While U Wait: Form the Infrastructure

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office

Weather: 84º and sunny

You’ve got queries and proposals circulating. You’re writing new books. Is there anything else to be done while you wait?

Goodness, yes! You need to get your infrastructure set. If you think through your office, your computer and your online presence right now, designing the perfect systems, you’ll be set for the crazy busyness that could follow getting contracted. And if no crazy busyness ever follows? You will still be set up for maximum personal and professional productivity.

Let me just make a list of some of the elements that come to mind. Some will apply to you, some may not, but try to think ahead. Those having to do with your online presence we’ll address tomorrow. Think of these today as your office infrastructure. You’ll never again have the time to be as objective and intentional in developing your system.

  • Office Design. Having a separate room for an office is a blessing. It will help you set the stage for productivity from day one. Just like any office, you will need a filing cabinet, a desk, a computer, printer and good chair at minimum. You will spend long hours in this room. If resources allow, make it the room in which you most like to spend time.  If you must start out writing on the kitchen table, create a mobile office with files in one box and office equipment, supplies in another. Often plastic crates work well to create a mobile system.
  • Mail Collection. Think long and hard before you use your home address as your write-to-the-author address. (Remember the movie Misery?) Now might be the time to get a post office box and to begin using it for your business address. (Yes, writing is a business.)
  • Physical Filing System. Even in this day of digital files, you will need a file cabinet with real file folders. You’ll need financial files, files for each project–sometimes multiple files for each project, you’ll need idea files, publisher files, a file for each organization you belong to, files for conferences, events, etc.  No one else can develop and organize your filing system. You need to think about your life and organize accordingly. You can find excellent books on the subject including my favorite, Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. Just remember, if you have a stack of papers that sit on your desk because you don’t know where they go, you have a flaw in your filing system.
  • Computer Organization System. Now is the time to learn your computer inside and out. Discover as much as you can about each program you will use. Learn to use the “Track Changes” function in Microsoft Word since that is how you will most likely work with your book edits. Just as you must design your physical filing system, you need to develop a hierarchical computer filing system for your documents and email. (“Hierarchical” means folders within folders.) When you open your documents file, you should see subfolders that divide up your life. You might have something like: Church, Computer, Personal, Family, Organizations, Photographs, Reading, Speaking, Travel, Writing. In each one of those you will have subfolders. In “Writing” you might have: Agent, Articles, Books, Interviews, Publishers, etc. If you were to open up the “Books” folder you might have: Published/Contracted Books, Ideas, Unsold Books, etc.  Knowing how to get to a file in seconds will save you hours later. You will also want to set up a system for naming files so you can always tell which is the latest edit for instance. Again, there are great books on how to do this.
  • Contact File/ Address Book. Start at day one to capture and organize addresses. I am a Mac user so everything is integrated across all my systems. I use the Address Book application. I fill out the v-card completely, including a photograph. I can usually find one on the web or in Facebook if I don’t have one. Once the v-card is in place, I never have to type an address again. I use this to automatically print labels, sync wirelessly to my iPad and iPhone, address letters and envelopes and even send Christmas cards. I can organize it any way. As long as you commit to doing this every time you get home from a conference with a stack of business cards, it will never become overwhelming and will form one of the most valuable resources of your business.
  • Calendar. Learn to use your calendar program, including how to send and accept invitations, how to have airline flights go automatically to your calendar, etc. Make sure there’s a way to sync this to your phone.
  • Project Tracking/ Planning. This is often part of your calendar program, but I just bought a task/project program called Things for Mac that I already love. I have it on my desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone– syncing across all platforms. Because you’re going to be working to deadline on multiple books at the same time, make sure you learn how to use a project tracker.
  • Reader Data Files. One of the most important things you are going to build as a writer is your reader base. From the first day, collect every name and address either physically or digitally. This reader list is what will impress or depress future publishers. This may well be one of your most important assets as a writer. Set up a system now that can capture every name. Make sure you are able to separate them by zipcode for mailings and to let them know geographically when you will be in their area. In addition to reader files, you’ll need to have influencer databases, reviewer databases, etc.
  • Telecommunication. Decide now whether you will use a land line, a cell phone or both. Make sure you have voicemail and know how to use it. Learn your phone just like you plan to learn your computer. The more comfortable you are with technology, the easier your job will be.
  • E-Book Reader. Our world is changing. Get to know e-books and how they work. I bought the very first Kindle immediately and changed to Kindle II the day it came out. I got my iPad immediately as well. Why is this important? I understand books in a whole new way and I’m not afraid of the changes. Content is still king no matter whether it is delivered on the pulp of trees or on digital readers. The more technology you can master while you wait, the better.

