Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Spreadsheets, Schedules and Writers

by Janis Patterson
Okay, I’ll come clean. I’m a spreadsheet junkie. I use spreadsheets for everything – keeping track of chapter lengths/daily writing deadlines/publishing schedules/royalty payments – just about everything except what to have for dinner and when to do the laundry. While accurate and useful spreadsheets can be a pain to set up, once they’re in place they help my usually scattered mind keep at least a minimal grip on what’s done and what has to be done. Some of us need all the help we can get.

In my latest publishing blitz the spreadsheet has proved incredibly helpful. Nine books released one every two weeks over four months makes for one unbelievably complicated project. Every book is in a different place with editing, the formatter and the cover artist.

After almost being lost in an avalanche of sticky notes, scribbled-on napkins, various emails and an admittedly imperfect memory, I started a spreadsheet. One line per book, and – currently, which might change! – 34 columns of actions to be taken. Add a rainbow of color-coding, and I can almost see each book’s progress and current situation at a glance.

Of course, it would have been so much easier to start out with this system instead of having it grow organically. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to be digging around in a basketful of sticky notes, scribbled-on napkins, various emails and an even more than usual undependable memory in order to make an accurate history. On the other hand, though, there was no way that starting out I could have predicted half the things that happened and/or were necessary.

It has been an interesting journey.

I cannot recommend enough that anyone who wants to get organized in any field of writing think about spreadsheets. There are writers who keep track of the flow of their story – POV characters, turning points, various character traits – all kinds of things. I haven’t gone that far yet, mainly because my writing style is different. I just write with only the sketchiest idea of what is going to happen – a minimal skeleton of a story, if you will – and as for my characters…! Most of the time they simply walk in, announce their name and tell me to start writing. I could no more change them (major characters, that is – not one-line walk-ons) than I could learn to speed-type accurately with my toes. And – I say this from sad experience – Heaven help me if I try to change their name from the one they like. One time I tried that and the character simply shut up. Wouldn’t do or say anything and was unbelievably obstinate until I started calling him by the name he liked. Then the book went like cream and was one of my best sellers.

So – spreadsheets can definitely be a writer’s best friend. I would be terminally confused without them.


Now – an update on my publishing blitz. Yesterday was Release Day for THE FAIR AMAZON, a traditional Regency Romance. On July 30 my release will be THE JERUSALEM CONNECTION, a contemporary romantic suspense. Here’s a peek at the cover for THE FAIR AMAZON –


16 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I like the cover art on the new novel! I agree organization is very important to writers.

Cathy Shouse said...

Spreadsheets don't come easily to me. I can't imagine what one with all of those steps to take would look like. Can you give a thumbnail sketch of what the steps say and how the spreadsheet with the 9 book releases is set up?
And how did you end up releasing 9 books in so short a time? How many do you write simultaneously? Last, do you use Scrivener or any software for the writing? Thanks for an inspiring post.

Susan said...

Thanks, Jacqueline!

Cathy, the columns have titles like Editing, ISBN (E) Applied, ISBN (P) Applied, File to Formatter, Info to Cover Artist, Formats Received, Formatter Paid, Cover Art Approved, Cover Art Received, Artist Paid - every single step from completing the manuscript to uploading to the various retailers. And I put not only the action, but the date in the appropriate cell. I also color-code - once a book is complete and for sale, that book is given a specific color all the way across, signifying that it is out of the queue. Any problem or question steps are given another color. Etc.

As for so many books, all but two are backlist titles to which I have received my rights back. Two are brand new, never before released titles.

And yes, I have always worked on multiple projects at one time.

Janis, also known as Susan

Susan said...

Ooops - forgot. I own a copy of Scrivener, but opened it once, took one look and after about 30 minutes of noodling around with it, closed it for good. I'm an old fashioned writer. I use one Word file for the ms, another as a bible, where I write down names, descriptions, etc, - ie, anything I might have to reference again - as they come to me. Occasionally in a very complicated ms I might make some notes, or if I have to research, those go into a third file. Simple system and easy-peasy. I don't like complications except in plot.
Janis, also known as Susan

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I have no idea how to use a spreadsheet--keeping notes is the only way I can do it.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm very impressed with your spreadsheet. I hesitate to admit that I still use notecards, but I like the idea of tracking things on one file. I saw in the above comment that your columns are specific for all sorts of steps, things I wouldn't have thought of tracking but I can see they help keep you organized. Very impressive system.

Maris said...

I like spreadsheets, but what I usually discover (about myself) is I start a spreadsheet, add data for a while, then completely forget it. So I'm not sure it's worth my time.

Margaret Fieland said...

I have a spreadsheet for my poetry submissions. I got the spreadsheet from someone else, and it's a life saver. It's the only way I can track what I've submitted to where and what they replied, etc.

Kaye George said...

I agree. I couldn't write a novel without the spreadsheet I've developed over the years. I have a tab for characters (columns for age, vehicle, desc, role, etc.), a tab for the timeline with the dates and chapter divisions and columns for each main character, a tab for the main plot beats, and whatever other tabs I need for that project. I have to have it open when I'm working on that project!

Loretta C. Rogers said...

I never learned how to use excel, so I created my own version of a spreadsheet, but I'm still a pencil & paper gal.

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

I love spreadsheets too. Taught myself Excel when I was working and use it a lot now. I can't use it though for characters and chapters, etc. Mostly I need it for something that involves math since that's not my best subject. I do most of my charts and lists by hand. Bottom line: I need to write! ;-)

Good luck with all your releases. It sounds like a busy time for you. But a happy one.

Debra Andrews said...

I've been using spreadsheets for the past year or so, and they really help me stay focused and on track. I can also relate to you so much with the characters as it's pretty much the same for me!! Happy writing,

Cathy Shouse said...

Thanks for the detailed response! Janis/Susan! Best of luck on the releases. How exciting for you!

Suzanne said...

I like the idea of using spreadsheets more with my writing. I use a pretty detailed one for my submissions which include a variety of short stories, but I may have to branch out and try this for other aspects of writing. Thanks for the info.

Morgan Mandel said...

Lovely cover! About spreadsheets - I do like to use the template check register spreadsheet. I have my grubby regular check register I start out with, then I check it against the bank's statement, and I put it all together on the spread sheet. The spread sheet is what my accountant gets, so he can read it and everything is on there. I've never tried using it for writing. If I could figure out how to do one for that, it probably would be a good idea.

Carole Price said...

I don't use a spreadsheet yet, but then I only have 2 books published and no e-books. I do have a 3-ring binder with tabs for every character, and keep adding traits, etc., as I learn more about each one. I have a notebook for all commitments, events, books sold, etc. This works for me for now, but I do have a ton of stickies, etc., and waste time checking them twice or more often.