As I mentioned in a previous post, I pitched a book at the ACFW Conference in August. In preparation for meetings with editors and agents during that weekend, I filled a spiral-bound book of index cards with important details about the manuscript. The book was small and lightweight, occupying little space in my bag. Though I had the same information in electronic form, it was easier for me to flip through the cards before the meetings.
In mid-November, I submitted a synopsis and the first three chapters of my third manuscript to a literary agent. (I have not yet shared the working title). Last month, the full manuscript was requested, and the agent and I exchanged a couple emails over the holidays. Since our last exchange, I’ve completed a set of index cards so I’m prepared if and when future conversations about this manuscript are scheduled.
For each completed manuscript, I compile the following information on individual index cards in a spiral-bound book (I’ve put my own twist on an idea I picked up somewhere along the way):
- Title. At this point, I have working titles for individual books. If I have ideas for a sequel, I also jot down possible titles for the series.
- Spiritual Theme. Since I’m writing inspirational fiction, I’ve chosen a Bible verse to convey the overall theme of each story for the completed manuscripts.
- Story Question / Hook. Through a quick Google search, I came across this blog post by Ramona Defelice Long in which she provides a sampling of story questions by genre.
- Key Words. I list words related to the theme, plot, genre, etc.
- Pitch. Seasoned professionals have published great information about the pitch, so I’ll keep this short. Remember to consider your protagonist’s goal, motivation, and conflict as you choose the perfect words to sell your story.
- Setting. A brief description of the book’s locale and time of year. I also include details about buildings and room decor if mentioned in the text.
- Character Cards. While I create my characters on paper or in a Word document, I don’t include every detail about them in my manuscript. I reserve one index card per character who plays a significant role in the plot. On this card I list any traits, quirks, and preferences discovered about the character through reading the story. These index cards will help with consistency if the story is published, especially if there’s interest in a sequel. All other characters are listed together on one card with a short note as a reminder of the part they play in the story.
- Scripture Overview. I list all scriptures mentioned in the manuscript on one card. (example: Proverbs 16:3)
- Chapter Review. After skimming each chapter, I record the main plot points and important details–one chapter per card.
- Comparable Books. If a literary agent chooses to represent me, I’ll need to provide a list of books with a similar theme or story as the one I wish to publish. I scrolled through Amazon and Goodreads, searching the key words I listed on the card as mentioned above. I made note of the books’ titles, authors, hook, publisher, and date of publication. For the writers conference, I also researched the agents’ websites to determine if they have published stories similar to the one(s) I have written.
- Social Media. Though these numbers change daily, I jot down the number of followers and likes on various sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I also include details for my author website as well as the blog I created as a resource for Girl Scout troop leaders.
- Marketing Ideas and Promotional Items. I record possible locations for book signings and ideas for contests related to the story. For example: When writing Camp Galatians for middle grade readers, I wondered if kids might enjoy attending a book signing at a local park. In addition, I thought I could host a camp-related short story contest for young readers on my website. In the same Camp Galatians example, I came across “Live, Love, Camp” stickers, personalized seed packets, and fruit snacks labeled with Galatians 5: 22-23. All three products could serve as fun items to offer readers if given a chance to publish and promote the book.
In addition to using spiral-bound index cards for completed work, I’ve found loose index cards to be helpful during the writing process. I’ve written notes on loose index cards to plan my plot points and sketch out my scenes. I also keep notes about the setting and characters, and these cards are then filed in a coupon wallet. Once I’ve included the details in a scene, I strike a line across the card and form a discard pile at the back of the wallet. How do you organize your thoughts when writing? Please feel free to leave a comment. I’m always looking for ways to improve, and I’d love to hear from you!