That Trusty Ol’ Toolkit

It might not be intuitive, but a successful author is–most likely–a well-organized author. It’s all nice and romantic to imagine an office piled ceiling-high with stacks of paper, unpaid bills, absinthe bottles, etc, but let’s leave it at romance. If you don’t have to hunt for information every 10 minutes, if you can answer a query or request for info without scrambling to pull stuff together, it’s a huge boost. It makes you look more professional, removes stress and allows you the time to edit and make a really polished presentation.

When I started taking on clients and really working on the professional stuff, I had to redesign the way I organized. I was using certain things frequently, but didn’t have a central location, which led to hunting.

So, I built myself a toolkit. Like any good survival kit, this is a folder in Dropbox that contains all of my essentials. Since it is in Dropbox, I can access it anywhere. It means I don’t have to tell an editor or client ‘hey, I’m away from my laptop this week, I’ll get it to you next week’, or ‘I have to write that, give me a few days’. This is the basic stuff that should always be ready to go with nothing more than a minor update or edit.

What’s in mine?

The Basics

2-3 professional photos

They don’t have to be expensive. Your mother or significant other can take it. It should show your face. Not your hand, your artfully-turned shoulder, or what have you. You can have one of those, too, and a full-body shot, and a funny-face shot, if you want, but make sure you’ve got a picture of your face.

Bios: short and long

It’s a pain in the ass to write biographies. If you’re writing it when you aren’t stressed and trying to remember all the important things you’ve done, it’s going to be a lot more coherent.

A short bio will list two or three of your top publication credits, where you live, and a sentence or two about yourself. If you don’t have any publications, just mention that this is your first sale and that bit about yourself.

A longer bio can list all of your publication credits and more about you personally. Still, this shouldn’t be more than a couple of short paragraphs. Don’t over-think your bio. Use your own voice and tweak it as necessary.

A copy of Bill Shunn’s Standard Manuscript Format post

Just because it is THE best and least confusing example of SMF you’ll find, and it’s funny, too.

Tip: Bill Shunn and Barry Goldblatt look very similar from the back, as John Remy found out at World Fantasy. Surprise hugs make for great ice-breakers. (Please don’t take me seriously!)

Contact list/business card collection

Meet someone cool at a con? Get an invitation to submit to a particular editor when you get your story done? Don’t let those things get shoved off for ‘later’. Even if you just give them a shout-out on Twitter or a 5-line email, make sure to touch bases with people you connected to at cons. At the least, you’ll have some new friends and contacts. But sometimes these random meetings lead to something a lot better. It’s a good bet to go ahead and enter the info into your address book or contacts list–along with notes–but keep the business card, too, just in case something happens to your main list. (No, I didn’t JUST suffer a complete loss of everything on my phone…)

That being said, be polite. A con or reading is a great chance to talk to a lot of people, but it’s easy to misread interaction.

Business Cards

I know, I know, everyone tells you to have these. But what should be ON them? Every con I go to, I get at least a dozen cards. At World Fantasy, I think I got about 30 cards. Problem is, most of these people only talked to me for about 5 minutes, at best. I’m TERRIBLE at remembering names and faces in social situations. So I get home, all excited about these cards, and…I’ve got 20 cards with names and emails, and not a damn clue what the people do, or why we exchanged cards.

Business cards need: Name (whatever name you use in your writing/publishing work), email, website (if you have one) and what you do. Do you write horror? Put that down. Are you an editor? That’s a wonderful thing to know. Given the social media craze, it’s not a bad idea to have your Twitter handle on there, if you have one.


A professional email address

[email protected] is cute, and fine for personal accounts, but it’s probably not really what you want to be sending to agents. Also, I strongly recommend Gmail. It has a few glitches, but things like nesting labels, multiple inboxes and a full office suite turn it into a mobile office that just plain knocks its competitors out of the ring.

Google and Duotrope

There’s a saying that comes up every time one of my staff asks for directions to a staff meeting: “”. The internet exists for a reason. Use it. Please. There’s some info that you can’t find online, but damn little. One of the best ways you can market yourself is to be competent and knowledgeable.

Duotrope is the number 1 submission manager and resource for short-story writers. It offers lists of magazines, guidelines, submission trackers and all sorts of goodies. Check it out, and while you’re there, donate something! They fill a huge need. is another excellent source for submission information.


