Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Keeping a Series Organized

A little over a year ago, I blogged here about the joys of writing series as an indie author/publisher. At the time, Dandelions for Dinner, the fourth book in my Farm Fresh Romance series was about to release. The final title in the series, Berry on Top came out a few weeks ago. I have to say that expanding a three-book series to six has been a great success.

Organization of the project became a greater challenge with each additional book. I’d like to share the systems I used in case it might be a help to you as well.


I’m sure authors manage to stay organized without Scrivener, but I have no idea how! If you’re not familiar with Scrivener, check it out at Literature and Latte. They offer a free 30-day trial (counted by days you actually open the program, not a calendar month.)

When you create a new Scrivener file, you have two major sections: Draft and Research. In each of these you can nest folders and files as deep as you need, expanded or hidden with the click of a button.

In Draft, I keep a folder for the first draft of each novel in the series. This is where I actually write the novel. More plotterly types can create note cards and set up their outlines in advance. It turns out I am probably 90% pantser, so I just create a “document” in the book folder, name it Chapter 1, and start writing. I can easily keep the previous novels’ first drafts hidden while working on the current one.

In Research, I have several major folders: Characters, Setting, and Research. In the Characters older, I create a document for each of the characters alphabetically by last name (or first name if they’re a walk-on with no more detail). Then I can easily add a few notes as to who this character is, in case I want to use them again.

Major characters get considerably more, with additional documents nested under their names. These include an image copied from a stock photo site, their GMC (goal, motivation, conflict), their family details, anything about their history I need to know (hated math in school)… whatever kinds of things you might need to reference again later.

The Setting Folder is also somewhat self-explanatory. If you’re using a real place, you can copy/paste in maps, photos, etc, for quick reference. And the Research Folder contains many random things for the various books: how to make a house out of a grain bin, how dogs react to mouse poison… whatever bits you need for your books.

Scrivener is my key tool for organizing a series, but it isn’t the only one.

Character Spreadsheet

Long before I got to the last book of the Farm Fresh Romance series, I realized I needed another way to keep track of names, as well. I create an Excel workbook with two sheets in it, one labeled Male and the other Female. Down the first column, I place the alphabet. In the next column, I place the characters by first name. The third column is for the book they’re featured in, and the fourth, just a note about who they are.

The first two columns are the key, though. I am very careful to assign names that are dissimilar from each other. I use most of the alphabet (hence an ex-girlfriend named Yvette!) and try to vary the number of syllables and the shape and feel of each name. This is much easier to track in a spreadsheet than in a single column in Scrivener.


You always need a good grasp of your setting. With one book, you might be able to keep it firmly in mind. For a series, you will almost certainly need sketches and maps. I tend to draw quick layouts of the houses my main characters will walk through, a neighborhood map, and a larger scale map. These don’t have to be fancy, but having them will be a big help keeping you consistent.


The timeline for a series is twofold: within the book, and within the series. I use different tools for each.

For the timeframe of a single book, I download and print out calendar grids for the months in which I expect the story to take place. I don’t place a lot of info in these, but do note where the chapters fall in the calendar to keep an eye on major holidays, pacing, etc.

I quickly realized I needed more help when looking at multiple books, though. There was a year between book one and book two, then two-and-a-half between books two and three. By then the couple from book one had a child. How old was she in book three? How about in book five?

I purchased Timeline 3D for Mac (I’ve heard Aeon is good for PC). This required me to pick an actual birthdate and year for each character. I have also mark graduations, weddings, and time spans, like for the length of each novel. Now I can always figure out how old each character is in the newest story and other longer term time details.

Within My Documents, I have a folder for each series. Within that live all the above mentioned pieces as well as anything else that is series-wide. Then there are also folders for each novel, containing folders for the audiobook, the cover in various sizes, the Word files (I compile from Scrivener to Word for my beta readers and editor), any blog posts for it, etc.

Yes, I do love to nest files! There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than searching the entire laptop for files you know you saved "somewhere." Setting up a system will save time and keep your hair attached to your head.

Have you written a series longer than three books? How did you keep organized? Let’s share tips. I may need some new ones, as I've just started writing the second novel in a spin-off six-book series, the Urban Farm Fresh Romance series. I love long series, and so do my readers!

Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local food movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.


  1. Since I'm following in your indie footsteps, rather limpingly (spell check says that isn't a word but I disagree), I value your posts. Generous of you to share how you manage your work. I love Scrivener and have devised certain organizational methods, but I like the sound of Timeline 3D for Mac. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Wow, a 6-part series. Well done, Valerie. And thank you for sharing your system. I'm on book 2 of my series and I've come to realise the importance of having a "system" to manage, for example, the ever-growing number of characters.

    1. Yes, our characters need organizing! Too bad they have minds of their own.

  3. Love the pic of you hugging your books! I'm sure you've given good advice, but if I had to learn one more piece of technology I think I'd slit my wrists.

    1. Donna, please don't slit your wrists! Scivener is wonderful and the basics are easy to master.

    2. Scrivener is a tool, not a piece of technology!

  4. Valerie, I'm not clear here. Do you use one Scrivener file for the whole series (which has the advantage of keeping all your research and characters, etc. together) or a separate Scrivener file for each in one Word folder?

    And that looks like a screen shot of a google map. Is there a way to do that for fictional places? I'm lousy at map drawing.

    I too have the problem of characters' ages changing book to book. My timeline has just been a list of dates in chronological order, birth dates and major story events in red, historical events that my characters would be aware of in black. What advantages would this Timeline 3D have?

    1. One big fat Scrivener file for the entire series, yes, with all the research and everything in one place.

      A tip for maps of fictional places is to pick a real place and change the name of it. Change the street names too. But it will help you give a feel for an actual place.

      Timeline helps me remember when we are NOW as well as when someone is born/married/whatever. If your system is working, you don't need it. Mine wasn't. :)

  5. Ooh Valerie, this looks so good. I'm trying to pluck up courage to do a series and I use Scrivener for my other writing. I'm going to come back and really study this post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Okay, as planned I've been back and studied your post. I have a similar question to LeAnn. I get the picture you do all the stories in one Scrivener file, but if so, how do you keep them apart?

    2. They're each in their own folder, which I can have open when working in it (or looking something up) and folded shut if not.

    3. Great thanks so much. This is very helpful.

  6. Have Scriviner ... must learn! Thanks for sharing this, Valerie.