Folder Structure for Novelists

A bunch of people have asked me about how I keep track of ongoing novel projects. I can pick up a project after months away and tell you exactly what stage it’s in and what I need to do next. I know exactly where to find every file or piece of information from any stage in the process, which is incredibly useful because novel projects are complicated.

For these parts of novel project management, the key is folder structure.

It’s the basis for how I organize all my notes, drafts, and anything else related to the process of writing, editing, and sending out a novel: where to store files, what to save, what to name them, all of that.

I applied this method to my writing projects out of necessity/rage after one project that spanned several years for which I’d create a new system of organization every time I picked it back up. Nothing was standardized. I was always unable to find what I needed to work on particular parts but knew that work existed somewhere. It was a mess, and it made a project that was already unpleasant for other reasons maddening.

I also worked as a project manager for a while, and I swear this is one of the easiest, stupidest, most useful things I learned.

So here’s how I do this.

The first stupid trick is to number your folders. This keeps the folders, and the progress of your work, in chronological order. Eventually, the project folder looks like this:

But you don’t set all the folders up right away; you create folders as you progress to each subsequent step, which helps track where you are in the process.

So start with 0, which I inventively call “BG” for background. Every one of my background folders has been organized differently depending on the needs of the project, but this folder is for general information you may need to refer to at any stage in the process. This is where my world-building notes go, for instance, since I’ll need them during drafting and editing. (It’s also where information goes before I’m at later stages but already have, say, notes on potential beta readers or agents to query.)

When you’re ready to start writing, the next folder is for your first draft (“1 First Draft”). This is where material you’re using and/or changing while working on your initial draft goes. If you’re using an outline from the background folder, copy it in here; that way you can make changes to it while you draft, but you’ll still have the original in your 0 folder if you mess it up.

The only file that has to be in this folder is the manuscript draft file you’re currently editing. Title your manuscript file something basic, even if it’s not the actual title, and STICK WITH IT, because it helps with the next stupid trick:

Numbering versions. It seems obvious. But it can also be easy to think, “Oh, I’ll definitely remember this is the most recent one.” DON’T FALL FOR IT. NUMBER YOUR VERSIONS. Know which is the most recent version, and still keep your previous ones so you can go back to them if needed.

(Please do not comment about how superior you think Scrivener is for doing this for you. Thanks in advance.)

After my first draft, I create a new folder for the initial clean-up pass for general grammar/spelling and anything I already know needs to be fixed, copying the last draft from the first draft folder and the ongoing notes I’ve inevitably made for myself of things I already know to fix.

Why not just do this in the first draft folder? Because this isn’t initial drafting. This is editing, and I want a record of when changes occurred and why. If I decide not to make changes I thought I needed during the first draft, I note that; if I later decide I had it right the first time, or I need to reconsider, I still have that text.

My next step is to solicit feedback from beta readers. You copy your cleaned-up draft into this folder and, if the file name didn’t already include the actual title and your name, rename it. You also want a new folder for this step to copy in other files, like the list of beta readers to contact and what in particular, if anything, I’ve asked them to focus on.

(I may do another post on this later, but those questions can include things like, ‘Is the romance between these two characters working?’ or ‘Were you confused about any of the world-building?’ Down the road, I’ve found it useful to see what I was worried about in earlier drafts.)

And this is the final, important, stupid folder structure tip, which is: save everything in your folder structure. Everything.

If you get feedback from a beta reader, don’t just save the file with track changes they sent you, save the additional comments they wrote in their emailed response. Keep everything in one place. Yes, your email probably saves it, and we can talk about email folder structure another time. But the less searching and clicking around you have to do, the fewer barriers (including lack of internet connectivity) there are to your workflow, and the easier it is to keep track of everything.

I start my feedback folder by making a folder for each reader who’s confirmed they’ll get back to me, and it progresses something like this.

Do you see how this works? Just glancing at the folder I know exactly who to follow up with if I haven’t heard back from them by the requested deadline. (The 0s in front of the Canceled and Received folders keep them easy to visually separate, rather than mixed among the alphabetical list of names.)

Incidentally, if you need recommendations for awesome female characters from SFF novels published in 2017 to nominate for awards, I’ve got you covered. =D

I’m not going to keep going through folder by folder; you get the idea. To review, the basic principles are:

  • Number folders (and versions) in chronological order.
  • Internal consistency is your friend.
  • Create a separate folder for each new stage in the process.
  • Save and document everything in your folder structure.

Have questions? Let me know in the comments!

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Favorite SFF Reads of 2016

SFF award season is upon us! I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads of the year that were published in 2016, in case either

a) you really liked some of these too and could do with a reminder they’re nomination-eligible, or

b) you’d like to check some of them out!

