Successful freelance writers are organized and efficient. They don’t waste time looking up which pitches they’ve sent and which still need to be polished to go out. They don’t have to look up an editor’s name and contact information every time they want to re-pitch a publication.
This system isn’t an accident; they use tools to track their pitches, ideas and contacts — tools that help them land better freelance writing jobs and make more money. For many of them, the tool of choice is a spreadsheet.
This spreadsheet is different than one you might use to track your daily word count or work toward other writing goals, but you can use these tools in tandem to boost your productivity as a writer.
Want to create your own spreadsheet to track your writing pitches, acceptances and contacts? Here’s how to make this system work for you.
How to create a spreadsheet to track your pitches
Whether you track your work using Excel or Google Spreadsheets, the process is the same. Alyssa Martino, an MFA student at the University of New Hampshire whose work has appeared in several travel publications and Narrative.ly, uses a spreadsheet that includes both pitches and finished pieces that she’s submitted.
You’ll want columns for Title, Date, Publication and Result, and Martino also recommends including columns for the editor’s name and email address. “It’s a good reminder to seek out a particular editor to pitch, rather than just a general address,” she points out. This strategy also makes it easier to follow up with the editor if you haven’t heard back after a few weeks.
Make your spreadsheet work for you
Successful writers have learned how to tweak their spreadsheets to make them more useful and efficient, and to better support their work.
Martino uses color coding to show pieces that have been accepted, rejected, and are waiting for a response. “If you’re submitting multiple pieces to multiple publications, it’s easy to forget and mistakenly submit twice or miss a crucial follow-up,” she explains. Editors are busy people, and you want to present yourself and your work professionally.
Color-coding is not only a helpful reminder about which pieces need a follow-up — it’s also a fun way to keep you motivated to submit work, check in with editors and celebrate your success. As Alyssa says, “it’s secretly exciting to highlight a new due date or acceptance in a bright, bold color.”
If you do multiple types of writing — for example, short fiction as well as nonfiction blog posts — you may want to track them on separate tabs of your spreadsheet. Or you may find it easier to look at all your writing accomplishments in one place. The point is, do what works best for your writing practice, business and goals.
Pitch better, faster
Use your spreadsheet as a motivational tool. Craig Robert Brown, a contributor to The Sound and a humor/fiction writer, says that his spreadsheet helped him get over a fear of submitting. “I grew addicted to filling in the cells with information about my work being sent out into the world,” he writes.
His spreadsheet also helped Brown to resubmit his work when it was rejected. “Yes, I got rejected a lot,” he says, “and I think those [rejections] in addition to my desire to fill that spreadsheet really motivated [me] to get over myself” and keep sending out work to new journals and magazines.
Martino tracks rejections in her spreadsheet as well, and always follows up with editors. “When I receive a rejection, I often reach out to the editor afterwards, asking, ‘Is there anything I can do to make your reconsider? A different angle or focus?’ I try to make it clear that I’m willing to make revisions to fit the style and needs of the publication,” she explains.
In the best case, that No turns into a Yes with a few tweaks to the original piece. Even if she doesn’t get a yes, Martino often receives valuable feedback that can help her make the pitch more attractive to other editors.
Whether she hears feedback or not, Martino uses her spreadsheet to reframe those rejected pitches for new publications, similar to C. Hope Clark’s recommended “keep 13 pitches in play” strategy.
Make using your pitch spreadsheet a habit
For a spreadsheet to be effective, both writers agree that you need to update it frequently. As soon as a rejection comes in, record it; don’t archive or delete the email until you put it into your spreadsheet.
Use a column for “Notes” to write down any responses you get from editors, and use this feedback to improve your next pitch. As soon as you send out a new pitch, record all the relevant details and highlight it in your chosen “waiting for response” color.
Alyssa recommends starting a new spreadsheet every few weeks or months, so that you don’t have to continuously scroll through all of your pitches to get to the most current ones. You might also try recording new pitches at the top of the spreadsheet, instead of at the bottom, or you might enjoy seeing all of your work in one place. Experiment to find what works best for you.
When your spreadsheet becomes a habit, it becomes something more: affirmation that you are progressing towards your writing goals. A spreadsheet is proof positive that you are a working writer. As Craig puts it, “it shows I’m taking this seriously, that I’m putting in this effort outside of the writing and editing.”
Want a free pitch spreadsheet template to get you started?
If you don’t already have a system of your own, or you hate the idea of making your own spreadsheet, download my spreadsheet to try for yourself. I’ve polished it up with bright colors and easy instructions, so that even the most spreadsheet-averse among you will be unable to resist.
Try it for three weeks and see if you get addicted to filling in those cells. Pretty soon, you’ll feel motivated to submit your work regularly, follow up on unanswered pitches and watch your acceptance and publications stack up. Happy writing!
Do you track your writing pitches and submissions with a spreadsheet? Or do you prefer a different system?