1-1 Inventory and Organize the Author’s Source Documents

An author’s ideas that he or she speaks or writes are his or her intellectual property. The value of that intellectual property is dependent on his or her ability to take those ideas and turn them into products from which others can benefit.

Get Organized

For a nonfiction book, the topic of which the author is a subject matter expert, one of the first things we advise authors to do is to take an inventory of his or her intellectual property.

  1. Have the author create a list of topics that will be included in the book and then the assistant can look through files, at DVDs, listen to audio CDs or MP3 files and otherwise put on a search for materials the author has already prepared on these topics. The more detailed the outline, with topics and subtopics, the better you can help put the material in a logical order.
  2. Compile the relevant information into electronic format so it can be readily printed. You may need to type up notes or transcribe audio files.
  3. Organize the material into a notebook (preferably) with dividers by topic, so the author can use it as source material. The material should also be organized electronically the same way, so the author can easily cut and paste it into new chapters.

The author will probably be amazed how much material there is to draw from and it will be relatively easy to take well-thought-out pieces and put them together around the topic of the book. Much better than starting with a blank page!

Identify Original Material

When compiling source material for the author, it is important to make a distinction between the original work created by the author, and other material like statistics, illustrations and quotes that the author would like to use in the book, but that is not the author’s original work. The author will have to determine if that material is in the public domain or if the author will need permission to use it.

If you have the original source document or some other indication of the original source, make sure and keep that source name or contact info right with the information the author wants to use. This way there will be no confusion about what belongs to the author and what does not. That will help later in the permissions process.

Adopt a File-Naming Convention

Another task an author’s assistant can perform in organizing the initial work is to help the author with electronic file naming. The files for the book should be kept chapter-by-chapter with two additional files – one of the front matter (preface, acknowledgments, dedication, etc.) and another for the back matter (about the author, resources, etc.).

It will be very helpful to the author if you can get him or her accustomed to naming the files in a way that will make it easy to keep track of the current revision (so that you can keep past revisions and still know which one the author is actively working on). This will also help editors and others who will ultimately be assisting with the project to not mix up this author’s information with another book.

For example, a great naming convention is to use either the author’s last name or an important word or short phrase out of the title, then the chapter number, and finally the revision number. For instance: Smith1-3.doc or HappyDogs1-6.doc.

Watch a slidecast

Next Steps

Download material for your notebook:

Button - how to guide

Button - 3 to a page slides

Watch a bonus video on working with a ghostwriter.


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