DIY Formatting PART 1 – File Management

I’ve Got a Finished Manuscript. Now What?


© Liz Van Steenburgh | Dreamstime Stock Photos

It’s not just new writers asking themselves this question. I hear it all the time from authors at all stages.  Whether you’ve finished one book or twenty, formatting your ebooks and print books is an important skill. Poor formatting or inconsistent formatting can cost you sales. Inefficient formatting can cost you time.

Formatting isn’t something you do every day. If you’re like me, things you need to be good at but that you only do on occasion require detailed instructions. That’s the goal of this series: to provide authors with a detailed DIY checklist for formatting.

What can you do with this checklist?

  • Make it your own.
    • ailor this series to meet your own needs and make changes as your needs change.
  • Use & Reuse
    • I suggest saving the info portions of these posts in a document that you can use again and again every time you finish a book and need to format it for either ebook or print.
  • Share
    • If you know someone who might find these posts useful, send them the link! I love visitors!
  • Comment
    • Did something work, not work? Please ask questions. This can be a discussion!

At the end of the series, you should have all the info you need to upload a beautiful ebook to e-retailers and a professional print pdf ready for CreateSpace to turn into a print book.

Even better, you’ll have your checklist to refer to again and again. If you plan to write books in a series, this will come in handy. All your books will look the same.

This series will have five parts:

Part 1 – File Management
Part 2 – Word 2010 Styles
Part 3 – Formatting for Ebook
Part 4 – Uploading to E-retailers
Part 5 – Formatting for Print

As always, I have caveats:

  1. You may get a better result if you hire someone reputable to do the formatting for you, like the Formatting Fairies. But that’s not in everyone’s budget. Honestly, the formatting is not that hard if you have a moderate comfort with Word and a good eye for detail.
  2. Time commitment for formatting yourself will run you anywhere from a couple hours to half a day. You’ll get quicker the more books you do.
  3. This is stuff I learned from many different sources, including plenty of trial and error. Because this was originally for my own use, I wasn’t as strict with documenting resources as I could have been.
  4. Sometimes I curse because Word pisses me off. I tried to get them all out for these posts but might have missed some. You’ve been warned.
  5. If you have a Mac, your SOL. At least as far as this post. Sorry. I’m working with MS Word 2010. For the Part 1 (file management), I’ll be using the windows organizational structure.

Part 1 – File Management


Jessi, I just want to format a single document. Why are you talking to me about file management? Can’t we get to the checklist already?

If you’re confident in your current method of organizing , excellent. Feel free to skim this post and wait for the next installment on this formatting series.


If the thought of searching for files on your PC leaves makes you break out in cold sweats, this might be the post for you.

Ttust me. You’ll thank me later if you get your writing-related computer files under control now. Think of it as your computer housekeeping. No one likes to do chores, but everyone likes a clean house. So bear with me as I wield my virtual toilet brush and start with the very basics of managing a writing career on your computer.

If you’re at all interested in publishing (versus a hobbyist writer), you’re probably already aware of the wide variety of documents you’ll have to keep track of. Here’s a sampling of documents you’ll store on your computer for a single book:

  • Manuscript
    • Multiple working drafts
      • Critiqued chapters
      • Critiqued drafts
      • Revised chapters
      • Revised drafts
    • Finished document
      • Send to editor, receive back, save as edited/revised draft
      • Repeat until perfect (my first book had a total of eight working drafts and three professionally-edited drafts)
    • Deleted scenes/recycle bin
  • Notes/research
  • Plotting worksheets
  • Character notes, collections of inspiring images or links to images
  • Summary of Marketing Material
    • Query
      • Specific to each agent or entity you submit to
    • Blurb
    • Synopsis
    • Tag line
    • Excerpts for promo
    • ISBN number
    • Promo material for your author brand/pen name
      • Bio
      • Image
      • Links to online sites & social media
  • Record of copyright, ISBN purchase, other legal documents
  • List of expenses incurred for tax deductions
    • Including (Paper, ink, meals/coffe during critique sessions, computer, printer, website/blogging service, editing, cover, proofing/beta reading, marketing, Facebook ads, giveaways, email promotions, etc)
  • Record of earnings (if you’re not earning yet, you’ll get there!) for tax reporting

Now just imagine all of this times how ever many books you plan to write in your life-long writing career and you can see why formatting starts before you even open your manuscript file on your computer.

