5 File Management Tips From the Pros

by Corina Koch MacLeod

Image by Akaitori (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When you’re writing a book, you can generate a lot of files. I don’t know about you, but I have this overwhelming impulse to save every file version, back up every version, and to be safe, back up the back-ups. It’s no wonder, then, that files multiply like rabbits. And when that happens, so much can go wrong … like working on the wrong file, or overwriting the most current version of a book chapterone that you spent three hours agonizing over. Kill me now.

In a previous post, I described 6 principles for managing book files. Since then, Carla and I have consulted our colleagueseditors from the Editorial Freelancers Association and the Editors’ Association of Canadato see if we could glean some additional tips for you.

How do you manage your files? we asked. Here is how they answered:

1. Have a system.

Each file that you work on will need a label. And you’ll have less trouble finding files if you label your files consistently, and in a systematic way. So, how do you label your files? Read on…

2. Initial them.

If more than one person is working on your book files (if you’re collaborating with a co-author or if you’re working with beta reviewers or an editor), have each person attach their initials to the file name after they’ve worked on the file.



…and later

BestbookeverCKM_CD.docx (author, editor)

3. Date them.

Sure, most computer operating systems will include a date tag with each file you create, but not everyone knows where to look for this option. To determine the most recent file at a glance, include the date in your file name.




BestbookeverCKM080913.docx (day, month, year)

…or some other iteration that makes sense to you.

4. Number them.

If you’re working on a book-length work, or a course, you may want to split your project into chapters or modules. Number each chapter or module alphanumerically, so you can find it quickly.




5. Colour-code them.

Some editors colour-code files for each book project they’re working on. You can too. If you have a Mac, you have a built-in option of colour coding your files (lucky you!). If you have a PC, you can install software that allows you to colour code your files:

Folder Marker ($19.95 USD)
Folder Colorizer (free)

6. Back them up.

Now that you have your files labeled, back them up. No, really. Do it. Editors have lots of ways of backing up their files. Choose a method that works for you:

There is no one right way to manage your files. The key is to come up with a system that makes sense to you, and that will prevent you from losing your work (and your mind).

Many thanks to our editing colleagues at the EAC and the EFA for sharing tips on file management.

Related Posts

Weathering a File Storm: 6 Principles for Managing Book Files
How to Avoid Amateur Writing Mistakes
From Manuscript to Published: 8 Steps to Publishing Your Ebook
Ramping Up to Writing: Dealing With Procrastination

5 thoughts on “5 File Management Tips From the Pros

  1. Back ’em up at least once a week … daily if you do a lot each day. There’s nothing, NOTHING worse than losing an entire manuscript. OK, maybe the earth being destroyed by aliens, but that’s about it.

  2. I avoid all that name changing–and potential confusion–by saving all my files on a secure external server with version control. The most recent version of any particular file sits on top, with all the previous versions hiding beneath it. I can access any of them at any time. I never change a file name, and I have only the most recent version of any file on my hard drive. It’s impossible to work on the wrong version, and they’re all safe. After using this system, I would never go back to having multiple files and multiple file names on my hard drive.

  3. Wow, that sounds like a simple way to keep files straight. Can you tell us more about the external server you use? Is it an inexpensive commercial product that self-publishing authors might consider? Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Anne.

  4. For my part, I categorize my work on a week by week scheme but never go beyond 4 weeks. At the end of every month, I compile all the work that I’ve finished and/or want to keep or continue for the next month and delete the rest. I do it like this so that I can still go back to a piece that I did or a mental note that I wrote before, either for reference or when I’m trying to remember something. Clean-up at the end of every month for a clean slate of ideas. The main file I keep on my desktop, while the rest is both on a flash drive and on cloud storage for redundancy.

    Manda Maldanado @ Scality.com

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