Thursday, August 31, 2017

Tracking your queries

At the Writer’s Digest conference, you referenced creating a Query tracker. Would you have any suggestions for improving the spreadsheet?
– For example, my nudge dates are set to 4 weeks from submission – Is that too soon?



I notice that you do not have a column for a follow up date.
Not all agents have the same follow up timeline. I generally ask for 30 days on queries; others among my slacker colleagues have 'no response means no.' You want to keep track of that. It irks me to get a ping before 30 days cause I think I've made it pretty clear that's my time frame.

Also, from a structural point of view you generally read left to right if you're a native English speaker, so you want to organize your spread sheet with the most-needed information, or the most-often updated information in the far left column (Column A)

That will generally be the info on pinging/follow up or results.

Date sent is another key piece of info.
Unless you're querying more than one manuscript, your title is probably less crucial and can go farther to the right.

And oddly, you have 10 chapters (line six) listed for one submission. Is that a typo?

And you have ONE data box for the agent. I'd suggest at least two, if not three. One for first name, one for last name, one for agency.  Agents change agencies and sometimes that means you can query them again OR you can query someone new at the agency.  That's critical info to keep track of.

I'm a devotee of spread sheets for tracking information. I know some people aren't as devoted.
Whatever form you use should be easy enough that you WILL use it.  Something too difficult or too cumbersome is just asking to be relegated to "I'll update when I get some time" and nothing is more useless than an outdated data base.

Any questions?


81 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Spreadsheets are amazingly helpful.
Yellow Post-its used to be my method regarding column submissions, replies, publishing dates and payments. Once they autumn-leaved onto the floor my records became writer's debris on the way to the 'round-file' when I was ambitious enough to clean up my work space.

Regarding stuff and information, I will quote my dear-departed Uncle Dutch: "Better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it."
Have a nice day boys and girls. Be nice and smile.

Colin Smith said...

Typo Police

...you generally read left to right if you're a native English speakers...

Also:

I'm a devotee of spread sheets for tracking information...

This should read: "I'm a devotee of Doctor Who, kale, all things British, and the collected works of Felix Buttonweazer..."

Thank you. You may continue. ;)

Colin Smith said...

Unless you're querying more than one manuscript, your title is probably less crucial and can go farther to the right.

Why not have a separate sheet within the same workbook for each manuscript you query? That way you have a ready history of all your previous querying, and you've used one less column on the sheet. :)

MA Hudson said...

I'm using a spread sheet for the first time in my life thanks to you guys. It's kind of fun even though I don't really know how to work Excel properly. I love having all my querying info laid out easy to read. Can't imagine how so would've tackled the query process otherwise.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Pre-caffeinated and I'm excited! Thank you, OP for the spreadsheet and thank you Janet for the hints on what to add. I'm hoping to shift into querying mode later this year so my new spreadsheet is handy-dandy to go.

rjwycked said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rjwycked said...

OP here -
If anyone would like a blank copy for a template, email me. I also have written a code so that all you do is click a button and it will add a new line. Hooray for no formatting!

Lennon Faris said...

Maybe 'title' is the agent's title in the agency? I like to remember quick details about what that agent does (children's and YA rep, junior agent, etc.).

And if you REALLY want to be neurotic, look up the agents' average response time on querytracker and add that as a column. Not that I would know...

Excel and stats (for exciting things) makes me sing with joy, and they can be an awesome tool, but obsessing too much can also be a FANTASTIC way to waste time. I have to remind myself of that from time to time.

Janet Reid said...

Colin I don't think it's intuitive about why you put two books on one spread sheet so I'm glad you asked.

The reason you do IF you are querying two books at the same time is so you can sort by AGENT NAME and make sure you don't send two queries to the same agent until enough time has passed.

Lennon I don't advise having more than 10 columns in a spreadsheet. Too much data means you're not focused enough. A NOTES column is what I use (placed in far left) for things like "Call her Snookums" "met at Writers' Digest" etc.

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: Perhaps a good restraint on getting carried away with your query spreadsheet is to think of it as the end result of your agent research. In other words, you've looked up each agent, and for various reasons you've determined they ought to go on your query spreadsheet. You don't need to list all your research in the sheet, though you might have a "Notes" column where you could jot a line to remind you why you wanted to query them ("Strong with PBs", "New agent building list", "Loves Doctor Who"...). The mere fact they're on the sheet should indicate to you they passed the research stage.

John Levins said...

I find the Query Tracker on-line tool to be very effective. It provides most of the features automatically, and I like having the useful links to agents' sites, and statistics on-hand. If you haven't checked it out, I recommend it.