So what did I forget? Can you give us more tips of setting up an office, mastering technology and building the infrastructure?

15 Responses

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  1. You sync between your Mac, iPhone, and iPad?

    Man! You tempt me to envy. 🙂

    Not that I would sync. I have stacks all over the place that don’t have file folders to go in. But I would love an iPad, all the same.

    On the one hand, writers have to be logical to plot well and to motivate their characters properly. On the other hand, organization is just not a strong suit for many creative types.

    What works for slobs like me? Do you suggest we set aside two hours on a Monday morning to file and update addresses, or should we spend fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day or at the end of each day? Is there like a Fly Lady for disorganized writers who will email us and tell us to put on our shoes and take fifteen minutes to organize our files?

  2. Erika Marks says:

    Wow, so much to think about.

    I’m now doing final edits for my debut and this list is a great resource. As writers in today’s market it’s easy to focus on the more front-and-center pieces of the puzzle such as a web presence, but the more behind-the-scenes pieces of general organization will be equally as important down the road…

    And I am especially fond of to-do lists that don’t include dusting or ironing anywhere on them!

  3. Lynn Dean says:

    Wow! This post is a valuable collections of practical tools and one I’ll copy and save for reference. I’ve made a good start on many of these tips, but I see that I still have far to go. Thanks for the road map! 🙂

    One thing I’ve begun to do that I hope will pay off: Besides reference materials, the papers most likely to clutter my desk are receipts. If I make a trip to research a story this year, and it’s not published for another three to five years, I need a way to keep up with my legitimate expenses for taxes once there’s a profit. So I set up a receipt file for each title I’m working on. When I have a receipt, I underline or highlight the date, item, and cost. I also write that same info in ink nearby, because some of the new thermo papers fade over time. Then I tape the receipt to a plain sheet of paper. Doesn’t have to be pretty–just keeps all those slips of paper in chronological order. I make notes in the margins to help me find related groups: Books for Initial Research, Photo Trip, etc.

    I hope this will make bookkeeping easier some April, but for now it’s already keeping my desk cleaner. 🙂

  4. janetgrant says:

    Great post, Wendy. Honestly, I’m always running a step or two behind Wendy in the organizational category. She’s the best!
    One item that you’ll also want to keep in mind is a database for media. Once you start having radio/TV/blog guest spots, you’ll want to have all the contact info in one spot. That way, when one of your books releases, you can contact these media outlets yourself or ask the publicist at your publisher’s to do so. (I think it’s always a good idea to at least do personal follow-up contact, even if the publisher’s publicist made the initial contact.) These are the people who liked your work well enough to give you some “air time”; don’t lose track of them.

  5. Wendy says:

    The left side of my brain is singing your praises for this post (while the right side is occupied creating a new story). I certainly need to brush up more on online calendars, etc. I’m so used to my trusty planner. It’s time for me to get with the technological program.
    ~ Wendy

  6. Jane Steen says:

    Thanks for the tips – very useful, although I’m fairly organized so some of this is in place already (we commercial writers have it much easier when entering the fiction arena, as writing is already a business for us).

    I found the tip about Things particularly useful – I’ve been using Toodledo, which is a good web-based task management app with an iPhone version, but it has its quirks and I’m hoping Things might be the solution.

