File name conventions that keep track of your revisions [FOR AUTHORS]

Track Changes

It’s never too soon to start using good file naming habits. When your whole story lies ahead of you, it’s easy to naively assume you’ll start with TheGirlWiththeFuzzyManuscript_Orig, then go to FuzzyGirl_Revised, and maybe finish with TGWTFM_BetaFeedback.

What you may not have counted on are the dozen variations of your book now nesting inside your novel folder. You’ve begun shooting daggers at anyone who dares ask what draft number you’re working on now. Keeping all this straight is serious business.

What you need is a file naming system that consistently identifies the most recent version of your manuscript and tells you what stage of editing or revision it’s in.

Recommended components of a novel file name

This file naming system from Jake Poinier at Dr. Freelance makes it easy to track document revisions. Go check out the basics from him, and then come back here for some of the options and variations my clients have found useful.

These are some of the parts to consider using in your manuscript file names. The parts that are most helpful to you—what you look for at a glance—should go at the front of the file name.

Title If the title of your book is very long, come up with an abbreviation you can parse at a glance. There’s no right or wrong way. You can name your book My Cool Book or My_Cool_Book or My-Cool-Book, MyCoolBook or even MCB. Whatever floats your boat.

Date of revision Some authors like to include the date of the revision in the file name. Others rely on the Date Modified information listed for the file. If you want the spring version of your document (vSpring2016) to be identifiable as such even if you make and save changes months later, work “Spring” into the title. That way, if you save the file before closing, thus assigning a new Date Modified, you’ll still know when this version was produced.

Stages of revision Most professional-quality manuscripts pass through many stages of revision along the path to publication. Early drafts often start out being named something like FILENAME_DRAFT1 or FILENAMEv2 and so on. Once you’ve finished self-directed revisions, you may start generating specific versions like PREALPHA (a manuscript that’s ready to go out to its very first early readers), ALPHA_REV (a manuscript that’s been revised based on early feedback), and so on. Notice how easy it is to identify each version when you use file names based on revision status.

Whatever you do, don’t name any version of your file anything to do with “final.” It’s never final—and that’s how you end up with file names like MyCoolBook_Final_Final2_FinalRevised.

Some authors use a v (for “version”) to help them parse file names, especially if they don’t use spaces.

I often use the classic software versioning method to name files, especially when I’m working with clients on something like a synopsis critique. For example:

  • The author sends me TheGirlWiththeFuzzyManuscript_Synopsis_1.0.
  • I return TheGirlWiththeFuzzyManuscript_Synopsis_1.5.
  • The author makes revisions and sends me TGWTFM_Synopsis_2.0.
  • I give more feedback and return TGWTFM_Synopsis_2.5

This system works well for manuscripts, too, because there’s plenty of room for interim revision numbers. Following v1.5, you can use v1.6-1.9. You can even expand into iterations such as v1.61, v1.62 if you’re a revision machine.

Single-chapter files Some authors like to keep each chapter of their manuscript in a separate document file. While this works fine in the early writing stages, you’ll need to assemble the chapters into a single file to get any sense of the overall flow. A single document with Heading 2 style applied to the chapter numbers or names allows you to easily drag and drop the chapters on the Navigation pane into any order you please. And once your story is ready for outside feedback, you’ll want a single file for others to read.

Slush file When you’re busy killing your darlings during revisions, you’ll want a quiet graveyard where you can bury them—because later on, you may find yourself digging them back up to use elsewhere. Never delete your writing wholesale. Instead, create a slush file with descriptive subheadings where you can find your ideas again once you’ve found a better way to use them.

Navigation paneStay organized with drag-and-drop headings Yes, you can move entire chapters within your manuscript using Microsoft Word just by dragging and dropping the chapter heading! Assign Heading 2 style to your chapter headings by highlighting them and selecting Heading 2 from the big style buttons on the Home tab at the top of the page.

Now turn on MS Word’s Navigation feature, and you can click a chapter heading to jump directly to that chapter. (Turn on the Navigation Pane in View > Show > Navigation Pane.) You can drag and drop the chapter headings into a different order right on the Navigation pane, and it will move all the text in the copy, too—great for shuffling things around during early drafts and major revisions.

Your working process

The very first thing to do when you’re ready to begin a new revision is to make a new copy of your document file and rename it appropriately.

The same is also true when you receive an edit back from your editor. Make a new copy of the file right away, saved with a new file name that describes its relationship to your overall revision process. That way, if something goes wrong with the file at any point, you’ll always have the original edit to go back to. I do the same with your files on my end. It pays to play it safe.

Sometimes when I notice an author hasn’t renamed a file since last time I saw it, I’ll give them a devious little nudge by adding my initials to the end of the file name. Most authors don’t want their story to look like “my” file, so they’ll rename it promptly using their own naming conventions. Gotcha!

A little time experimenting with file name formats now will free up valuable creative energy later—something every author headed toward publication can agree is worth saving.

Lisa Poisso is a fiction editor and book writing coach working with independent authors and new authors seeking representation. Lisa helps emerging authors tune their manuscripts to publishing industry standards and craft commercial fiction that resonates with readers. Find her at Lisa Poisso, follow her on Twitter at @LisaPoisso, or like her on Facebook. This guest post originally appeared on Lisa’s site.

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