Anyone else prefer Query Tracker's tool over a homemade spreadsheet?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am all about tracking my query progress and setting a plan by coming up with spreadsheet before I enter the trenches. I will also include query version so I can test if query works or if I send a slightly different version based on agent/agency. There are only a few select agents (one really- Felix Buttonweezer at that new agency on Carkoon) that I would address as Hiya Snookums.

Anyhow, all about making my spreadsheet and digging my way into the trials and tribulations of querying,

Denise Beucler said...

I'm querying now and I am a part time PA for a pro author. Organize early and often. Future you will thank past you.

My query spreadsheet has fields for agency name, website, agent name, email address or querying form, if they are open to queries, and small y/n fields for if they request a query letter, the amount of pages they want, a synopsis, and or a bio. Then I have a field for when or if to follow up, the date queried, the response and notes.

I pre-entered the agents and gave then a personal ranking, ie agent A that reps the book I love got a 1, agent who is perfectly respectable but I'm not familiar with their clients gets a lower rank. I only put agents that I plan to say yes to. When I query I replace the rank with a Q, R for rejected, F for full etc.

I recommend using a separate email for querying. Preferably one that you can link to a calendar. When I submit, I add a calendar event to remind me either when to follow up, or when no response equals no. It also lets me take a break from rejections for a day if I need to, and I haven't lost anything to the spam folder yet.

Joshua Mason said...

I personally love Query Tracker. Its a good site for finding agents\publishers and organizing queries. You can use the free version, or for $25 a year you can get the premium version that gives you the ability to track multiple book submissions, and advanced stats. Also, the forums can give you query feed back.Be warned, some people may give you bad advice as their query skill are no good either.

kathy joyce said...

Mine has a column for result. I can sort by that to push the rejections to the bottom, see what's still waiting, and so forth. It's more psychological than anything else. "There's still hope, look at all the queries still out!" It does make it easy to keep stats. Also, I put all requirements in one column. For me, there's too much of a chance of reading the wrong row across and mixing things up. I highlight the cell in color for the query I'm doing, so I can't mess up. Good luck to all the queriers (queryiers? :)

Heather Wardell said...

I started this query round with a spreadsheet and have moved to QueryTracker (I paid the $25 yearly fee for the access to better agent-research filters and it helped me add several agents to my list). It's easier to update than my spreadsheet and I can set reminders for follow-up if I choose to do so (I never do on queries but do on partials/fulls). No affiliation, just a happy user!

Colin Smith said...

Hey, John! I used QueryTracker for the past two novels I queried, but I didn't really do anything with it I couldn't have done on a spreadsheet. Granted, there's a lot more to it than just keeping up with who you've queried, but I wonder if the stats and comments are just grist for the rodent wheel. If Janet was six months behind with her queries, would that stop me querying her? Probably not. In any case, whether they're a NORMAN or slack at responding would factor into my research, and might determine whether they make it to the spreadsheet. Sum up: I have nothing against QueryTracker--it's a neat tool. But a spreadsheet can work just as well, and perhaps be less distracting and anxiety-inducing. :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My query spreadsheet is very spare. The title of the file is the book queried (like, "The Last Song querying" and then it's agent, agency, date query sent, date query resolved (or sometimes, happily, date more material requested) (or sometimes, unhappily, dates nudges sent, date I gave it up as a NORMAN).

My short story spreadsheets are also basic (And probably could be combined, now that I think about it): submissions pending response, rejections, acceptances. I only keep track of dates in acceptances (publication, contract, payment, etc.)

Colin Smith said...

Another consideration with QueryTracker is that it assumes ubiquitous and unfailing access to the internet. What do you do when you're visiting great aunt Maude who lives in the mountains and only has dial-up... occasionally? Or when you're on your writing retreat, cut off from the rest of the world? Or when the Xebolians invade and blast the "cloud" with an EMP...? You'll be glad you have your spreadsheet then! :D

Sherry Howard said...

Great discussion today!

Laura Mary said...

Ah, here's where my day job comes in handy - I'm an absolute badass at excel these days! Love me a good spreadsheet.
So far all I've used it for writing-wise is to keep track of drafts, word count, chapters etc. I'm now itching to set up a query tracker! I may do it now before I lose track of this post, despite being months away from actually querying.
Wonder if anyone would notice if I started it after lunch...

Casey Karp said...

My sheet has a column for "expected response date". I use the agent's typical response time, then add a fudge factor to allow for them running behind. The date I wind up with is when I'll nudge or mark the query as no for a NORMAN.

I also color the cell background for queries that are currently active so I can find them quickly, and different colors for fulls and partials, since they usually stay open longer.

