From ‘To do’ to ‘Done’ – confessions of an organised author

Roz's to-do bookI’ve had a question from Samantha Warren, who saw me at the Get Read conference, where publishing journalist Porter Anderson was interviewing me for a session on reaching readers. Some of the discussion was about balancing all the demands in our lives – social media and promotion versus the writing and production of books. In reply, I waved a notebook that I use to keep myself organised, not to mention sane.

Samantha has emailed:  First, where did you get that fabulous notebook? Second, how do you organize your to-do list using the notebook? I have post-its everywhere! Any advice you might have for a disorganised amateur would be greatly appreciated.

First things first. The notebook was a freebie at the London Book Fair 2011; a dummy book with blank pages produced by print company CPI Books to advertise their services. They’d probably be pleased to know it’s standing up well to daily use.

moo 005I have pages for:
Guest posts I’ve agreed to write, including deadlines if these have been agreed, or the date they were requested so I don’t leave them too long

Post ideas for this blog (that’s another one crossed off… crossing off is incredibly satisfying, so you must do this)

Consultancy enquiries and bookings, with dates

Events checklist – I refer to this if I have a reading or an event, to make sure I take everything I need. It includes printout of speech or prompts on notecards; backup on Kindle; copies of my books; Moo cards; pens for signing (my handwriting is so dreadful that my signature only looks right in cheap Bic biros….); camera.

WIP reading lists – each book gets a separate page: The Mountains Novel; The Venice Novel; The Flying Novel. That one’s just hatched, after a conversation I had with a gentleman who came to a signing and wanted to talk about My Memories of a Future Life.

WIP launch notes – again, one page for each book, including bloggers who’ve expressed an interest, reviewers, Twitter folks and websites on related subjects who are worth approaching.

Blog and website tweaks – I’m always thinking of improvements I could make to this blog, my writer website and The Red Blog. Fiddling with websites is a great way to fritter away your hours, so I wait until I’ve got a purposeful list, then work my way through it. And cross things off.

Special projects – when I redesigned the cover of Nail Your Novel I made a special page for all the fiddly jobs I’d have to do, such as redesign the livery on the blog, websites I needed to update.

Style guide for the Nail Your Novel print books - as the books are a series, they need to follow a consistent format. Crossheads (including their spacing), title page, copyright page and so on are uniform in all the titles. So that I don’t have to open the previous book and pick through the typesetting menus, I wrote out a house style page.

 Which brings me to ….

001Book production chart

When I ran an editorial department I had a big ledger that was a schedule for the entire imprint’s output. Every stage of a book’s production process was listed so that nothing got missed: Copy commissioned; art department briefed; interior design approved; copy in; copy edited; 1st proof; 2nd proof etc. When you have 30 titles on the go at once, you utterly believe in systems.

If you’re not self-publishing you won’t need this, but if you are, you might find it useful. I don’t tend to chart the writing stages (eg first draft, beat sheet, edit, beta readers etc), but I do list the publishing nitty gritty. This is just a selection:

  • Cover finalised
  • Proper images bought (it’s easy to let watermarked roughs slip through on a PDF because you get used to looking at them)
  • Book on Kindle
  • Book on Kobo
  • Book on Smashwords
  • Spine finalised
  • Index done
  • Page numbers taken off prelims for book interior (title pages etc shouldn’t have folios)
  • Back cover copy written
  • Back cover fully designed.

I also keep track of other places I need to update once the book is published:

So that’s my to-do book. Is there nothing a blogger won’t post about? Here are my writing scarves.

writing scarves

EXCITING NEWS! A while ago, The Guardian Newspaper asked readers to nominate their favourite self-published books. Out of 3200 authors, they featured 34 that were featuring frequently – and My Memories of a Future Life was one of them!

I was so thrilled to see my book made the list, so I’d like to say enormous, heartfelt thank-yous to everyone who took the trouble to nominate me. I’m still grinning.

In the meantime, tell me: how do you keep track of your to-do list? Share in the comments!

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  1. #1 by Inion N. Mathair on December 9, 2013 - 12:57 am

    Congrats Roz, for the nomination. You soooo deserve it. We try hard to keep up with our To-do’s but find that by the time we’re marking off one thing, the list begins to grow. lol. Excellent post! Sharing now.

  2. #3 by philipparees on December 9, 2013 - 11:06 am

    I have been looking for just such a book. Two copies needed, one for dream recording and the other for the humbler life. This post most timely, since the only reason I do everything at once is because I know I will forget it if I don’t (Early onset Alzheimer) and because if I make lists I lose them, or there are so many I only deal with the first one found. Net result two years of social media preparation, book relevant articles, websites relevant all disappeared into the bowels of the computer favorites!

    Lay awake all night recalling things I should have done! Those scarves hold a key. I think I should take out my collection and wear appropriate scarf for appropriate activity…they say the body remembers better than the head…actually I think I said that…but I can’t remember…

    • #4 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on December 13, 2013 - 7:35 am

      Ho ho, Philippa! Two books! I suppose I do that too, because I have my ideas books separate from the to-do. The to-do scarf could also be appropriate. College scarf for academic industriousness, although in my case it was also the herald of a trip to a friend’s room to chat instead of work. Hmm, rather like social media. As you were.

  3. #5 by Nicolette on December 12, 2013 - 12:41 pm

    I wish there was a way I could “love” this post, but a comment will have to do. Thank you for writing this! Up until now I’ve only used a daily planner, which doesn’t have good space to make categories.

    I use yWriter to keep notes and things related to a project all organized, but now I think I’m going to use it to make a To-Do book.

  4. #7 by Samantha Warren on December 12, 2013 - 6:16 pm

    Thank you so much for that insight into your to-do list. Time to get myself a good notebook and do away with the scattered Post-It notes!

    Also, I totally love your writing scarves. I have a writing sock monkey hat.

  5. #9 by journalpulp on December 13, 2013 - 9:42 pm

    I don’t mean to flatter, but there’s really no question that yours is the best blog of its sort on the entire internet — or, at any rate, I’ve not found a better one.

    I came across the following mention of you, inadvertently, when I was searching for something else, and I thought you might like to see it:

    http://lifehacker.com/become-a-better-writer-by-learning-to-be-a-skilled-read-812014890

  6. #11 by Alison Morton on December 15, 2013 - 8:18 am

    Brilliant!
    You, know, I have an old Filofax that I could adapt for this. I used it when I did my history masters’ and it organised the whole thing. I bagged a distinction. ;-)

    This is a lightbulb moment. Thank you, Roz.

  7. #13 by tempestletrope on December 15, 2013 - 7:35 pm

    An organized author? Isn’t this one of those mythological creatures, such as Sasquatch, or an honest politician? ;-)
    My mind is bipolar (literally–I’m not one of those people who throws such terms around willy-nilly) and chaotic. Organization does not come easy to me, in spite of the fact that I’m also OCD.

    • #14 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on December 16, 2013 - 8:56 am

      Some of us are organised, Temple – although maybe not thoroughly! I’m sure that, despite my notebook, you would point out to me that I have an untidy desk with notes that are years old and haven’t been filed more formally!

  8. #15 by P. C. Dettman on February 8, 2014 - 7:41 pm

    I use Evernote religiously, across all my computers, tablets and phone. I also like a proper notebook so I’m about to try the new Professional series of Moleskines to organise me better… Still a WIP though!

    • #16 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 8, 2014 - 7:50 pm

      Hi PC! I have a Moleskine that I haven’t started using yet. I’m not sure what I’m saving it for, but I do take it out and admire it a lot. Thanks for flying over from Twitter!

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