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Where's Your Tickler?
by Kathleen Ewing

Have you ever submitted an entry to a contest and forgotten when the results were supposed to be posted and then you couldn't find the newsletter or web page with that information? Ever missed a crucial deadline for submissions because you simply forgot?

As a writer in a competitive market, you can't afford to allow such opportunities to slip through your fingers. That sort of information belongs in what is called a "tickler" file, which is nothing more mysterious than an organized collection of reminders. And the busier you are with your writing career, the more imperative it becomes to have such a file.

Personally, I prefer a manual file rather than electronic. In a manual file, you can choose the format. It's more convenient and less time-consuming. You can check it without interrupting whatever you are doing on the computer. And you can make entries for it any time of the day no matter where you are.

The first step is to purchase one of those inexpensive, expandable home record files, the kind you can carry tucked under your arm or leave sitting on your desk next to your computer. It must have twelve pockets, one for each month. If it is not already pre-labeled with the months, make your own tab labels.

Organizing your file from this point depends upon the types of writing you do, but, for the sake of this introductory exercise, let's assume you do an assortment of assignments.

  1. You need a lead-time calendar. Magazines work on a lead time of anywhere from four to twelve months, with the average being six. Go to www.mastheads.org/worksheets and print a copy of their six-month lead-time calendar. Use this page as a guide as you develop your own tickler pages.

  2. If you write seasonal articles for magazines, you will want to work farther ahead than six months. So, using your sample calendar as an example, create a one-year lead-time calendar as well.

  3. Create a simple, lined "tickler" form for each month. Your form should have a large column titled "Project" for notes about your proposed projects and a small column titled "Contact" where you can make a notation of where you can find the contact information for a particular editor for the project. Nothing is more frustrating and time consuming than to have a great idea to present to an editor and discover that you've forgotten how to contact him or her.

  4. In the Project column, list the types of articles you need to be working on each month to meet editors' deadlines. Try to be brief, but don't be so cryptic that you can't recall at a later date what you had in mind when you made the note.

  5. Your notation in the Contact column can be as simple as the word "organizer" or "Writer's Market" or it can be a web address, wherever you keep the contact information for that particular editor. Again, keep it brief. No need to duplicate the information you can find easily at your contact site.

  6. An editor tells you, "My calendar is full for this year. Try me again in March." You make a notation in red on your April form to remind you that you need to be working on a query or a submission to present to this editor in March. This red notation should receive priority attention when April arrives. It is what I call a "hot" lead, a direct line to an editor whom you've already contacted and attracted to your work.

  7. If you write a monthly or weekly column on arts and crafts for a small regional magazine or local newspaper, you won't need that long lead time. But you will still want to put a list of possible Thanksgiving topics on your tickler page for September or October. That way November 1st won't startle you into the realization that you must scramble to brainstorm, research and prepare some holiday pieces for your editor.

  8. In January, you enter a writing contest that announces winners online on August 17th. Your August page should have a notation of the contest name, the date and the website, so you can check in to see how well you placed in the competition.

  9. You have found that you traditionally get more local work in the spring, so your February tickler will have a reminder to compose an ad for the service directory of your local newspaper. Or tape a one-minute spot for the radio station. Or whatever it is your do to promote your availability to your immediate community.

  10. The first day of each month should be the trigger for you to check on what you have lined up in your file for the next few weeks.

  11. You should keep your file handy and use it often. If you write sticky notes or lists for yourself and leave them lying on your desk or stuck to your wall or computer monitor or tacked to a bulletin board, the chances are excellent that you will overlook something important or miss a critical deadline. You don't have to rewrite the note - rewriting wastes time. Just stick or staple the note to your tickler page.

  12. Finally, a word of caution: Don't refine your file to the point that you are spending more time tinkering with it than you are in developing your projects or querying and submitting to editors.

A tickler file is one of the professional writer's most valuable tools. If you should ever have to evacuate your office in an emergency, make sure this irreplaceable warehouse of your future projects is one of the first things you grab.

© Copyright 2008, Kathleen Ewing

Kathleen Ewing is an award-winning freelance writer headquartered in Central Arizonas high country. Among her credits are feature articles for Art Calendar, American Falconry, Bend of the River, TrailBlazer and Hobby Farms magazines. Visit her blog at www.rodeowriter.blogspot.com

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