QueryTracker is great for figuring out my expected response date, but I prefer to use the spreadsheet for tracking. I want to keep my data in my own hot, sweaty virtual hands.

Kim Long said...

Just chiming in to say I think the QT premium is well worth it. I used a spreadsheet the first time around and started to use it again this time, but found QT to be so much easier, as it tracks all that information for you.

I also love the "Timeline" feature. If you click on it, you can track where an agent is in their reading. It shows query dates, full/partial request dates, and dates the author submitted the manuscript. It then shows when the agent passed, offered an R&R, or offered on that manuscript. I was able to see where I was in the agent's queue, i.e. "That agent has responded to all fulls from May. She got mine on June 5. There's only one MS ahead of me." It tracks queries the same way. It's always interesting to see a spike in activity around Twitter contests, and some agents do read out of order, but fewer than I thought.

Of course you're limited to people who use QT and update their progress, but overall I found that enough people do so that you do get a good general idea of if your query/submission has been seen/read and, if not, when it will be. I saw I was very close in line to be read next by one agent, was crossing my fingers, and then thrilled when she scheduled The Call about ten days after that.

The downside is that there is a rabbit hole of information with the premium feature and some of the stats are depressing. (100 full requests over last five years with 0 offers, etc.) I just tried to avoid those. Good luck, OP!!

RachelErin said...

I love making spreadsheets to keep track of things.
It's one reason I'm looking forward to querying. It will be so satisfying to fill in those cells with my queries - every query sent is a step closer to my goal. Every rejection collected is a mark of honor that I put myself out there. Every NORMAN is...

well,hmmm. I don't have an inspirational frame for NORMANS. Sorry.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Wow... All this is making my hair hurt. My spreadsheet is a yellow legal pad with three lines devoted to each agent I query. Their name and email address, their guidelines, and the date I queried. All handwritten. If they send a rejection, I write REJECT in pink sharpie across their allotted space.

My cats use it as a sleeping pad. So it's crinkled and wrinkled. And I must frequently blow off the hair.

Onward!

Colin Smith said...

I wonder... is there a demographic to spreadsheet/QT usage? Are younger people more likely to gravitate toward QT due to comfort and confidence with the internet? And how much does all the data available through QT play to our culture's increased demand for information? I mean, does it really make any difference to know how close the agent might be to looking at my query? Will the "yes" be any sweeter, or the "no" any less depressing? This isn't a criticism of QT, or those that use it just me pondering aloud... :)

Megan V said...

I like spreadsheets, but I've never been a dab hand at them. In short, you can add me to the Query Tracker Fan Club. That site has been with me from the beginning! I love the spread, the stats, the information (though you should ALWAYS verify information from the site as not every agent's preference is updated), the easy navigation. Tres magnifique. It's like having a map for navigating shark infested waters.

Michael Seese said...

I have a Excel sheet I use. FYI, it's based on one line per "action." Meaning, the first line is the query. Line 2 is a placeholder for the expected followup date, based on what the agent's website says. If the agent says "No," I mark that in Line 2 and "Query 1" is closed. If the agent asks for pages, I mark that in Line 2. Line 3 is the date I send the pages, with Line 4 the expected response date.

I'd be happy to share it with anyone who emails me. mail@michaelseese.com. Or, I can send it to Colin, and he can post it.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Colin, I was thinking/wondering the same thing. I suppose some of the resistance is generational. I'll be 60 in a few weeks. But I'm certain some of it is also personality. I don't have a "paperwork" brain. If the exact same "me" was younger, pretty sure I'd still resist.

Thanks for starting the conversation, (fellow Michigander!). Janet, thanks for hosting another interesting discussion. I'm always learning.

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: I agree that even some young people don't always go to an online, or even digital solution first. Just the other day, my SecondBorn came back from shopping with her mom, and she asked me about a song they heard in the store. "Mom said it was Billy Joel," she said, "but I don't remember any of the words... only he sounded a bit like Bruce Springsteen...?" I thought for a moment and replied, "It was 'You May Be Right'" Now, why didn't she use SoundHound or any number of other apps on her phone to figure it out? I don't know. Her first instinct was to think, "Dad knows Billy Joel songs, I'll ask him." :)

BJ Muntain said...

I have a separate worksheet in my submissions tracker spreadsheet for researching agents. I used to have separate spreadsheets, but then I'd update one and not the other. I also have separate worksheets for each year, and one just to list the different places I've sent an item. I use the same spreadsheet for books and short stories. My spreadsheets tend to look a little messy, though, because I like to copy responses into it, so I can keep track of anything like 'remember us for your next story' or comments from agents on the query/pages.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: One little problem with the logic of 'what if I don't have internet' when using QT: If you don't have internet, you're not sending queries by e-mail, either. Unless you're sending them by post, you don't need to keep track of queries you can't send or receive replies to at that time.

