And what am I supposed to track, you ask. And how?
Let’s talk about the how, first. I use Excel spreadsheets, but you could use a pen and paper or your own system altogether. But you do need to have a place in your life to keep various handy reference information regarding your writing projects.First, I keep a spreadsheet with the title of each book I write. As my working titles get replaced with the final titles from the publishers, I change the title in my spreadsheet to reflect the published title. On this spreadsheet I write down the names of all the main characters. For a romance, I capture the hero, heroine, main villain, and if there are a few important sidekicks (particularly who might get their own book later on), I write down those names.
I also write down everyone’s hair and eye color. (You’d be stunned how often you can’t remember these details when it’s time to do art fact sheets for your cover artist.) A couple dozen books into your career, you’ll have no idea if you’ve used a name before or not, or if all your heroes have black hair and green eyes. This list will help you avoid duplications.
Then, I have another spread sheet that tracks dates. What date I started and finished each manuscript. What date I submitted a query and/or the full manuscript to which editor. Capture the editor’s email address for follow-up communication, too. Also write down what title you used on each submission. Titles change, and it’s embarrassing not to remember what your book is called six months later when the editor calls to talk about your project.
If you’re submitting to numerous contests, you probably should track those. Find out when results will be announced and track those puppies. Some authors track their scores to see if they’re trending up over time, but personally, I enter very few contests so I don’t do this. I’ve also heard of authors compiling the comments from judges to see if they can find trends in their writing.
Once you sell a book, a whole BUNCH of dates must be tracked. When you received revision requests, due dates of revisions and edits, and when you actually sent those in. These dates are vital to know if there’s a dispute or a scheduling foul-up down the road, and you will forget them if you don’t write them down.
Once the book comes out, you MUST have a list of titles and ISBN numbers for each book. You will need this number all the darned time and it’s a pain in the rear to have to track the ISBN down every single time someone asks for it so they can order a copy of your book.
And last, but not least, set up a spreadsheet of income earned. (This is the most fun spreadsheet of all!) You must write down how much money you received, when you received it, and who it’s from. Not only will the IRS require this information, but it will be vital information for analyzing marketing and making career decisions down the road.
The fun part of being an author is the creative and artistic process of crafting a story into a book. But the flip side of being an author is accepting that you’ve also become a small business owner. As such, a certain amount of organization is required of you. Time management will become your friend. And keeping a few simple lists updated from the very beginning will save you buckets of time down the road.
Then, you can get back to the fun part and write!
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