 

A few notes about my list here:

  1. They’re all novels, because that’s mostly what I read.
  2. There are no YA books, because this list would go on forever if I didn’t focus SOMEHOW.
  3. It looks like most of my favorite reads this year were not the first books in their series, so if you do want to check them out, keep that in mind when looking them up.
  4. I have not yet read everything published in 2016 that I meant or mean to. Story of our lives, I know, but there’s still time! If I’m missing something here that seems like it would obviously suit, though, that’s probably why.

Between moving and the election, this was a rough year for me, and I reached for a lot of stories that I either knew would be lighter reads or were set in worlds I was already comfortable with. I did try out new authors and series, of course, many of which didn’t make it onto this list — I’m picky, some were YA, many I enjoyed but weren’t my personal favorites (target audience is hard! taste is subjective!), etc. — but there are also some I desperately want to read and just haven’t gotten to due to limited mental bandwidth.

On that note, first, two shout-outs to books I’m really excited about and have on my e-reader, have started, have every confidence I’m going to love in their entirety, and have not yet had the brain space available to finish. I could just finish reading them before posting this, but if I delay I might never get around to posting at all, so. Really smart space opera and secondary world urban fantasy respectively!

  • Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1), by Yoon Ha Lee – from Solaris
  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2), by N.K. Jemisin – from Orbit

 

Without further ado, the rest of the list in order of publication, with some very brief descriptions of why they’re favorites:

  • City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2), by Robert Jackson Bennett – from Broadway Books
    • Secondary world urban fantasy. Mind-breaking and awesome in every way.
  • A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2), by V.E. Schwab – from Tor Books
    • High/portal fantasy. Action-packed and full of thieves, shenanigans, and feels.
  • The Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura #4), by Martha Wells – from Night Shade Books
    • Best high fantasy world-building I’ve read in ages.
    • If you’re new to Martha Wells LOOK UP HER WORK NOW.
  • Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay – from NAL
    • GGK is the master of historical fantasy. Lyrical and dense.
  • Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2), by Intisar Khanani – self-published
    • High fantasy, just straight-up fun. More thieves and magic and exploring an expansive world!
  • Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence #5), by Max Gladstone – from Tor Books
    • Secondary world urban fantasy. Again with the “mind-breaking and awesome” descriptor.
    • Please believe me: you want to read the Craft Sequence. I promise.
  • Behind the Throne (The Indranan War #1), by K.B. Wagers – from Orbit
    • Space opera! Action-packed adventure and politicking.
    • (I believe K.B. Wagers is Campbell-eligible!)
  • No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers #3), by Rachel Aaron – self-published
    • Urban fantasy with dragons and sorcerers and adorable/terrifying demonic cat familiar. Definition of “changing the game and raising the stakes.”
  • The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns #4), by Django Wexler – from Roc
    • Military fantasy. Arguably his best yet.
  • Once Broken Faith (October Daye #10), by Seanan McGuire – from DAW
    • Urban fantasy, my favorite fae-based UF series to date. I love these characters so much.
  • Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9), by Ilona Andrews – from Ace
    • Urban fantasy of the shapeshifter variety. Case study in how to do a long-running series while still pushing the characters and having a functioning arc.
  • Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings #4), by Sharon Shinn – from Ace
    • High fantasy romance? Character work is exquisite, and I love this world-building a lot.
  • One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3), by Ilona Andrews – self-published
    • I have no idea what subgenre this falls into, but I love it. Like a cross between urban fantasy and space opera.
    • You can try out the beginning of this serial on her website.

 

Happy reading! (And if I DID miss something you’re sure should be on here, please let me know so I can check it out!)

 

Excitement for 2015 Fantasy Novels

So, this is not the normal time of year for “best of” or “most anticipated” posts, but it’s never the wrong time to celebrate awesomeness, right? Given all the upset in SFF lately, I wanted to share a dose of my excitement for some novels coming our way this year. Because for me, that’s what being a fan is about — sharing my excitement with other passionate people — and I refuse to let that be tainted by other interpretations of how fandom does or should work.

ANYWAY. I’m going to list these in order of release. I am so excited for other people to have read these so we can squee and argue together.

(UPDATE I somehow forgot a critical book in my initial post, and I don’t want to remove anything or fix the numbering system so I’ve just inserted it where it should properly go chronologically.)

 

A Crown for Cold Silver

  1. A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall, out on April 14th.

(Epic fantasy, first in its series.)

Cobalt Zosia conquered an empire and retired — until politics followed her. Now, she’s out for blood. I love that this protagonist is an old woman, that she’s a mercenary, that she is at times she is terrifying and at others unexpectedly relatable. I love that this empire spans a lot of cultures that are not Eurocentric, and I love how much is going on with gender and sexuality in this book.

The Mad Apprentice

  1. The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler, out on April 21st.

(MG fantasy, second in its series following The Forbidden Library.)

Alice gets thrown off the deep end in this book. Everyone — excepting one terrifying, perfect dragon — keeps claiming they know what’s best for her. It’s one thing to know their agendas could get her killed, but how can she know what to do or who can she trust? Also, there are cats.