But me, I like spreadsheets. I use them for everything. They're like mini-databases, and I love databases. In fact, I'm looking at creating a wiki database for my series. I've set up wikis before, and I they're so much fun to fill in.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: You can still track queries you've sent with QT... or not if you don't have internet. And I was thinking about those times when one is temporarily without internet (visiting the Luddite aunt, or the writing retreat). Of course, an EMP would probably take out your computer too... :)

Joseph Snoe said...

How important are nudges for queries? I can see the purpose for full requests, but for queries?

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: I wouldn't nudge on a query. If the agent gives a timeframe, and by the end of that timeframe you haven't heard anything, unless they're a NORMAN, I would just re-send the query. Maybe include a note at the top to say "I originally sent this query back on the Ides of March, 1432" or something like that. Usually, if you haven't heard anything after 90 days, you can assume they're a NORMAN and move on. Though some will tell stories of receiving query responses after a year or more!

John Davis Frain said...

My system is to create a spreadsheet, print it out, and then put it in my shredder. Because, spreadsheets. Ugh.

For y'all who say spreadsheets are fun, when I turn my head to see if you have horns coming out of your ears, really it's my look of grudging admiration. I totally admire that you can suck fun from a spreadsheet, and I secretly wish I could join you. But I am the Sisyphus of spreadsheets, and I'm gonna keep dragging a new one out so I can take it directly to the shredder.

Colin Smith said...

John: Would you prefer a ledger book and quill? ;)

Timothy Lowe said...

One other idea on color coding:

Create a separate color for query status. I fill the row with yellow for a rejection, blue for a full request (yay!), brown for a full rejection. This last go-around I added green for an outstanding query (helped me keep track visually).

This way, scrolling up or down the sheet, you can get a quick idea of how you're doing.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Oh, maybe I should add.

For agents, their submission guidelines, tidbits from interviews, twitter handles, MSWL etc. I keep a separate folder and each agent gets a file. So maybe that's part of why my spreadsheets are so bare. And maybe the rest of it is saying "I have a spreadsheet" sounds like I have my shit together so much more than "I have a list on a piece of paper" (or in a moleskine, the way I originally tracked my submissions, interspersed with story ideas, names, email addresses, etc. etc.)

roadkills-r-us said...

And *back that thing up*. Offsite. If nothing else, email yourself a copy every time you change it (I am assuming you are not highly placed government official, or a geek, running their own email server at home).

I lost a solid week's worth of work researching agents, plus the names and statuses of my first two dozen queries when I accidentally overwrote my spreadsheet, and my *automatic backup* overwrote the backup copy before I realized the problem.

So version it as well.

And various cell colors do indeed make life wonderful. Otherwise it's a wall of black and white gibberish.

Colin Smith said...

Having a backup on a flash drive is good, too. You know... for when the "cloud" crashes. Not that I'm paranoid or anything. *grabs foil hat*

;)

Cynthia Paige Aaron said...

Even though I'm computer savvy,I still have a million post its everywhere! I'm not to the query stage yet, but the info about using QT and spreadsheets for keeping track is very helpful. I'd better start getting organized now, I'm thinking.

A bit OT: Do any of you keep spreadsheets for your WIP? The volume of edits, re-writes, and character notes, etc. can be overwhelming. And this is only on one MS. Any advise on how to keep it all together? I have paper notebooks and word docs galore.

John Davis Frain said...

Haha, Colin, the sound of quill and ledger is more musical to my ears than spreadsheet, yes.

But no, I'm not clamoring for a ledger and quill. I don't want to track anything. I'm stumping for the benefits of disorganization! Gimme a minute, and I'll come up with a few.

Okay, gimme ten minutes. I had those benefits here somewhere...

Colin Smith said...

John: You'll probably land an agent with your first query, anyway. :)

Seriously, I wonder if anyone has actually done that. Not kind-of-sorta, but actually wrote a query letter, sent it to agents, and the first one on the list asked for a full and eventually offered rep. I'm sure it must have happened to someone. If you're out there, speak up so we can all curse you... ummm... I mean be in awed amazement. That's right... :D

Colin Smith said...