Formatting Starts with Organization

Important questions you should be asking yourself about file mangement:

  • Where is your manuscript saved?
  • Where are your other writing-related documents saved?
  • Is it easy to find documents?
  • What program do you use to write?
  • Do you need to convert your manuscript to another file format before it’s ready for upload to retailers? If so, how do you keep track of manuscript formats?
  • If you’ve created several different formats of your manuscript, does that mean you need to make last-minute changes to every version?
  • Do you have a master version of your manuscript?

My answers will be specific to Windows file structure and organization because I’ve only ever used PC. (BASICS: PC means Personal Computer and is specific to Microsoft as opposed to Macintosh. If you have a Mac, you do not have a PC. ) I would love to pair this post with a similar one written from a Mac user’s pov. If you have a post like that or want to write one, I’ll happily link it here!

Windows File Structure

Windows file structure is like a tree with branches. Your PC is the tree, and each branch represents a designated location for storage.


Imagine each of the circles in the image representing different areas of your computer. Like the hard drive, CD drive, and portable drives you can plug in. (BASICS: Most of your work should take place and be stored on your hard drive, but it’s a good idea to backup your work using a cloud drive or a portable hard drive.)

A big branch of your PC tree is your hard drive. Within this drive are several designated areas for storage, such as Documents, Pictures, Videos, Desktop, etc. These are general groupings that keep like-items together, like drawers in your kitchen.

Just like in your kitchen, you can also create your own sections for storage. On your PC, these are called folders. Using the tree-structure of file management, you can have as many folders or folders within folders as you want.

The key to embracing tree-like file structures (and not becoming overwhelmed) is to start general (i.e. Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc.) and get slightly more specific with each level of hierarchy.

File Formatting3I’ve known some writers who keep everything on their Desktop for convenience. (BASICS: Your Desktop folder is the area of your PC that stores every program or document you like to keep handy on your screen.) 

This might work for some, but if you plan to write and publish multiple works, your desktop will quickly get out of control with all the documents you’ll create. I highly recommend using File Manager to orgainze.

On your PC, open “File Manager” from the start menu or click the icon that looks like a file folder if you have it. This is what it looks like on my PC when I open file manager:

File Formatting2

File Manager is showing me twelve folders. We’re going to zoom in on the “Documents” folder.

(If you’re curious why my taskbar is over on the left when it usually runs along the bottom of the screen, it’s because I like to have as much vertical area as possible when I’m writing in Word. If you feel like moving your taskbar to the side like I have mine, it’s easy to do. Just right-click on the taskbar, unlock task bar. Then left click on the taskbar and drag it to where you want it.)


This folder is where I keep all my text-based writing stuff and even some images like book covers and promo graphics (I’ve got more stuff over in the Pictures folder, but that’s not relevant to my formatting series, so I’m not going there).

I also keep non-writing documents and files in Documents.

For me and my writing business, it works to keep two writing-related folders under Documents.

File Formatting1

One file, Writing Manuscripts is for my babies–my books, my short stories, my ideas and brainstorms, etc. Within Writing Manuscripts, I have a separate folder for each work, and I use some unconventional folder-naming methods you might find useful. Keep reading to see what they are and how you might tailor them to meet your needs.

The other is Writing Logistics. This is where I keep my bookkeeping stuff, marketing and promo templates, critiques I do for other authors, blog posts, website ideas, coursework from classes I’ve taken on writing and the business end of writing, etc. If it has to do with writing but isn’t specif to a manuscript, it goes here.

I included a couple other folder within my Documents folder to show that there are other folders. But Writing Manuscripts and Writing Logistics are the main folders I use for my business.

Writing Folder Structure

Let’s take a closer look at Writing Manuscripts. This example reflects my personal taste in file naming. I group my folders by series.

File Formatting4

BCB stands for Blue Collar Boyfriends, my contemporary romance series. HW stands for Highland Wishes, my bestselling time-travel romance series. By using the series name first, including the manuscript’s number in the series, I have a listing that makes sense to me.

For authors with multiple pennames, you might do something like:

Penname initials_series initials_number in series_title

You could create folders for each pen name and each series. It’s your choice. I prefer to click fewer times when opening a document and switching between folders. For me, it works to stack as many files as possible in a single folder to minimize clicking and so more information is visible on the screen.

HINT: Instead of having a million folders, try using an alphabetical system to organize files within a folder. 

When I need to do a promotion event for my fourth Blue Collar Boyfriends book, Holiday Bargain, it’s easy for me to click Documents–>Writing Manuscripts–>BCB4_Holiday Bargain.

Recently, I needed to compile info from my whole Highland Wishes series for a sell sheet for Barnes & Noble Nook Press Print. If I do a good enough job with the sell sheet, I might get to see these beautiful paperbacks in brick and mortar stores! It was easy to pull together the info because I keep it all organized in a way that makes sense to me.

