Checklists for Editors

I am a very systematic person, probably attributed to my type A personality. And as part of my methodical approach, I use checklists to keep me organized and to help my scattered brain remember and think of all the things.  

I have made these checklists available for you to download and modify to suit your needs. Additionally, I walk you through my system and process for using the checklists.

If you also have a great system, leave a comment explaining what works for you. It is great to learn from others. 

Descriptions and Links for the Checklists

**NEW UPDATE: June 24, 2021, I uploaded an updated version of all the checklists as I revamped them.**

Editorial Process Checklist

This walks me through the steps I go through with each client during each stage: intake, editing round one, editing round two, and finishing the project. This checklist references tasks I need to mark in my trackers, which are available for purchase (go to the resources for editors page, then click on trackers product page).

Developmental Fiction Checklist

A list of big-picture issues to keep in mind when editing a fiction manuscript. It contains a list of potential issues in topics like plot and characterization. You can circle items from the list that relate to the manuscript and take notes on it.

Substantive Nonfiction Checklist

A list of big-picture issues to keep in mind when editing a nonfiction manuscript. It contains a lit of potential issues in topics like organization and content. You can circle items from the list that relate to the manuscript and take notes on it.

Copyediting Fiction Checklist

A list of things to focus on that are either specific to fiction or common problems found in fiction.

Copyediting Checklist

A list of grammar and punctuation concepts I have to make a conscious effort to look for or ones that I needed to relearn/unlearn. These are errors I more easily gloss over. So this is obviously not an extensive list of everything to look for while copyediting, as I don’t need reminders for the grammar and punctuation concepts I naturally notice and fix.

How I Use the Editorial Process Checklist

Prep and Materials

  • Print out one single-sided copy of the checklist and put each sheet in a sheet protector

  • *Purchase a variety color pack of wet-erase markers.You can find them on Amazon here.

  • Either post the two-page checklist on a corkboard or a white board with a magnet in your office, or you can put them on two document book holders

*I choose to use wet-erase versus dry-erase markers because my kids, my cats, or my flailing limbs could accidentally erase it if it were dry erase.

The checklist has four columns so you can be marking off tasks on four projects at a time. In the intake section, it has an additional two columns for future projects.

If you need more room for additional projects, you can make additional columns in the margin.

The Process

  1. Assign each current project a color. If you have your checklist on a whiteboard, you can write the project title and stage it is on using the assigned color (dry erase marker) on the whiteboard above the checklist.

    • If you need to assign future projects the same color as current ones, that is fine. You can mark future ones on the right side, then when you finish a current project that was assigned the same color as a future one, you can switch future one over to current/upcoming side, even though it isn't current yet. Then you can use that color for another future project.

  2. As you complete a task for that project, make a checkmark using a wet-erase marker in the assigned color.

  3. Once a particular project is finished, erase the checkmarks for that project, so all you have remaining are the checkmarks for any current projects.(I just spray a corner of these auto shop towels with water, then use my fingernail to shape a skinny corner that I can carefully just wipe off one column.

On my whiteboard, I list my current projects in their assigned color, with the stage they are on; the projects I have completed a sample for but haven't heard back yet on whether I was hired; and all future projects with their start date and assigned color. *Note I now work with subcontractors so my checklist is no longer on my whiteboard. I have my whiteboard divided in half: top half lists my sole projects, bottom half lists subcontracting projects. So I now have a subcontracting editorial proces checklist and regular one, and I store them on document holders on my desk.

Up close picture of checklist.

I have orange markings on the “current project” side, but no project assigned in orange is listed as current on my whiteboard. That orange project is actually a future one, but when the blue current project finished intake and editing round one (page one items), I wiped it off to make room for more projects. I put an “E” above that column, so I would know it referred to Eden’s upcoming project. 

Then you will see the blue current project is in round three. I don’t have any of the blue current project on the first page since it was all finished there and I needed that space. 

How I Use the Editing Checklists

Prep and Materials

  • Make however many copies you need of each (Since I sometimes have three projects at a time in various stages, I made three copies of each.)
  • Note: If you are going to use the document holder, do not make them double-sided.
  • Put them in sheet protectors so you can write on them with wet erase markers

  • Place them inside a three-ring binder

  • Get two document book holdersto prop up your lists near your computer station

  • Get some wet-erase markersfor taking notes on your lists

Other Items in Binder

My binder has other resources, not just my checklists. While I am not usually paper based and I love to use technology, I prefer to have these items on paper so I don’t have to minimize my editing document to open another Word document.

  • Developmental fiction editing notes (These are notes gathered from various fiction editing classes dealing with the topics on my checklist)
  • Copyediting notes (This is essentially extended notes on the concepts found on my copyediting checklist. It has rules and examples for the concepts I struggle with)
  • CMoS rules and style sheet items (list of guidleines I have to look up often)
  • CMoS hyphenation table
  • Word tricks (my shortcut commands for my comments and instructions on how to do things in Word)
  • CMoS Citations cheat sheet

The Process

  1. Write the client name and project title on top of the checklist using any color wet-erase marker.

  2. Place the substantive or copyediting checklist, whichever one you need, for the current project in your document holder. Since the checklists are two pages long, I put one in each document holder.

  3. Glance at the checklist before each chapter or so, to remind you of things to focus on.

  4. Mark the checklist and add to it for that particular project to create a customized checklist of what to look for in another pass or round.

    • To mark the substantive/developmental checklists: Circle items that you have concerns on, then use the empty space to take notes and expound. Example, if the main character doesn't undergo enough growth, you could circle "dynamic" in the character 2 box, then in the empty space write out what to look for with this issue in the next round, or suggestions for fixing it, or the particulars about what the character is lacking.

    • To use the copyediting checklists, circle anything the author has a repeated issue with, add anything not on the list that you need to watch out for in your next pass.

  1. When you are done working on a particular project for that day, place the checklist back in the binder. If you are only working on one project at a time, then you can just keep the checklist in the document holder.

  2. Once the project is finished, clean off the checklist. (I just spray it with a water bottle and wipe it with these auto shop towels.)

This is the developmental editing fiction checklist for a fiction project I just started. I have circled issues that apply to their manuscript and expounded in the notes section.
My editing checklists are on the left (when I took this picture, I had a developmental editing one on the stand, but I switch them out based on the project I am working on), and my editorial process checklist is on the right. My whiteboard (though not shown in this picture) that lists all the projects and their assigned colors is on a cubby cabinet to the right of me.

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