Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Organizing Contest Submissions

There are many contests available for writers, both published and unpublished. For the unpublished, it is a good way to get your work in front of editors and agents in a competitive market. Contest wins also look good when submitting to an agent or editor. For the published, contest wins and finaling are ways to show your readers that others have enjoyed the book. They will attract a new audience that might not have tried you without those badges of honor.

Because there are so many contests, you can easily lose track of which books you've submitted to which contests. So let's talk about how to organize this information. You will need to keep track of things that need to be done, and tasks you have completed. Each step will require tracking in both areas.

1. First, decide the best vehicle for keeping track of your submissions. This might be a spread sheet, a database file, or an old-fashioned notebook. Everyone is different. Some may prefer electronic records that they can access from a variety of devices, while others prefer a hard copy that is portable and easily accessed.
2. Second, create a master template for recording the information. For each contest entered, record the name of the contest, the material submitted, the contest fee, the contact name/email, the date submissions are due, the date you submitted your materials, postage paid (if sent via snail mail), the dates the finalists and winners are announced, how you fared in each contest, and the date you thanked the judges. Keep a separate spread sheet for each work or work in progress.
3. Record information into the spread sheet as it occurs--dates you sent in submissions, dates you heard back, etc..
4. If you are sending a submission via the post, pre-print your SAS postcards with "Your submission, (Title of Book), was received by (Name of Contest) on (Blank line for date). Then place a label with your name and address on the stamped side.
5. For tasks that require action, write yourself reminders in your calendar, or in an electronic notebook such as Evernote ( or Springpad ( Both these services are free.
6. Set a reminder for yourself in your calendar for every finalist/winner announcement date. If the date goes by without hearing anything, check with the contest coordinator as to the status of your entry.
7. After a contest entry is returned, carefully review the entries for feedback. Look at the scores and comments. As Harlequin Historical author Blythe Gifford suggests, "Take what is useful and discard the rest." Incorporate any useful feedback into your project.
8. Send thank-you notes to the judges for volunteering their time. This should be done regardless of whether you agree with the comments.
9. Keep all expense reports (postage, copying, etc.) for tax purposes.
10. Review your data once your book has made the rounds with these contests. Was the result worth the investment? Did you receive back helpful comments? Would you enter this contest again? Make a note of it for your next book.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Coordinating a Blog Tour

Part of writing a book is marketing it when it is published. In the past, it was all about magazine ads and book tours. Today with the internet, there are many different avenues for talking up your book, and most of them are free!

Among these is a tour of writing-related blogs. This consists of contributing an article or answering interview questions on others' blogs, having other guests comment, following these conversations, and perhaps giving away a copy of the book as a thank-you for participating.

While this is great marketing for your book, it is also very time-consuming. Not only do you have to contact the owners of all the blogs, you have to write all the content, visit the blog and reply to comments, then follow up with the winner of your contest. You have to be organized to keep track of all these dates.

The first thing you should do is create these documents for collecting the information.

1. A spread sheet with all the blogs you want to visit. Include the name and email address of the primary contact person or owner of the blog. Add columns for progress (dates contacted, confirmed), notes (content each blog requires) and the post date.
2. A calendar for the dates encompassing your tour.
3. A spread sheet to record the dates you need to complete each of the tasks associated with the blog.
The first step is emailing blog owners. Always send your emails with a delivery and read receipt so you know they received/read it. Every time you contact a blog owner, record the date in your log. Move these emails to a folder in your Inbox for easy tracking. Follow up if you don't hear from them within two weeks. As you confirm live dates, enter those dates in the Posting Date column. Enter the guidelines in the Notes column. Also enter the name of the blog in your calendar on the day you are posting for that blog.

The spread sheet for your tasks should include columns for the blog name, content confirmation with blog owner, draft composition, material submission, posting, thank you, winner notification, and sending out the prize.

Each of these columns will have a date. Starting with the live date, calculate backwards the submission date (usually one week before the live date), draft date (the number of days you need to complete the submission), and confirmation date (usually about two weeks before the live date.) Going forward, calculate the thank-you date (the day after live date), winner notification date (the day after the live date) and the date you will send out the prize (2-3 days after the winner was notified.)

Sorting this sheet by draft or submission date will give you a visual of what needs to be done first. Once you are in the midst of the tour, you will be doing several of these tasks on the same day for different blogs. For example, you may be composing the draft for your next blog the same day you are thanking your previous host. Changing the color of these dates as you complete them will help you keep track of what needs to be done.

