By: Bree NicGarran | A five-minute read
There are dozens of hurdles to leap as an independent or self-published author. Long hours, the struggle to find paying work, the anxiety over low sales, the horror of editing… it’s enough to make your head spin. Not the least of these woes is the need for organization and self-promotion, a daunting task for anyone not used to recordkeeping, managing expenses, or drawing attention to themselves. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re looking to sell your writing, the whole operation needs to be approached as a business venture. For example, how do you plan to organize all the files involved with your work? What about tabulating expenses and royalties for tax purposes? Do you have a system in place for tracking inquiries to possible vendors or sponsors? What are your plans for online promotion and development?
That sounds like a lot, I know. If you let it get away from you, it can be. Which is why it’s very important to establish good habits right from the start. I’m about three years deep into my journey as a self-published author, with four titles to my name, three of which are currently in print. I’ve stumbled along the way, but I’ve also learned some tricks that anyone with a basic knowledge of email, social media, blogging, and recordkeeping can do. Best of all, most of what I’ve discovered is either free or carries minimal costs. You’ll still have to save your pennies for some things; that’s a given. But establishing a solid, well-organized base when you start out will serve you well in the future when greater success (hopefully) arrives.
First and foremost: recordkeeping. Organize everything. Document EVERYTHING. Whether it’s in your personal files on your computer or an external drive or a cloud, create a system and then stick to it. And, it should go without saying, make frequently-updated backups in case of emergency.
I’ve worked offices for most of my professional life, so I’m very familiar with naming conventions. For those not in the know, a naming convention is a standardized, generally-agreed-upon system for naming files and documents. It’s something that most businesses with records to keep will have in place to help them stay organized and be able to find their documents easily. For writers, this means having separate folders for different projects and naming things clearly and consistently.
For example, a folder without naming conventions might look like this:
- Writing Folder
- jumpjack Draft 2
- Final Draft mort
- notes on chapter 5
- other story idea
- random email
- Jumping jack story
- Title Ideas
This might make sense at the time, but it will make things difficult to find later on. There’s nothing to differentiate it from any other project, if you happen to be working on two or more at the same time. (Admit it: you’ve got an entire folder of prompts and half-visualized ideas. We all do.) Also, the drafts and pre-writing are all jumbled together. It’s hard to tell what the most recent or most complete version might be.
Here’s a more organized approach:
- Wetherby Books offer 20190517 (email)
- Short Fiction
- The Jumping Jack
- The Jumping Jack draft 01
- The Jumping Jack Final Draft
- Widow’s Walk
- Widow’s Walk prompt (keep the basic story idea here)
- Widow’s Walk draft (for the prose version)
- The Jumping Jack
- Mortuary cover.jpg
- Mortuary prewriting (keep a single file, dated drafts, or a folder with multiple docs)
- Mortuary Final Draft
- Mortuary Ch5 notes
- Title Ideas
Now you can tell not only what everything is, but where future documents should go. It’s also much easier to file information about individual projects and create new ones. Keep in mind, this is only one example, and it’s important to come up with a file system and naming convention that make sense to you. I often put “AA” at the beginning of file names for items that I need to access quickly or which need to stand apart from other documents in the same folder. This bumps them to the top when the folder is sorted by file name. If you’d prefer them at the end of the list, you can use “ZZ” instead.
Depending on your personal preferences, you can keep everything in the root folder (the main folder connected to your project) or divvy it up by file type. I like to put prewriting and notes in one folder, illustrations and cover art in another, and manuscript drafts in another, keeping the finished pieces and final drafts in the root folder for easy reference. I also recommend creating sample or “teaser” documents which can be sent to prospective vendors, and quarter-sized versions of the cover art for advertising.
If you often find yourself with ideas and insights while away from your preferred workstation, write it down. Don’t wait until you get home and expect that you’ll remember that great idea you had just before lunch. I highly recommend pocket notebooks or notepad phone apps for this purpose. Google Docs is also great for quick prompts or note-taking on the go, as it can be accessed from any secure computer or smartphone. Just make sure you log out and wipe the internet history if you use a public terminal or a work computer.
Of course, this can leave you with a pile of scribbled notes at the end of the day, so make sure you take time to transcribe them into your files. Create a Prompts folder for basic ideas or flashes of inspiration. They don’t need to be fleshed out beyond a couple of sentences, just enough to capture the gist of your idea. Once it’s saved, you can always go back and add to it later on.
And of course, once you’ve got your files in order, MAKE A BACKUP. There are few woes more searing than losing months’ worth of work to a computer crash or damaged equipment. Thumb drives, external hard drives, clouds, and password-protected online repositories such as Google Docs or Dropbox are all viable options for safeguarding your work. Make sure that you update your backups frequently, either on a regular schedule or whenever you’ve made a significant amount of progress. When in doubt, back up the files. Better to do it too often than leave it too late and wish you had.
Next Time: Tracking Your Finances and Tax Tips for Writers
Bree NicGarran grew up in the wilds of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and now resides in near Williamsburg, VA. Her breakout work, “Grovedaughter Witchery,” has been hailed by the online pagan community as a new standard text for beginner witches. She lives with her husband and two very spoiled ginger cats, and is very glad that none of them seem to mind having a pagan altar in the living room.