O is for Organization.
A writing career requires vast amounts of organization. Authors must be organized in creating their work, in promoting their work, and in running the day-to-day aspects of their business.
Organization in Work Creation
Different authors have different methods for writing a story. Some—usually called plotters—create detailed outlines, describing every encounter in each scene in each chapter of the finished book. Others—usually called pantsers or “organic” writers—fly by the seats of their pants, developing the story as they go. Both plotters and pantsers, though, need to be organized.
Both types of authors need to track information about their story as they create it. They need to know which scenes they’ve written and which remain to be done. They need to know the details of their characters and their settings. They need to know information about other books in the series (if any), including things that happened in early volumes and things that will happen in future stories.
Even if they don’t need to know those details in order to write, they must know them after they’ve written, so that one hundred pages later, they can say with certainty whether their character has blue eyes or brown, whether the village down the lane is Great Snoring or Little Haven, whether the villain’s dog is named Rover or Spot.
The problems get more complex in certain genres, e.g., fantasy (where authors fabricate entire worlds complete with rules of magic and social hierarchies and imaginary creatures) and small-town romances (where they’re expected to remember which shops are located next to which and who is related to whom.)
Organization also becomes more important for series of related works. Details that are defined in one volume need to persist into future works, or explanations need to be provided for the variations. Readers embrace books, in part, because they’ve mastered those details. Every time an author mistakes his own facts, he’s breaking a covenant with his readers.
Organization in Work Promotion
Authors need to be organized in promoting their work as well. Promotion might include written material (e.g., business cards, postcards, and bookmarks), online appearances (e.g., blog tours, Facebook launch parties, and giveaways), and in-person appearances (e.g., bookstore readings and conferences.)
Promotion works best when it’s cumulative. Potential reviewers, readers, and other targets should receive uniform information—book covers, tag lines, blurbs, etc., are all more effective when they build on earlier information.
Multiple appearances require tracking—where one is supposed to be when. They also require a comprehensive list of what should be brought to each event—written material, special pens for signing, buttons or ribbons or other gifts for attendees, etc.
Leaving things to chance creates multiple opportunities for failure. Instead, authors should have a calendar (print or online) and checklists of supplies.
Organization in Business
It’s always easier to maintain a system than to build one from scratch. Therefore, the rational writer implements business organization strategies early and continues to build on them throughout her career.
Those systems should include career planning (a strategic plan for achieving over-arching goals over relatively long periods of time such as one year), time management documentation (including a tactical plan detailing specific deadlines for the creation of one or more books), metadata management (collecting and making uniform all metadata for all works in all series), and sales quantification.
Moreover, authors need systems for tracking income, business expenses, and government filing deadlines related to taxation and corporate status (if any.)
Specific systems for work creation, promotion, and business are beyond the scope of this chapter. (My entire book The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts consists of descriptions of business systems, along with downloadable templates for those aspects of career management.)
So? Are you an organized author? What systems do you have in place to advance your career? What is the single system you most need to develop? What’s keeping you from doing that? When will you meet your needs?