If you are under contract and writing your next book, finding the time to do all this is difficult. At Prima By Design, we can help you coordinate your tour. We can find blogs for you to visit, or work from your current list. We contact the owners, confirm the dates, ask for guidelines, then put it all in a spread sheet for you. We can also send out the prizes to the winners.

We give you back what you need most--the time to write! Contact us at for more information.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Handling InBox Overwhelm

Who isn't overwhelmed by emails these days? Check out this post on my organizing blog for tips on how to manage the mail clutter.

Managing Your Email Inbox:

What do you do to keep your emails in control?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Organizing Electronic Files

From our first post, Blythe Gifford asked this question: "How can I best organize my electronic files surrounding a manuscript? Versions, partial scenes, and all those pesky things!"

The first rule in saving your files of any type is to be consistent. This applies to file and folder names as well as contents. So when you start work on a manuscript, you will want to create a master folder for this project. For purposes of this article, let's use "Gone With the Wind" as the working title. This will be the name of your main folder.

Within this folder will be subfolders for the different areas of work, such as Blythe mentioned above. But to keep file names simple, we'll go with initials. We'll start all our subfolders with "GWTW_," then add the contents of that folder. So for your characterization notes, your folder would be named "GWTW_characters".

Here are some subfolders you will want to create: Research, chapters, partial scenes, submissions, contest entries, plotting, book signings, marketing, etc. Most of these will be consistent between manuscripts. But you may need to add new folders for special projects.

Within each subfolder will be files and possibly more folders. For example, your submissions subfolder will only have one file containing a list of all submissions related to the project. But your characters subfolder will have a separate folder for each character--"GWTW_characters_Rhett", "GWTW_characters_Scarlett," etc. Then within each character's folder will be their characterization chart, family tree, and any research related to that character such as photos you scanned.

Your characters, once created, will not change. Chapter as you write them, though, will have several versions. Save a copy of each version as you create it. Always save earlier versions of your work separately--do not save over them. You might need to refer back to them some day.

To follow our example, say you have two separate versions of chapter three. The first folder will be named "GWTW_Chapter3_v1_mmyy." You could use either the date or version number alone, but having the two together will make it easier to find files when they are listed alphabetically in your folder. The second version would be named "GWTW_Chapter3_v2_mmyy."

For miscellaneous notes and scenes, create a general folder (GWTW_Misc) for saving these files. Be specific in naming your files. If you attach these files to a specific chapter at some point, then move these files to the appropriate chapter folder.

Again, the key is to be consistent. Whatever string you use for naming your files, use that same naming system for all your works in progress.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is to back up everything! Use an online backup service such as Carbonite for ongoing security. In addition, back up your files to a flash drive or external hard drive once a week or month. For maximum security, copy your files to a flash drive and give it to a friend or family member for safe-keeping. It never hurts to be too careful.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Welcome to The Organized Writer

When I started writing in my teens, it was for fun. I loved just putting ideas down on paper, but knew nothing about characterization or plotting. I recognized different points of view, but couldn't define them. I stopped writing in college because I didn't have time. (A mistake I now realize.)

After I had children, the writing was calling me again. So I went back to writing, but this time, seriously. I joined a local writer's group, and attended conferences and took correspondence classes for writing. I was on my way to being published!

As I wrote more, I had more projects, more research books, and more copies of articles. Computers were basically for word processing. Nothing more. So I had to keep all this material organized, in case I needed to find it again some day. I bought binders, and recorded and stored everything.

Then life changed. The internet came along, I no longer had time for writing, and I had to go back to work, with a new career. After much consideration, I hung out my shingle as a Professional Organizer. It was a natural choice for me, since I had been organized my whole life. The challenge was being able to transfer my skills to others.

Fast forward a few years, and I realized that with my past skills of writing and organizing my own projects, I could help other writers do the same. Thus, The Organized Writer was born. First with hands on work, and now in a blog.

I have helped writers organize their office space, enter contests, create forms for recording tasks and coordinate blog tours. I realized I loved this aspect of my business.

And so, here I am, writing a blog about how I can help other writers be organized. This blog will give advice on keeping track of submissions, keeping track of research, time management, and more.

I welcome comments, suggestions for topics, questions and visits from writers. I can't wait to start this new journey with you!