Keeping track of stories; using collective nouns correctly
Published: December 7, 2010
Q: How should I keep track of where I’ve sent my stories?
A: I keep it simple and low tech. I have one Excel file with a different spreadsheet for each story. Every time I submit a story, I pull up the file, find the right spreadsheet and list the pertinent information. You can use a similar approach with whatever program you know how to use well. Some writers like to eliminate the technology entirely. I’ve seen one system that uses note cards and another with a very large desk calendar. Choose a method that will be easy for you to update and one that you know you will use.
For every submission, note the story, the journal and the date of submission. You might also find it helpful to include the journal’s address (physical or web, depending on how you submitted), the editor to whom you directed the submission and the wait time stated in the journal’s guidelines. Leave space for special notes, too. You might want to remind yourself, for instance, that a submission is a follow up to a request to see more work. As responses come in, make sure to return and update the status.
I know many writers who would argue that using a submission tracking program is more efficient and fun. They might be right. There are plenty of options out there and a quick Internet search will give you a look at the variety of approaches to tracking. Duotrope’s Digest, for example, has a free submission tracker that allows you to sort your submissions by status, date sent, market and more. The submission tracker also taps into Duotrope’s data on the average response time for a given market based on user’s reports and the maximum response time estimated by editors at the journal.
Whatever system you use, you want to make it easy to see where your story is under consideration. Should a story be accepted, you know exactly which journals are considering that story and can quickly send notes withdrawing the submission. Many writers find keeping track of submissions also helps them stay on top of the process. You can see—with just a glance—which stories are making the rounds and which need a boost back out.
Q: Are words like “band” and “jury” singular or plural?
A: These are collective nouns and they can be tricky. A collective noun refers to a single unit but that single unit is made up of more than one member. There are many nouns that work this way, so it’s worth figuring out how to handle them. That being said, this won’t be a cut and dry answer. A collective noun can be singular or plural, depending on how you use it in a sentence.
When you’re referring to the collective noun as a unit, treat it as singular:
The band lost its spot in the top ten this week.
When you’re referring to the individuals within the group, treat it as plural:
The jury had to sign for their ID badges.
Avoid inconsistencies in agreement:
The band is having a bad day after their bus broke down.
The verb treats “band” as singular, but the pronoun referring to it is plural.
Also, avoid awkward sentences:
The jury are tired and restless.
Sometimes it may make more sense to reword:
The members of the jury are tired and restless.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She
was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University,
University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a
visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
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