Cynthia: 1) I work in IT. Now re-read my above comments. ;)

2) I vacillate between wanting to do a complete J.K. Rowling with my characters and world, and completely pantsing the whole thing (like Jeff Somers... only with pants). I end up falling somewhere in the middle, where I jot down some notes (pencil and paper) so I have a broad idea of what the story is and where it's going, and maybe character names. I definitely don't use spreadsheets or documents to plan my novels. For me, that takes part of the energy away from writing the actual story.

Steve Stubbs said...

I would be extremely reluctant to ping anybody at all. If they did not want to hear from me in the first place, they surely would not want to hear from me again.

A way to avoid bugging people with nudges would be to stagger submissions. Send out a couple of queries. Then wait three or four weeks and send out a few more. There is one agency (don't remember the name) whose web site says they do not accept multiple submissions and that if you do not hear anything for six months you are free to submit somewhere else because No Response Means No. That is a blatant way of telling prospective clients how they like to treat people. That is like interviewing for a job with a manager who likes to chew candidates up and spit them out. (Yes, I remember you, Paul.) I would pass them over. I read a book by an agent who says he rejects people in six seconds, not six months.

To do that you need a very simple database. All you need is a short list of prospects you pitched in the latest e-mail blast and the date you sent out the blast so you can know when X weeks went by.

Cynthia Paige Aaron said...

Colin Thanks for the reply.

Pantsing sounds about where I'm at! I wouldn't want to do spreadsheets for the "planning" of a novel, because I like the crazy brainstorming aspect of creating it. But more so, after I've moved on from older versions. I wonder if I need to keep a record of those. Maybe they'll be just fine saved on an external drive with the date. That's what I do now.

You work in IT, you have a "leg" up on everyone. (Pants humor, there).

Colin Smith said...

Cynthia: For an IT guy, I'm fairly old school. I like paper books and pads and pencils. I didn't start writing direct to Word until my second novel. My first was over 300,000 words long, and I wrote the whole thing long-hand. Typing it up convinced me to go digital, though, as I said, I still like to make notes on paper.

As an aside to this aside, PANTSING WITHOUT PANTS would have been a great title for Jeff's upcoming book on writing. :)

Casey Karp said...

Cynthia, I'm a total pantser, but I do use spreadsheets. One row per chapter, with columns for word count, what happened in the chapter (great help when it's time to write a synopsis), and ideas for what to change in the next draft.

I used to use a second sheet for listing characters, but (a) it was a pain to keep up to date (see Janet's note about cumbersomeness above) and (b) it didn't stop me from giving the main character three different first names over the course of the first draft and consistently misspelling his last name.

Cynthia Paige Aaron said...


Colin:

"Paper books and pads and pencils."

Digital is convenient, but there is nothing quite like the old pad and pencil (or pen). I'm often seen scribbling in a notebook when in the LA traffic. Or probably ignored...

Cynthia Paige Aaron said...

Casey I hear you, it can be hard to keep up with character names and spellings, even though they were invented by me.

Maybe I'll explore the spreadsheet idea. I do like to make an outline, and that is revised constantly. Without it, I would definitely be pantsing without pants!

Kate Larkindale said...

I must be super old-school. I track my submissions and queries in a notebook. Rejection is written in red, full request in purple and an partial in green with the agent, acency and dates in blue or black. And I've done this for all the books I've queried, in the same notebook.

Colin Smith said...

Kate: I think you built the school... ;)

rjwycked said...

Colin:
"Seriously, I wonder if anyone has actually done that. Not kind-of-sorta, but actually wrote a query letter, sent it to agents, and the first one on the list asked for a full and eventually offered rep. I'm sure it must have happened to someone. If you're out there, speak up so we can all curse you... ummm... I mean be in awed amazement. That's right... :D"


Even Neo didn't get it on the first try ;)

Lynne Main said...

I use a spreadsheet for my queries...done in Microsoft Works (yeah, I live in the Great Stone Age). I use that program because other than query tracking, I don't have a need for spreadsheets, so no reason for me to use Excel. Now using Word for my writing, that's a different ballgame.

I have the basics on my spreadsheet: agent I sent to, response times, what package I emailed (i.e. query plus ten pages, etc.) and so on. And I have it backed up on a flash drive. I back everything up, because I'm terrified my computer will go kaput and I'll lose my book in the process (what an awful thought).

I don't ping on queries. I will resend in some cases, like if the agency states to do so after a certain amount of time if you haven't heard from them. Some agencies have an auto-response setup, so you know they got your query.

And Colin, a ledger book and a quill? Hey, why not? Whatever works...right, John?

Colin Smith said...

