may seem like a lot, although maybe you’re doing some of them already. Once you recognize the importance of both the external and internal après-pub steps, you’ll be more willing to give them the necessary time. When you decide on and set up your systems, I promise it will get easier.
And faster than a Nitro pdf, more elating than an editor’s “Yes!" you’ll be doing all the right things with your articles after you publish and publish and publish.
© 2011 Noelle Sterne
Bio: Noelle Sterne is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, a writing coach, and a spiritual counselor, with over 250 pieces in print and online venues. Holding a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has conducted an academic coaching and editing practice for over 28 years. In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, Summer 2011), she uses examples from her practice and other aspects of life in applying practical spirituality to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle’s website at www.trustyourlifenow.com