One of my favorite author stories revolves around Dave Barry and Stephen King. Dave Barry tells this story of when he had writer’s block. He didn’t know what to do so he went over to Stephen King’s place because Stephen plotted out all his books in an Excel spreadsheet so he would be able to reference what each character was doing during one scene or time of year.
When he got there, Dave didn’t even say hello. He squinted and studied the wall where this ginormous spreadsheet was until Stephen asked him what he was doing. Dave replied, “I was hoping my characters were on here somewhere so I could find out what they’re up to.”
Not everyone is Stephen King with intersecting stories and people throughout several novels and several decades. But Excel can help with plotting and keeping track of data in one easy spreadsheet.
A lot of the new story apps like Choice and Chapters have their writers submit their manuscripts using Excel because it’s easier for the programmers to put in their “Choose You Own Adventure” style when they can break the scenes down by the Excel cells.
You can also use Excel for project planning. You can use it to track word counts or keep a submission log. When I was sending out short stories, I had a very simple spreadsheet.
- Title of the short story
- Publication where I sent the short story
- Date it was sent out
- The publisher’s response
From there, I could see at a glance which markets had looked at my work and how long it was taking them to get back to me. It also allowed me to sort my data quickly. By choosing the title, Excel brought just that short story up so I could review what markets had already seen it. This was helpful because I didn’t want to send the short story out to a magazine that had already rejected it.
When I was shopping around for an agent, I used Excel in a similar manner. I set up the cells in Excel to track the following information:
- Date of submission
- Agent Name
- Name of Manuscript
- What was sent: query, first three chapters, full manuscript.
- Three month follow up: if they hadn’t responded, I would nudge the agent and put in the date in this field
- Six month follow up: if they hadn’t responded, I would nudge the agent once last time before marking their response as N/A.
- Response: if it was a rejection, I put the date. This helped me see what the agent’s turnaround time was. Of course now, Agent Query and Query Tracker can be used to get that information as well.
Excel’s true strength, though, lies in its financial formulas. You should set up a market budget in Excel so you can track income vs. expenditures. This will help you decide on which ads to purchase to get the most bang for your buck.
A lot of times figuring out royalties sounds like a high school word problem. If you spend $1,000 on a Bookbub ad and you sell 4,000 copies at .99, but Amazon takes 70% commission, how much money have you made? Excel can do this type of math using formulas. Plus, once you set up the formulas, you can plug and play any ad with any price to see your return on investment.
Some authors use Excel to keep track of their story beats, word counts, development and revisions. It’s a good tool to have when you need a quick snap shot of data or a way to organize information. You can set up checklists and a book marketing plan in Excel as well.
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her book Stud is a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.