    The other tip that struck me was building a reader/contacts database. The Mac address book is fairly powerful, and I can sync it across all my devices using MobileMe, but as I move towards querying my work–and thus gaining a mass of contact info I may rarely use–I’m thinking of trying out Daylite. I already use the Billings software by the same company for billing clients.

    And I love my Kindle! I can send my drafts to it and read them through while making notes to myself about future changes. One day, no doubt, I will buy an iPad, but I always prefer to wait for about version 3 with Apple.

    More quick tips for writers – the Mac-only Scrivener is the best program I’ve found for writing (your next book), and Evernote is incredibly useful for gathering ideas, research, images and just about everything. Lynn, you could scan your receipts into Evernote!

    And, of course, if you’re not blogging and on Twitter you need to set this up while you’re waiting for replies from agents (it will keep you from fretting, too).

  7. LOVE this, Wendy! Great tips! Kiddos are gone for the next 2 weeks to gma & gpa’s house, so hubby and I are taking the “time off” (well, not off of work, but off of parenting!) to get our house ready for baby, and I’m also using it to organize my writing stuff as well, including many of the things you listed! I figure if I’m having a hard time of it now with 3 kiddos, when I add #4 in July, I’m going to go CRAZY if I’m not organized!

  8. scarlett says:

    Soooooo timely! I have my manuscript out to four agents right now and only this weekend did I consider, “What happens if one of them says yes???” How irresponsible of me! This list is so wonderful, I think I’ll print it out and mark off items as I complete them. Look forward to tomorrow’s post too!

  9. One tip on the e-readers: if you can’t afford to invest in one Kindle makes a free app for desktop (Windows and Mac… and maybe Linux too?) so you can still get your e-books without yet splurging.

  10. Lynn Dean says:

    Jane (or anyone who knows)~ Would the IRS accept a scanned copy of a receipt? Or would they require the original? I do love the idea of scanning a backup copy. It never hurts to wear a belt AND suspenders, so to speak.

  11. patriciazell says:

    Wendy, thanks for the timely info. Today was my last day at school and I am sitting amid a mess typing this. It’s time for me to organize and your tips will help me.

  12. Jane Steen says:

    Lynn, apparently yes: according to Rev. Proc. 97-22, you can scan your records. BUT I’d still throw the originals in an envelope or something just in case. I haven’t started using Evernote for business documents yet, but I know people do.

    Everybody: trying out Things and Daylite. Things: great if you want a simple project manager. Daylite: I think I’m in love. It’s a little daunting at first, but incredibly powerful. Will cost $200 for the basic single-user version PLUS the module that will allow me to turn emails into tasks (and thus finally restore the feature I miss so much from Outlook).

    Wendy: Thanks (I think) for sending me off into an organization binge. I will, eventually, be very happy about all the time I’m spending on this.

  13. Lucy says:

    It should not need saying, but if you store this much data (contacts, etc.) on your computer, make monthly backups to an entirely separate system. If you don’t, there’s likely to come a time when you’ll wish you had.

    I have an emphatic preference for paper (and paper backups) myself, but there’s no denying that this requires a lot of storage space and the mental flexibility to remember where you put things. 🙂

  14. jane G Meyer says:

    Reader Data Files. … Make sure you are able to separate them by zipcode for mailings and to let them know geographically when you will be in their area. In addition to reader files, you’ll need to have influencer databases, reviewer databases, etc.

    Wendy, do you have a particular program that you like that captures reader data? I have a new Mac, and am just getting used to this new machine and all it has to offer, but I’m assuming that Entourage isn’t enough… that making groups isn’t quite what you’re talking about. I’d love your recommendation.

    Also, the comment about back up is SO important. My computer, and my external hard drive all crashed about a year and a half ago. I lost quite a bit of writing 🙁 I now use Mozy.com, which backs up everything on my computer off site. I’ve been very pleased.

  15. Wendy Lawton says:

    Jane, I don’t know of a specific program that captures reader names. I think most web designers write their own scripts for capturing online reader contact and most writers I know input physical addresses one at a time in a database. Anyone else have any recommendations?