Wednesday, July 18, 2012

6 Tips for File Management

This weekend, we helped our daughter move into our condo. She put her furniture in storage and transferred the rest of her belongings to our place. If the condo wasn’t crowded before, it is now. I hope our closet rods don’t fall down under the heavy loads. She filled up every inch of closet space in our three bedrooms. Naturally, she gave us bags of stuff to take home for donation. This is the only benefit of moving as I see it: cleaning out unwanted or outgrown items.

Periodically, we should do the same sweep of our files. Not counting paper files, take a look at your online folders and consider paring them down. Here’s what to do:
  • Convert older file formats to current versions. For example, I still have my earlier book files in Word Perfect. Now I exclusively use Word. I need to convert these files before this conversion is no longer possible or the upgrade to the next Microsoft Office edition isn’t compatible. Fortunately, I'd moved over all of  my floppy disk files into Dropbox so those were preserved. Now I have to work on upgrading them to my latest version of Word.
  • Pick one of your folders, and click on each file to see if you want to keep it or delete it. Here we go. Let’s choose your first published title. Do you really need that notice of your first booksigning? The list of book blurbs that are no longer catchy? Three versions of your synopsis? An email announcement to booksellers that are probably no longer in existence? A copy of the query letter you sent out to reviewers to see if they wanted an ARC? Sure, you might want to keep some of these for sentimental value, but which ones can you use today if you revise and republish this backlist title?
  • Update any files that are relevant to your backlist titles available in print or ebook format. Which ones, if any, can you use to promote this book?
  • On files that you decide to save, even if you convert to the current version of word processor you are using, make sure your formatting is the same as what you’re doing now. For example, I used to put two spaces between sentences. Now I use only one space. So do a Find and Replace to correct these formatting problems. Get rid of tabs and replace them with 0.5 first line indent. Reformat your headers. Change the font. Make sure the files you are keeping are up to speed. It’ll less hard to access them later that way should you need them again.
  • Rename your files if necessary to be more indicative of what they are. I’ve changed a lot of file names as I go through this review process. For Hair Raiser, as an example, chapter one went from to chapter 1.doc (or docx, depending on which form of Word I'm saving them in).
  • Condense similar files into one file. Let’s say you have three different files, all named something different, with review quotes. Copy the material from two of them into one file and delete the extras. Pruning your files this way will eliminate repetitions.
This cleansing process can be very time consuming but it’ll save you anxiety later when you need to use a particular file, and you don’t have to go hunting for it. Nor will you lose the data when upgrades make conversions of earlier files impossible. So maybe pick one day per week or one particular folder to work on and clean it up. You’ll feel good about your accomplishment.

What advice on file cleansing/updating would you add?


  1. I have the same bad luck with computer files that I do with paper ones--the minute I throw anything out, even if it's years old, I'm sure to need it the next day! I throw things out when I no longer recognize what they are, so I guess you could call me a die-hard saver!

  2. Good reminder on the old file formats. So far I haven't lost written documents, but as images have changed file extensions, I have lost a few photos over the years. Nothing major, but still a bummer.

    I'm trying to tame the paper monster and go electronic--but even my electronic files need a massive overhaul. That's my project for now through October.

  3. Kathryn, I'm sure you can clean up some of those files! If it's years old and you want to keep it, at least make sure it's up to date re formats.

  4. BK, I never thought about updating photo files re extensions. Good point, thanks!

  5. I was going to do this overhaul on my USB flash drive which I carry with me everywhere I go. I last backed it up December 2011.

    Sad to say, I won't be able to do all this wonderful organizing because my flash drive is now corrupted and I can't get to any of my work!

    God's way of telling me all that stuff was trash and I need to start over anyway. LOL

  6. Oh dear, Diane. Is that the only backup you have? I use flash drives, DVDs, Mozy online backup service, Dropbox. I'm hoping you have your files somewhere else where you can access them.

  7. Several years ago I took a course on records retention for a local government agency I worked for. One thing the teacher constantly stressed was that any form of digital data is only going to be around for ten years or less before it starts to become unreadable due to hardware and software changes. Within twenty years of its creation, it will be as if it were invisible.

    Of those who've been writing for a long time, who here still has digital copies of their work written in MultiMate or WordStar? Those were both the top of the line word processors when I started in the computer business in the late 80s. Even WordPerfect and MS Word from the 90s is increasingly difficult to read.