Hana

  1. Hana by Tam MacNeil, out in May.

(YA historical fantasy, fifth installment in its series beginning with Okatsu.)

I don’t know exactly what date Hana is coming out on, but keep your eyes peeled. This series is set in a fantasy Japan with samurai and assassins. I am SUPER PICKY when it comes to fictionalized versions of Japan, but this one I love. Doku, the most recent Jao book, was in my opinion the best yet, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next. I’m also legitimately worried for Jao and Masahiro, because Tam puts those poor boys through an emotional wringer every time.

 

Letters to Zell

(Genre: complicated, stand-alone.)

I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s some cross between fantasy, women’s fiction, new adult, and literary. It’s written epistolary-style between Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, as their “official” stories are finished and they’re expected to get on with their lives in approved fashions or risk unraveling their entire fairytale universe. Camille walks the edge perfectly between so sharp it hurts and absolutely hilarious. To be honest, I generally don’t go for fairytale retellings, but I literally cannot recommend this book highly enough. She had me at “IMPORTANT FUCKING CORRESPONDENCE from Snow B. White.”

 

The Talon of the Hawk

  1. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy, out on May 26th.

(Fantasy romance, third in the Twelve Kingdoms series following The Tears of the Rose.)

I enjoyed The Mark of the Tala (book 1), but I did not expect to love The Tears of the Rose like I did. Normally, for me, not respecting the protagonist means I’m unlikely to enjoy the book. But Jeffe Kennedy has a gift for complicating characters I don’t like until they’re so compelling I don’t care that I don’t like them. The Talon of the Hawk follows the third sister: the responsible one, the one who her father wishes were a man, the one who trained as a warrior and as a politician and has a mind like a steel trap. If the author could get me to enjoy the passive and bratty sisters, I can’t wait to see what she can do with the one I’m already rooting for.

The Devil's Only Friend

  1. The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells, out June 16th.

(YA horror, restarting the John Cleaver series.)

If you have not read the John Cleaver series beginning with I am Not a Serial Killer, you have missed out. It’s not too late. Dan Wells gets what makes monsters so horrifying on a creeping yet visceral level, and he gets what makes humans horrifying, and also what makes humans amazing. This series is a master work, and I can’t tell you how excited I am he’s picking these characters and this world up again.

Last First Snow

  1. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, out on July 14th.

(Secondary world urban fantasy, latest installment in the Craft sequence.)

In this book we are back in Dresediel Lex with Elayne Kevarian who is pretty much my favorite character ever (ever), the King in Red who is a skeleton sorcerer ruling a city because why not, and Temoc who is the last surviving knight worshipping fallen gods. This book leads us inexorably through a fantasy version of a protest from all sides, and it is wonderfully done and actually painful in parts. SO GOOD. If you haven’t read Three Parts Dead and on, please do yourself a favor and check this series out.

Court of Fives

  1. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, out on August 18th.

(YA Fantasy, first in its series.)

Somehow I haven’t managed to read any of this author’s work before, so this will be my first. Besides hearing extremely positive reviews, I’ve heard that this book was actually borne out of a roundtable discussion we had at Sirens in 2013 about women in power positions in fantasy, and I’m excited to see what she took.

Updraft

  1. Updraft by Fran Wilde, out on September 1st.

(Fantasy, first in its series.)

Wings. A growing city of bone, with towers and spires. Sky monsters. Did I mention the wings? Fran has such an immersive world, and I absolutely loved the protagonist — resourceful, realistically mature, indomitable. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

The Bloodforged

  1. The Bloodforged by Erin Lindsey, out on September 29th.

(YA Fantasy, second in its series following The Bloodbound.)

Our protagonist is a warrior — once a scout, then the captain of the king’s personal guard — and also an aristocratic lady, and extremely notable as both. I love competent protagonists. She’s observant, resourceful, and willing to buckle down and do what needs to be done when no one else will. I also find it refreshing that this is a world that does not preclude or shame women from being warriors.

Sunbolt

  1. Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani.

(YA Fantasy, next novella installment following Sunbolt.)

The author hasn’t announced yet when this will be out, so I list it here out of hope. Sunbolt is a fabulous introduction to a vast, multicultural world full of inventive magic and monsters with a heroine who is actively working in an underground rebellion as a spy. Some authors struggle with giving their characters agency, but the protagonist of Sunbolt is active and making choices constantly and it’s absolutely delightful. I really want the next one!

That’s it for now! I did not realize how many of these were YA when I started writing, and I am newly pleased — I feel like I didn’t enjoy as many YA fantasy novels last year, but it looks like this year will be a great one for my YA reading =). So a quick note for two others I’m excited about and only aren’t on this list because beyond positive reviews I know nothing more about them than what’s included in their official synopses: Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, both out in September.

Did I mention how excited I am for this year as a fantasy fan? It’s going to be fabulous. We will make it so.