My Writing Logistics folder is a bit less organized, but it works for me. Here are some examples of folders you might keep in your version of a Writing Logistics folder (These are all in my logistics folder).

  • Blog Posts1_my blog
  • Blog Posts2_guest blogs
  • Classes
  • Critiques
  • Legal Resources
  • Marketing & Promo Templates
  • Reviews
  • Royalty Statements 2014
  • Royalty Statements 2015
  • Royalty Statements 2016
  • Tax Resources
  • Worksheets

HINT: If an alphabetical listing doesn’t make sense to you, you can get creative. Some people want the folders they use most often to be at the top of the “branch”. Try this format…

  • A_Worksheets
  • B_Marketing & Promo
  • C_Critiques…

Now we’re going to zoom in another level, and you’ll see why file structure is so important to a discussion on file formatting.

Folder Structure for a Single Manuscript

Think of a folder as a grouping of documents you want at your fingertips as you’re working on your manuscript or preparing promotional materials for your manuscript.

Imagine you’re putting together a blog post for another writer’s blog. You need to include a blurb for your book, a cover image, links to your website and social media haunts, an excerpt, purchase links, a bio image, and a unique piece of writing relating to your research for the book or some aspect of the book that will be interesting to readers.

Now imagine if all those pieces of information are all over the place in various folders.

Now imagine if all that information is right there in the one and only folder for that particular manuscript.

Now imagine having to compile various bits of information like that for a dozen other writing-related activities, like assign an ISBN number to your book, filing for copyright, uploading to retailers, and organizing promo and marketing activities.

Keeping everything related to a single manucript in a single folder for that manuscript will save you HOURS.

HINT: When you’re dealing with a work in progress (as opposed to a finished manuscript), organization might not seem like a big deal. But if you start with a system that accomodates growth easily, you’ll thank yourself later on.

Here’s what I see when I open a folder for one of my works in progess, The King’s Highlander (Highland Wishes, Book 4):

file formatting5

It’s a simple list of Word documents, each with it’s own purpose for me. Organization at this point doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

But, take a look at my folder for Wishing for a Highlander, the first book I ever published:

file formatting6

Quite a different story, eh? Now we’re dealing with folders within folders. Tucked away to avoid clutter are all my previous drafts. In fact, if you look at the contents of this folder, you won’t find a final version of the manuscript. Why? Because it’s published! There’s no more making changes to it, so it’s not cluttering the folder space I think of as my desk when I’m dealing with Wishing for a Highlander.

So where’s the manuscript? Oh, it’s there. Let’s look closer by opening the Amazon KDP folder:

file formatting7

Here it is! All by its lonesome in a folder labeled for a retailer.

This is where file structure and formatting intersect. See, each retailer has different suggestions for optimal uploading of your work. Some want a Word document saved in a format that is 15 years old (Createspace). Some want a EPUB (Nook Press). Some want a current Word format (Amazon KDP). Some want PDF (All Romance Ebooks).

When I finalize a manuscript for publication and have it formatted for ebook, I save it in current Word format in my Amazon KDP folder for that manuscript. THIS BECOMES MY MASTER DOCUMENT, the version I make any last minute changes to if needed, the version I always use when I need to make a new format. This is the gold standard for all other versions.

HINT: Within a manuscript’s folder, make a folder for each retailer. Save the preferred format for each retailer in its folder. That way, any tweaks you might need to make to accomodate different retailers will not affect the original file.

From this document, you can create other documents. You can format for print, use software like Calibre to creat new file formats, print it out and make paper hats with it, whatever you want!

HINT: Whatever you do to your master document, always save as new version so you always have the untouched original for reference.

Next time, we’ll go over Word styles. This is an essential skill in formatting for print. Once you’re comfortable with styles, you’ll find yourself using them in your writing too, just because it helps keep things looking consistent.

Thanks for reading! If you found this post helpful, share it!

So was this info pretty basic for you? Did you learn anything new? Anything helpful? I love feedback!


About Jessi Gage

Jessi lives with her husband and children in the Seattle area. She’s a passionate reader of all genres of romance, especially anything involving the paranormal. Ghosts, demons, vampires, witches, weres, name it, she’ll read it. As for writing, she's sticking to Highlanders and contemporaries with a paranormal twist (for now). A career student (aka indecisive and inquisitive bookworm), Jessi brings her love of research to her worlds and characters. Her guiding tenet in her writing is that good always trumps evil, but not before evil gives good one heck of a run for its money. The last time she imagined a world without romance novels, her husband found her crouched in the corner, rocking.
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