    The recommendation of the records retention specialist? Acid free paper for single lifetime record keeping. Anything longer than that: silver nitrate microfilm lasts over 300 years with no degredation.

    So while saving all necessary digital copies is very important, if you really want it in the future print out the final copy of whatever you want to save a stow it in a binder somewhere safe.

  8. I've sent all my old manuscripts to the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green. I have print copies of my books to pass on, however long they last. With over 20 books written (and not all published), those manuscripts would take up too much space.

    As for digital copies, if we keep up with the technology and convert our files, won't that help? I only need to be able to access them if necessary.

    Regarding current work and important emails, I always print out a hard copy. In case there's an
    EM surge that wipes out our electronics, at least we will have paper copies.

  9. The records retention specialists no longer recommend paper. I recently completed a process documentation project for the Washington State digital archives. The cost to house paper records is astronomical. What happens if you have a fire, a flood, or insect or rodent infestation? These days, digital is preferred because the records can be duplicated in more than one location to protect them from disasters.

    But issues with file compatibility and stability of electronic records keep these folks up at night. Everything that comes into the archive is run through three separate virus checkers before moving any farther. Then it goes onto computers for web access by citizens and also onto tape backups, which are stored onsite and also offsite. They even maintain a few ancient computers with moldy software so they can continue to access some of the file types they haven't converted. There's a whole industry growing up around file format conversion for government and business.


  10. Nancy, this one is a keeper. Thank you. What seems like a great software program can become passe in a couple of years. I wrote a number of documents using Lotus (collective groan: "You WHAT?") but fortunately kept the software. I also have an entire harddrive worth of pictures I can't open because they were converted to some AOL format that is no longer in use, and no one has bothered to create a workaround program.

    Great advise from top to bottom. Thanks again.

  11. Oh my, it's enough to make one think. Make at least TWO sets of backups. Put one in a safe deposit box. Instead of giant-capacity USB sticks, use small-capacity ones. Keep things separated. If one goes down, it doesn't take everything with it.

    To avoid "format" issues, make an archive copy in Plain Text. That should always be readable.

  12. So far as file compatibility is concerned, yes you would need to keep an eye on it. But another issue is managing files that you need to refer to. A great way to do this is by using paperless office software. For authors, home businesses and small offices, one good program is Sohodox. It lets you scan your paper manuscripts to image files and import your existing digital files, and indexes all these documents to make them searchable by their text content (full text search). You can sort them by folders, document types (e.g. manuscripts, proposals, checks, contracts etc.), tags (labels/keywords) or even link one file to another (e.g. a manuscript to its contract and check). You can send email, fax and print right from within the application. You can back-up your database using an online backup service.

  13. Don't forget that just because an application has a native format, doesn't mean you have to use it. It's very easy to setup programs to use .txt or .rtf as their default format.

    Or if you have the head for it, write in a text editor using simple markup.

    As far as storage, most people use CD/DVDs or paper because of availability and cost. But if price is no object, I've got yer millenium right here:,news-5112.html

  14. Kathy, worrying about file conversions and upgrading our software will be a constant concern for all of us. We can't afford to get too far behind.

  15. Joe, that's a shame about your photos. I really haven't looked at my disks with photo formats. That's something I have yet to do. There must be someone out there who can help you?

  16. Jim, that's a good idea about using plain text, thanks. I do keep a flash drive in the bank vault and one in my purse. Have to remember to update and exchange them, though.

  17. Camila, what you're proposing sounds so confusing and time consuming that I'd have to hire someone to do it!

  18. Martin, that diamond DVD sounds like a viable option. Thanks for pointing it out.

  19. These are great suggestions. Nine out of ten times, I end up looking for a file I was sure I didn't need, and deleted. That's why I love my separate back-up hard drive. Everything I want to delete goes there first. Gives me at least another year before I delete the file and regret it! LOL!!

  20. File management can also be defined as maintaining the records in an archival process. This has something to do with selecting where the records should be saved, and how long should it be kept. This is also to separate the records that are needed to be disposed from records that are needed to keep.

  21. One of the best ways to easily keep track of your files is to arrange them according to file types. That means, for example, that all word documents should be placed in a single folder. But I suggest that you organize your files regarding their use and purpose. For example, a student should create a folder for a certain subject, and dump every file that is related only to that subject into the said folder. That’s an additional tip to the six you gave. :)

    [Lakisha Rubert]