Well it's tax time again and I'm here to tell you to do something I didn't do for the longest time -- and no, it's not making out a yearly check (sigh) to the IRS. I mean keeping track of what you're up to.
It may seem like a bit left brain for all you good right brain writers but keeping organized and maintaining accurate records is very important for a writer -- and not just to keep the audit wolves from huffing and puffing down your door your door.
As you write more and more stories -- and hopefully get more and more serious about sending them out -- keeping track of what went where and when becomes essential. Even the most left brain of you right brains can't always remember what story went to what editor and, most importantly, when it was sent out. Just to paint you a vivid picture, here's a common situation: you know you shipped off "Busty Nurses in Trouble" to Big Tit Magazine but can't remember when that was -- and so you sit longer than you should on the story and miss out on other opportunities. Or you don't remember what story you sent. Or you think you sent it off a long time ago -- and, pissed, you berate the editor only to realize you just sent the story off a week or two before. Red faces, for sure, but in this business a wrong impression can take a long time to wear off.
Instead of guessing or plowing through your sent email folder, it's much wiser to create a simple database or table or all your work and when/when/how/why and so forth it was sent you. For all your technophiles I suggest Excel, and for the Luddites I recommend a simple MSWord table. You don't need a lot of info for your records, but I've always found that more is always better. Or, I should say, since I learned to keep good records. There's a point to this, just be patient.
Here are some of the basics and why they are such a good idea:
- Story title: duh
- Words: because sometimes a market is only interested in stories of a certain length, or more/less than a certain length
- Subject Matter: I recommend a simple code, like "gay," "straight," "S/M," "Fetish," and so forth. The reason for this is once again certain markets want certain things, and it's way too easy to forget what you've written. You can also sort by this code in certain programs so you don't have to plow through record after record looking for a certain type of story. Just click and there they all are. Neat-o.
- Submitted When/Where: If you're like me and certain stories just won't sell then you'll need a lot of these, one for each unsuccessful attempt. It might be depressing to fill it out for the sixth or seventh time but it's better than sending the same story to the same agent twice. Trust me on this one.
- Published When/Where: Always a good idea to keep track, just in case a new market is not interested in reprints, or vice versa.
- Paid: It does happen -- believe it or not -- so it's good to keep track of how much (if anything) you got and when the check came. If you also want a real good cry just total up this field to see exactly how much you've made.
- Notes: For whatever else you want to say about a story.
The other kind of record keeping you should be mindful of should be obvious by the way I started this column: money -- coming in for sure but especially going out. Now I'm not an accountant and wouldn't even play one on television but I do know that you should keep track of everything and then let your professional play with it. Depending on your tax situation you can sometimes take as unlikely things like your ISP fees, all of your postage, DVD and CD purchases, mail box rentals, office furniture, and phone bills (and more) off your taxes. Like I said, it's really up to your accountant but if you don't keep good track of it all how are they even going to know where to start? Better to over-keep records than not at all.
How do I know? Well, I haven't been audited (knock on wood) but I have had the experience where I've sent a story to an editor only to have them reject it with a note: "I didn't like this the first time I read it." A big bummer and a lesson for writers everywhere -- especially me.