Are you a freelance writer? Then you must admit you're also a juggler. As busy freelance writers, we juggle several tasks -- writing, rewriting, editing, re-slanting, reading the latest news and information from writing-related magazines and newsletters, checking out new markets, updating our files, and more.
It's easy to get confused or lost in this throng of activity -- especially about market information. If you're not satisfied with your present filing system, maybe you could find something you could adapt from other writers' methods.
One important thing to keep in mind while organizing your files is the time involved. One new freelancer said, '[I keep] each market as a separate folder in which I keep the guidelines and some sample stories (I download samples from Web sites and then copy-paste them into a Word file, adding on top of each, a word count). In that market folder, I also keep a .doc file with a "profile"--where I put in my comments on the language style, the target audience, etc.' She maintains a paper file for print publications with similar personal comments.
A few others, too, had such involved techniques to keep their market files in order. While these are good methods, they demand a lot of time and manual work. You may not be able to afford this kind of time later when you're more established and busy with deadlines and assignments, leading such a file system to become disorderly. So think of a system that needs minimum effort from you while giving you what you need at once.
Of all the methods that writers mentioned they used, this seems to be one of the most convenient and efficient ones. Create folders and sub-folders on your computer along these lines:
You could make further sub-folders within the ones you work most with. For example, if you specialize in Health topics, your Health folder could have sub-folders for Diabetes, Heart, Weight-loss, and so on.
Apart from the guidelines of the market, we also want to be able to quickly know what kind of pay it offers. Some writers divide each category folder into three -- High pay, Medium Pay, Low Pay, and arrange the markets into these.
Others have sub-folders for the kind of rights they can sell: First, Electronic, and Reprints.
I maintain one folder in each category called "Dead/No Response" where I move any markets that go out of publication, don't respond, or those that have been warned about (for non-payment, misuse of rights, etc.). Instead of deleting these markets, I keep them so that I don't waste time re-acquiring guidelines or looking up the Web site when the publication is mentioned in a newsletter or magazine.
You could use a combination of paper and computer, like many writers do. Alfred PM, a technical writer from Bangalore, India, said, "I have 3x5 index cards and I write the market name on the top, market type (fiction, non-fiction) in brackets and then the guidelines, contact info, payment etc. in the body of the card. Most of them fit on the card if you write the important stuff." He transfers most markets that he receives via e-mail to the index cards as well.
Quite a few freelance writers use Microsoft Outlook Express to organize their markets. Sharon Wren, a humor writer from Illinois said, "I keep a separate folder in Outlook Express labeled 'markets'. When I receive a market that looks promising, I put it in the folder. I keep a hard copy folder of markets that come from my writing lists and my hard copy market books are on my desk."
Some writers use punch files or folders, labeled and color-tabbed, to arrange the guidelines they receive on paper, or print out the ones they get by e-mail. One of the advantages of this type of filing system is that you can make notes on the paper or jot down story ideas on a Post-it note and stick it on the appropriate page. Marking the payment or rights purchased information with a highlighter does away with the need for further sub-categories.
To reduce confusion in my markets folder on the computer, I type the date and the name of the source from which I get a market below the listing. It's a quick thing to do, and helps avoid the waste of time involved in rechecking facts when I have two files for the same market with contradictory information. It also helps identify which resources provide the most useful, accurate and updated information. Most of us subscribe to several free newsletters that actually offer the same set of markets with a few changes in the arrangement of facts. Save the repeated reading time by eliminating a few of those subscriptions and keeping only the most useful ones that you've thus identified.
Determining when we got a piece of market information is not difficult -- right-click on the file and you see the Created and Modified dates. However, writing down the date along with the listing is useful in case of system crashes or other computer problems.
If you're subscribed to an online database like Wooden Horse Publishing or Writersmarket.com, you may feel that you always have the latest version of market information to refer to, but this need not be the ultimate reference either. You may come across a market listing once in a while that does not match the guidelines in the database because of a delay in updating it. For example, Writersmarket.com said (at the time of writing this article) that Highlights for Children pays $100 and up for fiction, but I received the latest guidelines card from the magazine saying that they pay a minimum of $150 for fiction.
While these sites are valuable references for writers, it's always better to have your own set of market files alongside, and at least one good market book that you can refer to without straining your eyes in front of a monitor. Just before sending out a submission or query, verify the guidelines and contact person's name from the publication itself.
You need to choose a method of filing that suits your way of working. As Moira Allen, Editor of Writing-World.com, says, "Organization isn't about neatness; it's about whatever works best for the individual."