How to Organize Your Computer Files | laurenlayne.com
Writing Organization

How to Organize Your Computer Files

April 9, 2022

Be honest: what does your computer desktop look like? Is it a mess of icons and shortcuts? Maybe it’s organized chaos, and you pride yourself in knowing where everything is. At least on this project, but you can’t quite remember where you put that research file from four months ago… 🤔

Or perhaps your desktop is just straight-up helter skelter and you waste way too much time looking for a particular file you need to get to work.

Either way, I’m guessing you clicked on this article for a reason. You’re wondering if there’s a better way to organize all of that “book stuff.” 

There is.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that when it comes to writing a book, especially if you’re a newbie, the best thing you can do is to simply start. If that means creating a new Microsoft Word doc, saving it to your desktop, and typing Chapter One—do that. Do not waste time “getting organized” when in your gut, you know you should be writing!

But what happens when you have five books? Ten books? Thirty?

And what about when your files are no longer just your manuscript, but your backup files of your manuscript. And you first draft. Second draft. Eighth draft. The copyedited manuscript from your copyeditor. The proofread manuscript. The multiple interactions of the book’s blurb. Your direction to the cover designer. The actual cover files—wait, which one was final again? The written interview you did for that book blogger. The social media files for that particular book. And so may more.

You get the idea. At some point, saving files to the desktop just doesn’t cut it for a career author. You need structure. File structure.

How to Organize Your Book Files—For Writers

  1. Choose your cloud storage. I strongly encourage you to save your book files somewhere that has cloud storage rather than storing your files only locally on your computer. That way if something happens to your computer, you won’t panic (much).
  2. Create a new folder. Call it Books.
  3. Within your Books folder, create a subfolder called: *TEMPLATE – Book Title* < Just like that. Add the asterisks (so that it defaults to the top of your list) and do not sub Book Title with your book tile yet. Actually type the words “Book Title.”
  4. Within the *TEMPLATE – Book Title folder, create the following folders and subfolders. Note that the hierarchy is largely self-explanatory, but I’ve added a section at the bottom of this article with a bit more information on how I use each subfolder.

List of subfolders and sub-subfolders to create:

Manuscript

  • Working Version
  • Backup Files
  • First Draft
  • Revisions
  • Copyedits
  • Proofread
  • FINAL

Marketing

  • Description
  • Social Media
  • Interviews

Cover

Research

Obviously, you can customize the above. For example, I actually don’t use the Research folder myself, as I keep my research notes in the Craft app. Same with the Description. So I omit those subfolders.

You may want to add a prewriting folder for things like outlines, character sketches, stuff like that. Again, I save all of my prewriting to my Craft, but if you’re an outliner with a lot of prewriting documents and files, create a folder for it!

And within the Social Media folder, I’d recommend creating subfolders for your platforms of choice. A subfolder for Facebook, Instagram, etc, so it’s easy to look them up and repurpose them six months from now when the book is on sale.

But the above is a good place to start. The key here is to take the time upfront creating this TEMPLATE folder, so that in the future you can save time. Which leads me to an important note:

Do not put any documents in this template folder! This is a template for you to use over and over. You want all of the folders and subfolders to stay empty so you can duplicate it for repeated use whenever you start a new book.

When this template folder looks pretty much as you want and you’re ready to start using it for an actual book, right click on *Template – Book Title* and then duplicate it.

Once you’ve duplicated it, change the name of the newly created copy folder to:

Name of your book < Actually change it this time!

A few things to note:

  • Every time you begin a new book, simply duplicate or create a copy of that Template folder.
  • As your process evolves, you may find that your original structure of your template folder isn’t quite right. Feel free to change the actual template as needed; delete subfolders you  never use, add a new category, etc. Remember, the template folder works for you, you don’t work for it!
  • As my number of books reached the double-digits, I found one other level of hierarchy to be helpful: Within that top-level Books folder, I create a Series folder, and each book folder within the series lives there. This helps keep things a bit more manageable. Only do this if your books are in series (obviously) and if you’re confident in your ability to remember which book titles belong with each series 5+ years from now!

Here is a screenshot of my actual Finder on my MacBookPro with the Books folder open, and my book Passion on Park Avenue expanded to show subfolders. For books within series, I opt to add a number before the title so that it sorts by order in series, not alphabetically by book title.

How I Use Each (Sub)Folder

Manuscript

Working Version Subfolder: I don’t actually use this folder, as I write in the Ulysses app, and my working version lives there. If you write in Word or Pages though, I’d recommend whichever version you’re currently living on always live in this “Working Version” folder.

Backup Files Subfolder: At the end of each writing day, I export my Ulysses work-in-progress into this folder as a .doc, both for version control and an extra layer of peace-of-mind that my manuscript is always backed up.

First Draft Subfolder: Once I type The End on a manuscript, I save a .doc version of the finished manuscript here. Sometimes I add the word “Submitted” to indicate the version sent to my dev editor.

Revisions Subfolder: Once I get my revision notes back from my dev editor, I save the version with her notes in the Revisions folder. Depending how many rounds of revisions I do, I’ll often create subfolders. R1, R2, etc.

Copyedits Subfolder: When I get the file back from my copyeditor, I save it here. 

Proofread Subfolder: When I get the file back from my proofreader, I save it here.

Final Subfolder: For self-published books, this is where I save the final version of my manuscript that I upload to the retailers. For my traditionally published book, I request that my publisher send me the final version that they uploaded to the retailers. If you’re self-published, you may also want to create a subfolder for the self-pub files: .mobi, epub, etc.

Marketing

Description Subfolder: As mentioned, I actually don’t keep my book descriptions as files on my computer anymore. They live in Craft, my notes app.

Social Media Subfolder: I create sub-subfolders for Instagram and Pinterest. I save the relevant book graphics accordingly.

Interviews: Any time I do promo for a book that requires written content (Q&A, interview, guest post), it goes here.

Cover

This is where I save the book cover files, obviously, but it also may be where I save assets (stock photo) or inspiration for the cover.

Research

I keep my research notes within the Craft notes app, but if you do want to maintain your research notes in a folder structure on your computer, put them in the relevant book folder, not saved to your desktop, where they’ll become out-of-context two months from now.


One Last Quick Tip

If you really love having quick access to your current manuscript on your desktop, and you’re on a Mac*, you can create an “alias.” Once you’ve created the folder for your book (duplicated from your template folder), right click, and select “Make Alias.” This will create a duplicate of the folder, along with a little black curved arrow. Drag the newly created alias folder with the black arrow to the desktop.

When you click the alias from the desktop, it will open up the folder in question, even though the folder actually lives in your Books folder. When you’re done working on that manuscript, you can simply delete the desktop alias (make sure you’re only deleting the alias folder with the little black arrow!) without actually deleting any of the actual files.

*I imagine there’s a way to do this on a PC as well, but I haven’t used a PC in 10+ years and don’t want to mislead you!