Thursday, May 14, 2009

Administrative Tips

I thought I'd share some administrative tips with you today. Whilst the world of freelance writing is about creating ideas and producing exciting text, as any business knows, it is only as good as its administration. But here's a couple of tips, which I hope you may find useful.

Firstly, do you get fed up with typing the same addresses into your documents? If so, have you considered Autotext? This is the term used in Microsoft Word for the auto-completion of text, and you'll find it under the 'insert' option in the dropdown menu. (Other word processor programmes have a similar feature.)

To make a new Autotext feature, simply type the address that you want to add to your system, then highlight it. Then go to 'Insert', and select 'Autotext'. A sub-menu appears offering the choices of 'Autotext' and 'New'. Select 'New" and give your selection a name. I usually use the name of the magazine. Then click on OK.

This information is now saved in your Autotext. Next time you want to use that information, simply go to 'Insert', select 'Autotext' and then 'Autotext' again and select the information from the menu offered. The information, in this case the address, will be inserted wherever in your document the cursor is.

You can set Autotext up so that it completes the autotext entry when you begin typing the first few characters of the entry.

All my commonly used addresses are stored in my Autotext section, so I simply have to select Autotext and Insert it, rather than open a Contacts database and copy and paste, which may not always use the right font or formatting.

Folder File Names
How do you save your files? Do you give them the title of your document? That's okay, but what happens if you decide to change the title? What about if you decide to give two pieces of work the same title? (I've used the same title for an article and a short story.) Do you save the document with the new title and delete the old one, or keep the two together? Do you then get confused which version you've sent to someone? Using a numerical file name folder system can make things easier.

Every article or piece of work I produce, I allocate a sequential number to, after the year of creation. So for example, the first piece I wrote this year I filed in a folder called 20090001. The second piece was filed in the folder 20090002, and so on.

By giving my 'writing project' this number, it doesn't matter if I decide to use a title again for a different article or other writing project. It also has a few other benefits. I mentioned in an earlier posting about the practicalities of invoicing. When invoicing, you need to give each invoice a unique identifiable reference number. When I sell a piece of work, the unique reference number I use on my invoice, is the same reference number I allocate to the folder. It makes it much easier keeping track of which invoice relates to which piece of work.

It's important to keep track of where you send all of your work to, so that you don't send the same piece of work to the same magazine twice in error. And when you do sell a piece of writing, it's important that you know which rights you've sold in that piece. Over the years, I've developed and expanded my own database system using a programme called FileMaker Pro. Now this is quite expensive and I wouldn't advocate you buying something like this when starting out, but when you've written as many articles, short stories, non-fiction books and other material as I have, a card index system becomes completely unwieldy!

A database though is simply a collection of data, and for most people, a simple spreadsheet is sufficient. And this is where my numerical file naming system comes into play again. I record this file number, as well as the title of the piece, where it was sent to, the date it was sent, how many words it contained and whether it was a commissioned piece or a speculative piece. When I get the decision, I record, the date of the decision and then whether it was accepted or rejected. If accepted, I then record how much to invoice, when to invoice etc, as well as which rights I have sold.

The great thing about recording all of your information in a spreadsheet, is that if you decide you need to use a better dedicated database programme, most of these will allow you to import your data from a spreadsheet, which means that you don't have to type it in all over again! (I currently have data going back to 1997, so I'm not going to type that lot in again!)

If you need to think about using a database programme, FileMaker Pro is available for use with Windows PCs and Apple Macs. It is expensive though. Alternatively, for Apple Mac users, FileMaker produce a slimmed down version of the product called Bento, which retails for under £30 and can be used to begin with.

Yes, administration can be a pain in the neck sometimes, but time spent investing in procedures, is time well spent. It is necessarily the sexiest aspect of freelance writing, but it is one of the most important!

Good luck.