The Text Files: Organizing your digital files

Like most people, we take things for granted. Like saving and organizing our computer files. But when a client asked us to teach a class on the subject, we realized that y’all could benefit from a few pointers.

This is an ongoing challenge for the best of us. When we worked in book publishing as editors, we often had files flying back and forth, often through buggy outlets like aol. Attachments would lose formatting, “track changes” is frankly an eyesore to use, and the danger of the wrong files being sent to design or worse, the printer, was imminent. So we had to use our mad OCD skills to whip our hard drives into shape.

Setting up a project folder
So, using Jen’s book, Beyond the Family Tree (originally titled It’s All Relative), let’s look at how to set up a folder on your hard drive (better yet, use a cloud-based system like Dropbox to ensure it’s backed up).

  1. Create a folder for the entire project, labeling it by your working title.
  2. Create subfolders for your immediate needs, such as Proposal, Correspondence, Research, Manuscript, Interviews, Artwork/photography, etc.
  3. Within your Proposal folder, create subfolders for each of the nine areas of your book proposal: Title, Intro, About the Book, About the Author, Competing Titles, Marketing, Outline, Sample Text, Additional Materials.
  4. Within your Manuscript folder, depending on the size and scope of your chapters, create subfolders for each chapter. We like to put the chapter numeral first so that they automatically order themselves when you open the folder.
  5. Whenever you create a new file, save it to the proper folder immediately.

Naming Word files
Now, let’s talk about naming your Word docs. Usually, we just save the same file (frequently, we might add), saving over the previous version, because we aren’t concerned with saving the original file. But that’s just us. Multiple versions are helpful when doing developmental editing (not as important when copyediting or proofreading).

When writing multiple versions of your manuscript, chapter, or proposal section, try using v1 (for version one), v2, v3, etc. at the end of each file name. For example, 1_Tools_v2 (folks using Windows find using the underscore instead of spaces to be preferable; Mac users don’t seem to have the same issue) would indicate that this file is version two of chapter 1 which is about Tools. Super. The only problem with this is timing. If files are going back and forth between you and an editor or collaborator, there could be two people working on “v2” or someone could forget to rename the new version. If you’re working on the text by yourself, however, this is a great way to organize your files, since you might want to save and retain the first draft before you start seriously editing round two.

Another approach is to put the date in the file name, for example 1_Tools_20120820 or 082012_1_Tools. This is a totally valid approach and while there is a datestamp on your files, this can further help delineate between versions as or more effectively than the “v1, v2” nomenclature. But whatever you do, be consistent. Putting the date at the beginning of the file name will ensure it always shows up first in your folder window (if you have your system set up that way); so too will chapter files always be in order if you start off with the chapter number.

Working within a file can be sticky enough. Setting up your files properly can leave your mind free to focus on the important stuff, namely your work. Write on!


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