Last week I ended up in my basement searching for something. I found a box of stuff from my desk at the previous house, and I pulled out a journal-type book a friend (a multipublished SFF author) had given me right after I got my first publication contract. She said, "Record everything here, that way you'll always have the information handy."
I'd dutifully followed her instructions...for the first four publications. And then afterward, well, I'm not too good at remembering to do things like that. Organization, people. Organization. (Which is why you may have noticed this blog post is about four hours late going up. Organization.)
So there I was in the basement, this piece of my past in hand, and I paged through it. My first novel. A short story I'd published right after that. A short story in an anthology. And then...
And then a story I'd forgotten I had published at all.
Now I remembered the story. It was a flash humor piece, jotted down in about two hours, worked over for another few weeks, submitted...and if you'd asked me before that moment, I'd have said rejected.
Instead I found myself looking at a page with a magazine name, an issue number, and which pages the story appeared on. Which means not only did it get accepted for publication, but it got published, and somewhere I must have a copy of this issue. Only I had no clue it had ever happened.
(This is the point where my lovely literary agent may be wishing my mother had locked me in the basement and never allowed me access to the postal system.)
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume I'm not the only writer who has organization problems. For me this was not really an issue: I never tried to republish the story, but you can see where if I had, two magazines claiming first rights to a story might both get a little ticked off at the author with a memory problem. That's not even going into the legal problems that would arise if there was major money involved. (I assume the market paid under $50 for my flash humor story. Maybe under $5. I don't remember.)
Therefore, I will tell you what my wise publishing friend told me. First, find a place where you will record everything. Everything. If you get a letter to the editor into the paper, you will record it there. Guest blogging? Speaking to your friend's son's high school class? You will record it there. My friend gave me a blank journal because we were in the early 1990s, but you might feel a spreadsheet is the better way to go. (I like the blank book idea, though. It makes it feel special-er. Like history in the making.)
You will record:
- the title
- the publisher, along with its location (whether it's West Cupcake, VA or http://awesomemarket-dot-com)
- the ISBN if there is one
- the publication date
- the page numbers if it's in a magazine
- the name you published it under if you ever plan to use a pseudonym
- the amount you were paid, if any
Rule Number One for my life is "don't be an idiot," but since as you can see I routinely violate Rule Number One, good record keeping can only help matters.
Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.