The Problem with Submissions Systems

I love editing, but managing submissions has been the bane of my existence from the minute I started editing. There are submission management tools out there, but they are expensive or designed for big teams or do crazy things like telling your authors every time you change the label on their submission.* Paper Tape is a small magazine with a tiny editorial staff, but I was so frustrated with the available tools at one point that I taught myself enough HTML and CSS to build the front-end of a system myself in the hopes that my partner would take pity on me and build the backend. (He did.) But maintaining that monster was its own nightmare, so for the past year and a half or so I’ve been accepting email submission, which, with Gmail labels and extremely baroque submission guidelines, allowed me to keep things together just enough to avoid insanity. That is, if everyone who submitted to Paper Tape followed the guidelines. And we didn’t get too many submissions and the author didn’t touch any email subject lines or need edits or change their bio or pretty much ask for anything whatsoever.

Then in January we got a listing on Duotrope, and submissions exploded. I was ecstatic, but my carefully crafted system couldn’t handle the load. It was a miracle that we managed to keep it together, and I was determined that this would never happen again, so I created a form which would at least require the poetry spammers** to lie and check off a box saying they were sending me fiction.

The first submission with the new system came in, and it worked. I was ecstatic for the five minutes it took for the second submission to come in. Then I realized that I’d made a big mistake. Every submission that came from the form had the same subject line, which meant that Gmail decided they were all part of one conversation. There is no way to split conversations in stock Gmail.

Doom. Destruction. Fiery chaos. I hid under my desk for three days while the conversation grew and threatened sentience.

Then I thought, “This is stupid. Everyone hates the fact that you can’t separate conversations in Gmail. SOMEONE has to have solved this by now.”

So, I searched for a way to break up conversations in Gmail and discovered a Gmail extension by Streak.

Problem Solved

Streak is a company that creates software that allows you to do CRM in your inbox. I didn’t know what CRM was at the time, but if someone had tied me down and demanded that I guess, I would have said that because this is the Internet, “M” probably stood for marketing. I didn’t need to do marketing in my inbox, and I had no idea why anyone would want to. All I knew was that Streak would allow me to separate conversation threads, so I downloaded it, untangled the chaos, labeled everything in my inbox, and called it a day.

Then last week, I started to notice that Streak had made new buttons in my inbox. After some poking around I learned that Streak also allows you to delay sending e-mail and mute conversations for a few hours and archive conversations temporarily. It was like someone had read my e-mail wish list…or the wish list I would have written if I hadn’t been buried in submissions.

And that’s when I discovered the killer feature: Pipelines.

Pipelines, as far as I can tell, are like the fairy godmothers of email. It’s like they’ll take your inbox and turn it into whatever you want. You want a way to keep track of story drafts? Done. You want to plan a party and keep track of invitations and what everyone has agreed to bring? Done. You seek the grail? … … … Well, I’m sure there’s something for you in there, too.

For me, Pipelines transformed my inbox into the submission system I tried to build over a year ago. Instead of worrying about keeping one conversation per submission, I can create boxes for each submission that comes to us and file all of the related e-mails into that box. I can see exactly how many submissions are at each stage of the submissions process on one screen. I can make notes of things that authors want me to change, and I can even set it to poke me when I’ve decided that something (like a batch of edits) can wait until later.

Editors, you don’t need CRM. You need Streak.

So, why am I writing a post that pretty much sounds like an advertisement for Streak? Because it’s awesome. (That’s obvious.) And not because anyone is paying me. (That’s not so obvious.) It’s because of what I said up above about not knowing what CRM is.

If months ago, someone had told me that I needed a CRM solution, I would have Googled it and found really big and unwieldily systems like Salesforce. I would have felt like a very cheap, very poor fish in a very big pond and maybe struggled with submissions forever.

But in less than a week Streak has saved me so much time, I was able to offer to work with five authors that I would have otherwise had to turn down because I didn’t have enough time to edit their work. If all of them take me up on my offer, there are going to be five stories going out into the world that may have never found a publisher otherwise.

So, if you are an editor of a literary journal, and you found this post because someone told you that you need CRM, and you googled it thinking, “What the heck is CRM?”, forget about it. Unless you’re one of the Big Five and actually need an aircraft carrier to handle all your submissions, it doesn’t matter to you. Get Streak. Even if you have to change e-mail providers. Really. It’s that worth it.

*If you’ve ever gotten a rejection letter that just said something like “rejected” or “denied,” it’s probably because the magazine uses THAT system and has decided that one word rejection letters are good enough for them. 

**Poetry spam is a problem I never thought I’d have to deal with, but there have been times when dealing with poets who have access to databases of literary journals has taken up something like 80% of my time.

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