I’m hesitant to recomment this, because of the recent security issues. The key is to remember that it is NOT a secure program. Don’t store passwords, bank or credit card info in anything synced to DropBox. But for your writing and work, this is an amazing resource, because it automatically backs things up for you. And if you have multiple computers, it makes it so much easier to work off of any one you need to. It can also be accessed from most of the newer smart phones, many of which have an app for it.

I’ve lost loads of my work. TWICE. I burn through hard drives and flash drives. I don’t use programs like Page 4 or Sonar anymore, because it’s just too hard to back the info up. (I used to use Sonar, and loved it…and lost all of my submission history for 3 years of work. Most of those stories are trunked on principle now.) It’s good to have a physical back-up, but Dropbox removes the fear of losing your writing to a natural disaster, fire or a destructive pet. (Like the time my Rottweiler crunched my mother’s laptop. Oops.)


Another option: SpiderOak. If you’re worried about the security of DropBox, SpiderOak looks like a good alternative. DO NOT FORGET YOUR PASSWORD. They mean total security: they have no record of your password, and it CANNOT be reset. For the time being, I’ll run both programs, at least until 1 proves better than the other.

So You Think You Can Freelance?

This isn’t stuff you’ll need right away, probably. But once you get sucked into the vast web of freelancing, these are good things to have on hand.

Writing samples

If you write nonfiction, have a couple of excerpts from your articles or blog posts. This is great if you see a post for a blogger or writer, and need to get something to the person in a hurry. Also essential if you want to freelance.

List of your published work, with links or buying info (where applicable)

Should be pretty self-apparent. This is more a personal inventory than something you’ll be sending a lot of people. Still, good to have, especially if you intend to participate at cons, or apply for workshops, writing jobs, have fans, for family/friends, etc.

Reviewer list (Advanced Level!)

This is only if you have a book out, but don’t have a publicist dedicated to you. It might fall to you to send out your own review copies. Make sure to CAREFULLY read the reviewer’s directions. Make sure what format they want, if they accept submissions from authors or only from publicists/publishers, if they take small press submissions. MOST places will not take self-published work. Unfortunate, but it does have precedent. Also double-check with your publisher/editor to make sure this is okay to do.

A bit of Google archeology led me to the Rosetta Stone of genre reviewers: Icebreakers, a resource from

Format list: (Editor or author level!)

I’ve done two books with Brian Hades and the Edge crew now. To my embarrassment, I misplaced the art guidelines, leading to a week-long delay. Now, every time I work with a publisher or client, I make a file for them. It saves emailing back and forth, and if you work with a publisher more than once, it’s easy enough to just say ‘hey, have any of the guidelines or info changed since last time?’

Publisher information: format, guidelines, email addresses, preferences, paypal address, phone number, contracts, correspondence, publicity forms.

Much the same would apply to an author’s needs: if you work with an editor or publisher on a regular basis, it’s good to have the guidelines and extra info at your fingertips, and available offline.

And the absolute, totally, completely, essential must-have?

A smile, a laugh and a sense of humor.

Be sure to refresh these now and again by having lunch with a friend in the middle of your hellacious deadline, treating yourself to something unnecessary (Whether it’s chocolate, a coffee, jewelry, 5 shots of vodka at 11am…), or spending some time in the sun with a good book. Get away from your computer, spend time with people you love and things that inspire you.

Because, really, when it comes down to it, everything listed above won’t be worth a damn if you start hating the mere thought of waking up again, if you dread your inbox, and if the question “what are you working on right now?” produces a violent twitch.

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  1. Anonymous
    24/06/2011 at 8:47 pm Permalink

    Great post! Something I can add about business cards: If you’re using your business cards to make connections with people, make sure there is a large blank space on it. Carry a pen. When you’re about to give your card to someone, write down a salient detail about your conversation with them. “We talked about media tie-in books at the Tor party” or something. That way, when they get home after the con, they might actually have a context for you 🙂

    This is what I do, anyway. 

  2. Jaym Gates
    24/06/2011 at 11:47 pm Permalink

    That’s a great idea! The backs of mine are blank, but I hadn’t thought of using them for that.

  3. Sophie Playle
    25/06/2011 at 6:19 am Permalink

    Fantastic list of resources. I really should try to be this organised…!

  4. Sandra Wickham
    26/06/2011 at 3:03 am Permalink

    Awesome post, thanks!!

    (did I mention YOU are awesome?)