Making a Living as a Writer: CWIM and Storing Information Efficiently

I just got the mail and found the 2016 edition of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market there. Yay! I’ve probably owned 15-20 different editions of this market guide, and I’m proud to share that both Lisa and I (along with Vijaya Bodach and JoAnn Early Macken) were interviewed by Carmela Martino as part of her article “Make a Living as a Writer.” I can’t wait to read the whole article–and all the other terrific articles and interviews.

And, I’ve been thinking about other aspects of making a living as a writer, and one best practice I want to share is that you need to figure out a way to gather, store, and easily retrieve disparate bits of information.

If you are a career writer, you will find yourself doing the same thing over and over again at different times, for different clients. Eventually, when you find yourself digging for that same information a-GAIN, you will sigh and say, “Why didn’t I make a better record of that?”

So, as soon as you realize you’re re-doing work you’ve done before (hunting down an email with samples of your short nonfiction pieces, for instance), figure out what you need to keep, and what the best format is to keep it in.

Here are just a few kinds of information I access repeatedly:

  • my submission records–who did I send to whom, and when, and what was their response
  • which editors work at which publishers
  • what short pieces I’ve sold, and which rights (I could get in big trouble if I sold or even put on my blog a piece that I’ve sold all rights to a testing company, for instance)
  • contact information for other writers in a certain genre
  • picture book ideas

Today, I needed to submit some ideas to a specific client for 5th-grade poems, informational passages, and literary passages. Over the years, I have submitted so many ideas to so many publishers! But what did I have to do? Spend more than an hour digging through old emails, old Word documents, and my database of sold short passages to determine which ones this client had already seen and declined and which ones had perhaps been sold elsewhere since the time I wrote the old email or Word document. SO inefficient. I have to do a lot cross-checking, too, because I often write about the same topic in different forms or angles for different clients. (You do that, right? It’s only efficient to make great use of your research work!)

As I worked, I poured all the ideas that I could round up into one Word document. My next step will be to create a database of Passage Ideas. I’ll be able to sort it by form (poem, informational, literary), by topic (keyword and also general content area, so that if a publisher wants, say, a science piece, I can sort by science), and by companies who have already seen and declined the topic. That will make my life easier in the long run. And as I come across interesting ideas, I will not only bookmark the online article (if there is one), but I’ll drop the idea into the database.

I’m half tickled at the thought of the time I’ll save. And I’m half irritated that I didn’t do this 3 years ago. Honestly!

Writing ideas down on napkins or stuffing business cards into your wallet at conferences may be time-honored traditions, but it’s sure not easy to find those ideas or contact names when you need them two years down the road!

Is there some area of your writing career that could benefit from a central storage place?



About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
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