If a writer makes only one New Year’s resolution, what could it be? A life-altering, career-shaping, path-guiding, joy-bringing resolution.
I have an idea. (And yes, it’s soon time to think about what you plan to do differently in the new year.)
I <insert writer name here> do hereby pledge to put my name on my paper.
We learned that in first grade, didn’t we? How quickly have we forgotten!
Establishing a standard method of labeling your files–all of them–will serve you well in your writing endeavors. But let’s first look at what it means for agents and editors.
If a writer makes only one New Year’s Resolution and it is “name it”…
- Even if the agent’s/editor’s computer crashes or has to reboot, when the file pops up in “Recents” or “Downloads,” the agent will know to whom a file marked only “Alternate Chapter” or labeled simply “Latest draft” belongs among of the hundreds of files they may have opened recently.
- If an agent is several pages into reading your proposal and can’t remember whose project it is, can they look in the header to find the author name and project title?
- If an agent makes it partway through light edits on a promising proposal and gets called away by agenting emergencies (a daily occurrence in our world), a well-labeled file with the author’s name will keep the project from disappearing in the fog of “Is this the current version”?
What information does an agent or editor need on a file name or page?
- Your name (and some other identifier if your name is super common, like Chicago Conference Connection Jane Doe)
- The project’s working title (can be truncated for space)
- Project category helps, if you have room (historical romance, self-help, Christmas novella, picture book…)
- The current date
You’ll develop your own system, but what works for many may look like this:
12 17 23 Arthur Wrighter memoir My Life as a Cellist final draft
12 17 23 Arthur Wrighter memoir Cellist
Some recommend no more than 30 characters in a file name (including spaces). Some systems require hyphens in place of spaces, but the old method of underscore (12_17_23_ Arthur_Wrighter) is outdated.
Some prefer the date at the end, but when searching many files names, an agent or the author may find the date relegated to the …(read more)… portion of the label.
If a writer’s resolution is making sure their name is on every page…
You’ll find agents jumping for joy. If you don’t yet understand how to format a header (and yes, the preferred for most is to find this info in the header, not the footer), make your resolution to spend ten minutes learning how to make that happen. It changes everything.
Most headers are best formatted in one of these ways:
Arthur Wrighter/My Life as a Cellist
Arthur Wrighter/My Life as a Cellist memoir
A. Wrighter/Life as a Cellist
A. Wrighter/Life as a Cellist/repped by Books & Such
Some also choose to include their email address.
Does it apply to numbering pages too?
Even something as short as a three-page synopsis benefits from numbering. The page number would be part of the header…typically located at the right margin with the header against the left margin. YOUR AGENT or EDITOR may ask for a different method. They’re not wrong. They’ll ask for what works for them. The goal is to standardize as much as possible to make it easy for them to know what project they’re looking at, which version, and the name of the hardworking writer who created it.
If you as a writer formulate a standard way of labeling everything with essential information, you’ll streamline your ability to find what you’re looking for when you search for that crazy but now compelling idea you had last summer. What had you called it? How awkward if the answer is “I called it New Idea.”
Is this the latest version? Easy way to find out. What’s the date on the file? That date can and should change every time you work on the file. Save As the file with today’s date. If you want to retrace your path in an earlier version, it’s still there in your computer, but labeled with an earlier date.
Can a writer’s New Year’s resolution this simple have great impact? Yes. For contest coordinators, your critique partners, the aforementioned agents and editors, and for you.
What simple change have you made in that past that has a daily impact on your writing?