Organizing Multiple Manuscript Versions for Publication

grinding-bookThis is not a post that will teach you all sorts of wonderful things. This is a lament to make you all feel better, because it shows you that somebody else goes through the same epic battle as you do throughout every step of the self-publishing trek. In this case, the obstacle is keeping track of manuscripts during the publication process.

It all started when I went into the hospital for minor (and I emphasize the “minor” part) leg surgery, and made the mistake of allowing my wife, Linda, to stay with me while I had the pre-surgery chat with the surgeon. You know, the one where he writes a big arrow on the appropriate leg and signs it with a felt pen, just to avoid mistakes. But my mistake was letting Linda hear what he had to say about how long I was supposed to take to rehabilitate myself.

So there I was, trapped in the house for a whole week, not allowed to do, basically, anything, no matter how good I felt, because Nurse Ratched stood at the door with a club (figurative of course).

I decided to make good use of my time by going into my backlist and doing some promotion. But if I was going to do promotion, I thought it would be a good idea to do a re-edit on those books since some niggling errors had been found after publication. Which I proceeded to do. I also added all my more recent books to the “More From This Author” page, and removed a great number of commas.

The advantage of this procedure was that I discovered, to my horror, that in 2013 I had uploaded a new version of Cat With Many Claws, the second book in the series, but I had uploaded it into the file for the first book, A Sword Called…Kitten? So Kitten hadn’t been available on Smashwords for three years, and I didn’t even know it. Well, I guess readers will learn something from this post. Like, Don’t Do Stupid Things. But you all knew that, anyway.

The First Stage of the Trek: the Edit

And here’s where the saga begins. I publish my eBooks on Smashwords and Kindle, and my dead-tree editions on Createspace. Each of these demands a different format. So this requires three different versions of each MS. So when you do an edit of one version, you have to keep track of all the changes for the other two editions. Now, I work in MS Word on a Mac, but Word and OS10.11 (El Capitan) are deadly enemies working under a cease-fire agreement.  So using the “Track Changes” function crashes the program immediately, every time.

Thus I am back to the old-style method of setting three manuscripts up side-by-side (by side) and switching back and forth every time I make a change. Very time-consuming, but I got through it. After all, I had nothing else to do but sit and feel my muscle tone drain away.

It was discouraging how many errors I found. I’ve learned a bit about editing in the past six years, so the results will be much cleaner copy. I hope.

Second Stage: Preparing for the Upload

And then the fun began. Because now these three different editions had to be uploaded into the gaping maw of each separate company’s electronic publishing program. At least Smashwords is honest about it. They call theirs “The Meatgrinder.” This program shreds your MS down to its component parts and spits it out, reconstituted in all the proper formats: about eight of them. All fine and dandy, but show me a tool designed to do a whole bunch of jobs, and I’ll show you a tool that doesn’t do any of them very well (a Swiss Army Knife is a good example). Each of these formatting systems has very picky requirements, and there are a million and one ways to screw each one up. And now comes the real problem:

File Names

It is absolutely impossible to keep track of three different versions of two different books unless you have a cast iron file-naming system. Years ago, in my beginning naïveté, I named them by the name of the book. Sword Called Kitten and Cat with Many Claws. Silly me. Then I started giving them version numbers, “Sword1,” Claws7,” etc. But that got me into all sorts of problems of the kind I mentioned above, where I entered the wrong MS in the wrong file. You can see from the image how complicated it got. Some of the earlier names are pretty useless. claws-ebook versionsI have finally taken a page from my experience when I worked at the Olympics. There, we named every file by its date. So my versions became, “Claws Kindle 2016-7-15,” which kept things pretty much in order, and not too lengthy. (Note that the .pdf at the head of the list is the Createspace version, and it’s in the wrong place because this is the eBook file. Hey, I can find a lot of ways to fumble the ball.)

Step 3: The Actual Upload

It’s amazing the capacity even an intelligent human brain has for screwing up. Just to give you an example; this morning I attempted to upload my final Kindle version of “Claws” to Amazon. Fortunately, Kindle allows you to preview your MS before you submit it for verification, because I made several small mistakes.

1.  I had done a lot of copy-and-paste, and first I discovered that I had left the “Smashwords Edition” on the Kindle version. Amazon was. Not. Amused. Edit and resubmit.

