Weathering a File Storm: 6 Principles for Managing Book Files

Image by Michael Cory (CC BY 2.0)

by Corina Koch MacLeod

Are you working with an editor on your book? If so, good for you. You’re brave: handing your potential gem over for a good polishing. Your readers will thank you, and they might even thank you in sales.

If you’ve hired an editor to do some work on your manuscript, and if that work requires more than a copyeditsections of your book need reordering, or sentences and paragraphs need rewriting—(see this post for the various kinds of editing), files will be flying around. Truly. You will find yourself in a file storm. So, how do you tame that tempest, and keep track of all the versions of your book’s files?

Your editor can help you with this. Here are few principles that will prevent the worst case scenario: working on the wrong file. Gasp. Wither. Yep, we’ve all done it.

Principles for File Management

1. Consider a split. If your book chapters need to be reordered, and the chapters reworked, your editor may split your book into individual chapters for the time being so that reordering is possible later on, and so you can work on your manuscript in manageable chunks. Roll with it. Splitting up a book is especially necessary if you’re lucky enough to find an editing service (like ours!) that has two editors (two sets of eyes, two brains, two skill sets) working on your manuscript.

2. Allow your editor to name your files in a way that makes sense for now. For example, Ch1Anti-aging Solutions. The file name will contain just enough information for an editor to remember its contents. This will be important for reordering chapters later on. Trust your editor’s file naming choices and don’t change the file name.

3. Be prepared to do a little more work.
When an editor does a pass of a chapter, she will make changes right in the text, with Word’s tracking feature on, so you can see and approve (or reject) those changes. 
Word’s Tracking and Comments features
Your editor may also write comments or queries in the margins, using Word’s Comments feature. This is your book, and an editor who is determined to keep it so will bring to your attention decisions that only you can make. These queries need to be addressed by you, and in most cases, you’ll address them right in the text. I’m sorry to say that queries often mean more work for you, the author, and when you’re not in the “I just want to be done with this” mind set, you’ll be glad your editor asked you to make these decisions. 
4. Make changes in the right file, and check with your editor if you’re not sure which file you should be working in. Your editor will be happy to tell you if you’ve forgotten or misunderstood his instructions. Never go back to the files on your computer to make changes. Once you’ve sent those files to your editor, they’re yesterday’s news. If an editor has done a pass on a file, it becomes the most current file, you need to work in that file, too.
5. Only make the changes your editor asks you to make. Imagine if you hired someone to paint a really big room that took two days to paint. If, after the first day of painting, you decide to spackle parts of the wall that had already gotten a coat of paint, your painter, upon arrival the next morning, will surely be frustrated with you. By all means, make changes in files that your editor has not seen. But as soon as you release a file to your editor and your editor has worked on it, you need to put down your spackling tool. From here on in, only make changes to the parts of your manuscript that your editor has flagged for you.

6. Add your initials to the file name. After you’ve made changes to the file, save the file and add your initials to the file name. For example, Ch1Anti-agingSolutionsCKM. This will let your editor know, at a glance, that you were the last person to work on this file.

File Management Systems

Every editor has her way of transferring and managing files. Check with your editor to see what method she uses. She may handle files by email, use an FTP client, or use file sharing sites like Dropbox or Google Drive. Ask your editor where you need to pick up files and what you need to do with files once you’ve made your changes. Being clear on these two things can help you both to weather the file management storm.
Editors: What file management system do you use? 
Authors: Have you worked with an editor who used a particularly useful file management system? 

We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Related Posts
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How to Avoid Amateur Writing Mistakes
From Manuscript to Published: 8 Steps to Publishing Your Ebook
Ramping Up to Writing: Dealing With Procrastination

6 thoughts on “Weathering a File Storm: 6 Principles for Managing Book Files

  1. Thanks for a great post, and I’m especially happy to see you address #5. Revising during editing just makes for big headaches for everyone involved.

    I use a system similar to what you describe for naming files, but I also include the date in the file name for an additional way to keep track of who worked on it last. For example, Ch1Anti-agingSolutionsCKM_9.8.13 tells everyone that CKM last worked on the file on 9.8.13, which is helpful if several people rework it within a several-day period.

    1. Yes. Assigning a date to files is a great tip, Change It Up. Thank you.

      You’re quite right: revising during the editing stages can make the process more frustrating and costly for authors (and editors). In order to avoid frustration, the trick is knowing when your manuscript is finished. Carla wrote a great post on this very topic. You can find it here:

  2. Helpful information, thanks for posting it! I like orderly, reasoned files. 🙂

    Change It Up Editing, I like your idea of adding the date as well. Who knows how many times you might be going over the same chapter?

  3. Ah, #5 – how lucky I don’t use an editor. I make changes every time I read my work. Supposing a writer notices a sentence that could be better put? Is she really meant to leave it be?

    1. You raise a valid point, Lexi. It’s your book after all, right? So why would an editor ask you to only address the changes he or she has highlighted?

      This advice has to do with introducing errors. When an editor copyedits your manuscript, for example, she has checked your entire manuscript for clarity and correctness. The minute you revise a section of your manuscript, that revised section is no longer “edited” and any potential errors that you introduce in your revisions can creep into your final version.

      If you want your editor to go back to check those revised bits, and you’re paying your editor by the hour, you could really rack up your editing costs. In the end, it’s most cost effective to do all your revising before you get to the copyediting stage.

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