Lynne: My giddy aunt! I haven't seen a reference to Microsoft Works in... YEARS!! You have a PC that can run it?? Wow! :)

BTW, if you'd like the power of Excel without the price tag, don't forget Open Office. It's free, and includes both a Word-like word processor, and an Excel-like spreadsheet app. For what most of us do, these tools are more than sufficient. And it's free. Did I say that? :)

Lynne Main said...

Colin, the reason I use Works is because it came with the computer, which runs on Windows 7. Since there is still extended support for Windows 7 until 2020 from Microsoft, I'm okay. Actually, I'm looking to update my laptop as soon as I can, but until then I'm slogging it out with my current computer and I do have Word on it.

Thanks for mentioning Open Office. I've tried Open Office in the past, but I'm perfectly content using Works for my query database. Like I said, I don't use spreadsheets for other than queries. I have tried the trial version of Excel, and I liked it. But I just don't have a need for it.

Of course, when I do get that new computer, I'll probably need Open Office or Excel, 'cause I bet newer computers don't have Works in them.

I'll just cross that bridge when I get to it.

kdjames.com said...

Cynthia: I've had to develop a spreadsheet with story/character details for a series I'm writing because there are overlapping characters and places. It's too hard to remember details and time consuming to re-read and find them. I've heard other writers talk about this and they say it's much easier to do in the early stages than to go back and reconstruct things after a couple books. A writer I follow on twitter actually has someone who created an entire story "bible" for their multi-book series. Impressive.

I haven't queried anyone yet, but I imagine I'll create a spreadsheet once I do. I can already sense the temptation to make it way more detailed and complicated than it needs to be. I love spreadsheets. Such a wonderful tool for procrastination.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do a combination of my own spreadsheet and query tracker. I like to keep details in a form I can print out and review and there are agents not on query tracker after all. I mostly use Querry Tracker for research.

Thanks to Colin I now have a spreadsheet of each chapter in my WIP that tracks main action of each chapter, POV, each character. Great for creating a synopsis but also for structuring book. I sort of like it. Although I am one of those pantless pants writers.

And BJ I would love to do a Wiki of the world in my series. Let me know if you do that. I am not sure I would know where to begin but I have tons of notes and spreadsheets on my world building,

John Davis Frain said...

Denise,

You're an instant winner in the subhead contest. Nice!

I'm going to add you to my personal Subheader Spreadsheet that I keep in Excel, with cross-referencing alphabetically by Reider and by subhead. <<---Lookie there, I'm writing fantasy now!

Cynthia Paige Aaron said...

KD: Oh no, I hadn't thought of keeping track of a series. Thanks for sharing your method. My head is about to explode now, as I contemplate the possibilities.

Yes, spreadsheets as procrastination tool, sounds good. My current procrastination tool is "studying" films. For the 'stories,' you know.

Denise Beucler said...

... whoa. I feel very internet famous right now. This was a very lovely surprise.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: For pantsers, the spreadsheet is for AFTER you've written the novel, so you can go back and see what it was actually about. :)

Congrats, Denise!! I did consider a spreadsheet for subheaders, like the Writing Contest spreadsheet... but I decided the contest sheet was enough. I also considered a real database (not a spreadsheet--spreadsheets are NOT databases... I work with databases, and it sends a shiver down my spine when people call spreadsheets databases... I digress... parenthetically) that included ALL the contest entries, not just the winners. But then I decided I needed to get a life... ;)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin That is exactly what I did and boy was I surprised (and slightly horrified) by what I had written. :)

Colin Smith said...

Elise: You thought you were writing fantasy, but after compiling the spreadsheet you discovered it was Romantic Western Dino Porn? Gah! I know the feeling... ;)

Lynne Main said...

Colin, since you work with databases, what is the difference between a spreadsheet and a database? Like I've said before, I can run a computer but the programming stuff, forget it.

Just curious about the difference.

Colin Smith said...
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Colin Smith said...

Lynne: Spreadsheets were originally designed to be electronic ledger books. You can lay out your figures, make changes, see how the numbers change, and do financial forecasting. However, the fact that spreadsheets can store information in columns and rows of cells means you don't just have to use them with numbers. You can use them to track other kinds of information, like names and addresses, or agents you've queried. And all that information is laid out before you to view at a glance.

Databases were designed to handle data. All kinds of data. And to store that data in ways that make it easy to access (at least in theory--how well that works in practice depends on the person who designed the database). The main difference is instead of looking at all the data in one place (as you would a spreadsheet), you query the database for the results you want. Those results can be output to a report, a spreadsheet, or whatever. In a database, you can relate data tables to one another (so you could pull a report that shows you all the agents in a particular agency), or search the data using particular criteria (e.g., every agent I queried who has not responded whose agency is close to where I live).