2. Then I discovered that when I cut and pasted “Amazon Edition” in, I had inadvertently cut the preceding line as well. Edit and resubmit.

3. This time I discovered something else wrong. I can’t even remember what it was, my brain was getting so fuzzed. I think I had uploaded the .doc instead of the .pdf. Edit and resubmit.

4. Then I noticed that, in cutting and pasting my list of new books, I had saved time by copying a page from a different series, and I had removed the cover designer’s credit. Edit and resubmit.

So, after four tries, I think I have finally uploaded the file I wanted. I have submitted it for verification, and I await my confirmation e-mail from Amazon with trepidation.

But if you hear a tale about an author in suburban Delta, B. C. self-immolating in a blazing pile of books and computers, you’ll know that the Meatgrinder has consumed another hopeful soul.

Write an obituary for me. But be careful what you name it.

Author: Gordon Long

Gordon A. Long is a writer, editor, publisher, playwright, director and teacher. 
Learn more about Gordon and his writing from his blog and his Author Central page.

18 thoughts on “Organizing Multiple Manuscript Versions for Publication”

  1. HA! Been there, done most of that. I recently did a re-edit, and like you I usually open all the versions (five different) side-by-side and repeat the same chances to each. That lasted about five minutes before I abandoned that method (before I went insane, which one could argue is impossible because I’m already there). In the long run it was easier to re-edit one manuscript and reformat it for each version. My lesson? Write and edit correctly in the first version. Duh. 😉

  2. I don’t normally find time to read these pieces through to their entirety, but this one hit too close to home haha. Really enjoyed the piece. Thanks

  3. Hi Gordon,
    Thank you for sharing your Halloween tale of publishing horror. Yes, I have done some similar things too. Being from the world of QA & CM try the following:

    1. When you finish editing your book file and are ready to publish move it to a Publishing folder.
    2. Put the book type at the start of the file name, for example: KND for Kindle, CSP PB for Create Space paperback and CSP LP for Create Space large print, SMW for smashwords

    3. Abbreviated the title to the first letter of each word
    For example The Last Master of Go = LMofG.

    5. For serials add book number to book name: LMofG01, LMofG02, etc…

    4. Add a backward date for easier searching yyyymmdd = 20161018

    So when you finish you get:
    Knd LMofG01 20161018.docx
    CSP PB LMofG01 20161018.docx
    CSP LP LMofG01 20161018.docx
    SMW LMofG01 20161018.docx

    Hope this helps

  4. After much trial and error, I think I have devised a workable system for file naming. Mine is much like yours: Title, distributor and date seems to work well. But no matter how careful I am, I still sometimes forget to exchange Amazon copyright info for Smashwords, or remove Amazon links from my Kindle edition to satisfy the other versions.

  5. I dunno what’s so difficult about this. When I’ve got my book all edited and formatted, I save it with the book title and FINAL as the file name.

    Of course, then when CreateSpace kicks it back for some stupid, niggling detail (not that this has ever happened to me…), I then have to create the FINAL FINAL version, the FINAL FINAL FINAL version, and the NO REALLY THIS IS THE LAST ONE version.

    There’s often one more after that, but I can’t share that file name here. 😉

    1. It might be nice if one of us was alone in this. That would mean everyone else wasn’t having these problems. Of course, then no one would want to read the post, would they?

  6. Yes, file naming is important. I, too, use the book name and the date, starting with the year so it puts the most recent first.

    I once uploaded the wrong file to my Amazon dashboard, but I realized it right after I hit publish and it showed the wrong book as being updated. Luckily, once I contacted Amazon the rep stopped the publishing process so the wrong file didn’t actually end up available for purchase, and I was able to upload the correct one.

    It’s also helpful to have the dated file names, so that if someone finds an error in your book, you can make sure you’ve uploaded the most recent file. And if you have, then you can fix the error, rename it with the new date, and know to upload that file to your other vendors.

    1. It sounds good when you say it.
      I’m working on a project right now where I’m recording people’s stories and transcribing them. Right now I have 150 sound files, all called “Zoom 1” “Zoom 2” etc., coming from 35 different people, having to be cross-referenced with each one’s transcription. Going quietly bonkers, here.

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