‘Excel for Writers’ & ‘Excel for Self-Publishers’ by M.L. Humphrey

Excel for Writers by M.L. HumphreyExcel for Self-Publishers by M.L. HumphreyHumphrey provides clear and thorough instructions on using Excel to support a writing career without descending into tedious detail. With the first book aimed at authors looking to put their writing on a more structured footing and those seeking to be published by others, and the second aimed at authors seeking to publish their own work, one or both of these books will provide useful support depending on an individual’s career path.

Excel for Writers covers:

  • Tracking the time spent on writing, and calculating words/hour, time/project, and other basic ratios.

  • Tracking and comparing time and word-counts on a year-by-year basis.

  • Projecting possible income from publishing a novel through a traditional publisher and selling short stories to various markets.

  • Keeping track of short stories written, submissions sent, and any trends in acceptances/rejections.

  • Breaking down a story visually by chapter or scene to detect possible issues with pacing or over-focus.

  • Tracking character names

Excel for Self-Publishers covers:

  • Tracking advertising spending

  • Recording useful information for all titles published

  • Collating sales by distributor

  • An introduction to the Amazon Sales Dashboard and Amazon Reports

  • Calculating Borrows vs Sales for books enrolled in KDP Select

  • Calculating Average Customer Value

  • Tracking AMS Advertising

  • Comparing potential income from selling a book at various prices

  • Projecting number of sales needed to pass a certain income threshold.

These books are primarily focused on showing how Excel can be used to do certain tasks rather than why an author might wish to do the task. As such, these books supplement rather than duplicate other books on the business side of writing. That said, Humphrey does provide some thoughts on why they chose to collect or analyse certain data; this is particularly evident in the sections on analysing Amazon sales and borrows, and AMS advertising.

Humphrey states that they are pitched at authors who already have some understanding of Excel and that the reports are built in Excel 2013 so might not work (or display as clearly) in earlier versions. However, both books also include both a clear definition of terms and extensive appendices of methods and commands, and provide instructions for each report in fine detail, so authors with even basic experience of any Excel are likely to find each report easy enough to recreate.

While these works are titled … for Excel, so rely on a number of program-specific formulae, Humphrey includes sufficient explanation of the intent behind a step that authors are likely to be able to reproduce the reports in other office suites (such as Open Office or Libre Office) will a little extra effort.

Indeed, Humphrey mentions several times that the aim behind these books is to provide a perspective on how Excel can be used for the administrative tasks that surround actually writing, rather than to define a single perfect management flow.

Humphrey supports the text with screenshots of (where appropriate) both the spreadsheet with data and the spreadsheet with formulas visible; in addition, many of the larger or more complex spreadsheets also include screenshots of specific segments. While these are likely to reduce the effort authors – especially those of a more visual oriented nature – need to grasp the instructions, the images of reports that are many columns wide or use colour do not display well on all ereaders. However, as any author using these books will running a system with Excel or similar on it so can display the book in an suitable window, this is unlikely to be a significant issue.

Overall, I found these titles both useful and accessible. I recommend them to authors who have used a spreadsheet program in other contexts but are not familiar enough with one to already have created their own set of writing and publishing reports.

I received a free copy of The 2017 NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle, which includes both these titles, from one of the contributors with no obligation to review.

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