That's very simplified, and doesn't do justice to the power of databases, but for a 100-word comment, it'll do, I think... ;) Others feel free to improve on it!

Colin Smith said...

Will y'all indulge me an example of a database? Thanks!

Imagine you wanted to expand the Contest Spreadsheet to include every entry, not just the winners. How would that look on a spreadsheet? A MESS! You have 30-100 flash stories per contest, and we're at 102 contests now. That's a lot of data... and how would you organize it on a spreadsheet where it would be useful?

Here's how you could do it with a database. You have a table for each contest, giving each one a unique id, and storing the name, date, and rules for that contest. You then have a table for stories. Every story from every contest goes in this table, with a unique id for each story, the story's writer, the story itself, whether it won or was a finalist, and the unique id of the contest for which it was entered.

You can then link the two tables on that contest id, query the database, and pull a report (on a spreadsheet even). You could show all the entries for a particular contest. Or all the entries by a particular writer. Or all the entries that won. Or all the contests but only show the winning entry. Or only the finalists.

What was near-impossible to do on a spreadsheet becomes a piece of cake with a database.

Speaking of cake, FirstBorn (Sarah) is coming home for the weekend. Yay! But I digress.

I hope that helps. :)

Lynne Main said...

I know this my fourth post, but I wanted to thank Colin for his reply. Looking at the newer version of Open Office today (thanks for the link, Colin), I'm going to use that for my query spreadsheet. This is just in case my crazy computer goes kaput, so I'll have everything updated for the new computer which I'm getting as soon as possible.

And I'm outta here...enjoy your night/day (wherever you are in the world) everyone!

Kate Higgins said...

Oh geez, I barely learned how to add up a column in a spread sheet with that funny looking epsilon thingy and now you tell me a database works best.
And here I thought they were the same thing. I'm hopeless with numbers, basically because I'd rather be doing something else - drawing or writing. I balance my account by going to the ATM and getting some cash and reading the piece of paper that has my balance on it.
But I'm a fast learner, if I set my mind to it, so maybe I should really learn how before I start querying...sigh.

Oh and for all of you who have great faith in "the cloud" I live fairly close to where a few of those extra large, very big, 'Cloud' farm buildings are kept here in Washington State. And they reside in the shadow of a volcano that is still considered 'active'.
So back up your stuff fellow woodland creatures!

Just sayin'



kdjames.com said...

A simple spreadsheet will work just fine for a query tracker. I doubt there are many writers (other than Colin, natch ;) ) who will ever want to do a deep analysis of query stats that would require a database. And just to confuse the matter further, a spreadsheet CAN be a database. Depends on how you set it up, which depends on what you want to get out of it. [see my previous comment re making it "way more detailed and complicated than it needs to be."]

I remember a "manager" (I use the term loosely) I worked with who one day decided to sort my excel inventory database alphabetically by model name. He highlighted JUST THAT COLUMN and hit sort. Luckily, I was standing right there, mouth literally hanging open in disbelief. Made it easier for all the profanities to emerge, I guess. I had been doing a weekly back-up and promptly decided a week's worth of work was way more than I EVER wanted to re-create and switched to twice daily.

Joseph Snoe said...

Excel can't be hard to learn but I'll have to get someone at school or our local library to show me the basics. I just opened one and tried to resize various columns, and couldn't get them off their standard sizes.

Meanwhile I can use Word. It works fine for basic information like

Agent
Agency
Date sent
What sent
Response
Date or response

I can add the nudge date if I get a request for more pages.

BJ Muntain said...

KD: And that's why I rarely sort my Excel files - I've done that in the past. That guy deserved every profanity and expletive you could think of. I used to use OpenOffice, but if your spreadsheet is too big and you try to sort it - it becomes a mess. It couldn't deal with it. I don't know if they've fixed that, but that might be something someone using that program might want to be sure of.

Colin Smith said...

Suuure--anything can be a "database" depending on how you define the word. BUT, let me just be clear. I'm not saying databases are better than spreadsheets (or vice versa). They are both useful tools that serve a purpose. You don't need a database to keep track of queries, unless you're recreating QueryTracker. And why would you do that? I don't plan on doing that. I use a spreadsheet to track my short story subs, and I'll probably use one when I query the next novel. I simply made the point that spreadsheets and databases are different (*glares at kdjames*), and briefly explained the difference. Please feel free to use whatever tool works for you without feeling judged. :)

roadkills-r-us said...

