The software you choose for your database depends on personal preference. There are many contact relationship management (CRM) software choices out there - some free, some paid, many that are over complicated, and many with features you would never need to use. For myself, after looking at many of the options I settled on the simplest and most customizable choice - a spreadsheet. It’s simple, sortable, searchable, and exporting the data for labels or emailing is very straightforward.
The great thing about using a spreadsheet is you can customize the fields exactly the way you want. It’s easy to color highlight certain fields so you can get creative with color coding to help you track or remember certain details. You can set up drop down menus to select from pre-determined data. You can also set up additional spreadsheets in the same workbook - one for a list of publishers, and others for submission lists for picture book dummies, or lists for other contacts.
In my workbook, I have separate sheets for Publishers, Agents, and Picture Book submission lists (so I can track who I’ve sent to, who has responded, etc.)
For my main publisher list, here are the fields that I track:
- Date of last contact (last time you emailed or sent a mailer, letter, etc.)
- Status (Client, On file, Lead) - for this I built in a drop down menu with these choices built in so I don’t have to retype them when entering a contact
- Newsletter (here I indicate if I have them on my email newsletter mailing list)
- Category (Trade, Educational, Magazine) - again I use a drop down menu with these choices - I like to use these categories so I can group and sort contacts into sub lists to target mailings
- Xmas Card (the last time I sent them a card and if they are on my card list or not)
- First Name
- Last Name
- Zip/Postal Code
- Last Contact (here I keep notes on the last contact I had with this person)
- Additional notes (here I note and submission guidelines, special considerations, etc.)
The key to maintaining your database is to regularly go through and make sure the information is still current (your database is only as good as the data that is in it). I like to break it into small chunks and try to check 10 or so records each week until I reach the end of the list, then I just start again, repeating the process.
Another really useful thing to do is to save your spreadsheet into an online file sharing service, such as Dropbox - this way you can have access to your contacts from any device are using. Even your phone if you need to check some information while on the go. Or, another option would be to build your spreadsheet in Google Drive - and again you could have it available to you on any device.
I built my spreadsheet using Excel, and I am making my template available here for anyone who would like to use it as a starting point for their own list, or for reference. The template includes my main publisher list template, as well as a second sheet template for a picture book submission list.
--> Download my Excel template