WRT: OpenOffice... I recommend LibreOffice. Same thing, but the group managing it is much quicker to offer bug fixes, and they stay more up on new features in MS:Office, which means you run into less problems dealing with those formats should you need to (and sooner or later, you will). It's more stable, even though it has more frequent releases.
Caveat: It's entirely possible OO has gotten better recently; I don't know. I used OO for years, but they got lethargic so I switched to LibreOffice a few years ago. I have not had reason to look back.
They are both extremely cross-platform, too. I use LO (and have used OO) on my Mac that I write the novels on, on my Linux desktops at work and home, on my wife's Linux desktop. I've used it on Windows, too. Just one of the reasons I love it.
Did anyone note that it's free? Although I send a donation every year, because I get a lot of value out of it, just like Wikipedia. (Hint: tip your servers. 8^)

AJ Blythe said...

The Hub calls me anal, I like to think of myself as organised *grin*, so I have totally loved this conversation today. I've taken notes, and then played with formatting (in excel) to create the perfect query tracker spreadsheet for me. Ahhh, what a delightful afternoon. Of course, I have now not done anything I should have and will have to work extra hard for the rest of the arvo to make up for it.

kdjames.com said...


*snort*
Colin, you crack me up.
*smiles brightly, even cheekily, back at you*

Panda in Chief said...

For someone who resisted having a computer at all until 2005, I have jumped in with all four feet.
If you're gonna go hog, you might as well go whole hog.
My data base for paintings was developed back in the early 80's and consists of one index card for each painting. Paintings are numbered with the first two numbers indicating year painted. I have one little card file drawer for paintings that are either in the studio or in a gallery, and one drawer for sold paintings. They used to have close to the same number of cards, but...sigh...those days are gone. When a painting goes out to a gallery, I write the dates and where it's gone, each gallery has its own section in the card file, and then the card moves to that section. When the painting comes home or is sold, it moves to the appropriate place.

I wish I had a digital data base for all my paintings, but to go back in time would be so much work, and my system works fine as long as my house doesn't burn down. I keep thinking I should start a data base with the current year of work, and then do all the rest as I have time, but then I think, "panda videos!" And then it's time for bed.

I don't use a spread sheet for WIPs. The very idea gives me heartburn. For each revision, I do a "save as" with a new version number and date, so all my old versions are intact. I put all the different versions in their own folder.
I do my cartoons with a dip pen and india ink, and am doing illustrations for the graphic novel in watercolor. I have no intention to learn to do digital illustration.

Luddites of the world unite! Technology when it suits us!

Brittany Constable said...

That looks like my spreadsheet for when I was researching agents, so I had a good idea of who wanted what. (I also tracked which genres and categories they were actively seeking, since the project I was querying straddled a couple.)

The spreadsheet I used for submissions looked completely different. Its columns were:
Agency (with a hyperlink to the submissions page for most recent info)
Agent name
Date query sent
Nudge/requery? (This is where I noted things like what date I should nudge based on the agent's stated response window, or what date I should consider it a pass if no response)
Date nudge sent
Date response received
What the response was
Response personalized (yes/no/maybe)
Notes
Date partial sent
Partial response
Date full sent
Full response

I would also color code the rows so I would know which ones were closed out and which ones were still in progress. Noting the projected follow-up dates at the time of submission made the whole thing much less stressful--no obsessing over whether I had heard back, just glancing at that column to see if there were any I should be acting on.

Julie Weathers said...

Drive by post. I use spreadsheets for querying. I have to so I know what I've sent out to whom and when. I used to use a ledger book, but the Excel program is easier as I can add things as I need to.

Today I bit the bullet and started spreadsheets for The Rain Crow. Each main character has one, there is a general historical time line one--on this day in history this happened, minor characters are lumped together on one sheet. There is a column for date, time, location, weather with room enough to include moon phase, who else is there, and misc. notes.

So, on April 24, 1961, Lorena the MC, would be in Washington, DC staying with her Aunt and Uncle. The moon is full, 60 degrees, light rain turning to a drizzle at night. Her aunt approaches her about a partnership for Annie, Lorena's maid and a snake of a man invites them all to dinner and the theater to see Booth play Hamlet. Since three different things happen, it's broken into three entries. Something else happens after they return home.

It seems anal, but when you have to keep historical characters accurate and your characters are interacting with them, it needs to be done. I can't have a Mosby scout in Georgia when Mosby was in Virginia. Mosby was the Gray Ghost, but even ghosts have some tethers.

Anyway, the main reason I stopped by was to blow the trumpet for Joseph. Apparently one of the American Ninja Warrior competitors is a lady lawyer. When they were doing her bio, there was a book that he co-authored on her table, big as all get out. That's pretty awesome product placement.

Rawr, Joseph.