Crushing Your Editorial Business with Checklists

I want you to crush your editorial business. Nope, I am not mean-spirited, as I don’t mean I want you to destroy it. I mean I want you to succeed, so I am using the slang version of “crush.” Isn’t it odd that the slang version is nearly the opposite of the actual definition? Anyway, I digress.

One way to crush your editorial business is through using checklists.

If you aren’t using checklists to ensure every project goes through your editorial process and to ensure you edit for all the things, you should be.

The Power of Checklists

Checklists are small, easy-to-create tools, but, boy, are they mighty!

As Atul Gawande said in his book The Checklist Manifesto, “The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.”

We, editors, have a lot of knowledge stuffed in our brain, and everything we need to do is complex. So you’d be a fool to think you will always remember all. the. things. Sure, sometimes you will, but not always.

A checklist helps ensure that you do. Checklists have much power, as they help you do so much.


  • Keep you moving forward—you don’t have to waste time thinking about what to do next or how best to spend your time.
  • Ensure you are efficient—by breaking down the big picture into tasks on a list, you are more efficient in meeting your big to-dos and goals.
  • Ensure completion of a repeatable routine—editing requires repeatable routines, and since it is repetitive, you may think you will remember, but once you get going, you have so much to think about, it can be easy to miss a step.
  • Help you learn from mistakes—all editors make mistakes. You will mess up and miss fixing errors, either because you are human and simply missed it or because it involved a new-to-you or unknown concept. You don’t know what you don’t know. But once you learn it, adding it to a checklist can keep you aware and alert in the future.
  • Keep you motivated—I don’t know about you, but checking off a task gives me a rush of dopamine. This sense of accomplishment keeps you motivated. 

Creating Your Checklists

I am going to use a checklist to help you create checklists. As you do each step and figuratively check it off, feel that dopamine flow through you.

Make a list of everything you may need a checklist for. Here are some suggestions:

  • Editorial process: This walks you through the steps you go through with each client for each stage: intake, editing round one, editing round two, finishing the project, follow-up, etc.
  • Checklists for each type of editing service you offer for each material type: For example, copyediting for fiction, copyediting for nonfiction, copyediting for web content, substantive editing, developmental editing of fiction, proofreading, beta reading, etc.
  • Daily to-do list: The tasks you will work on each day
  • Formatting: This walks you through the formatting tasks you do with each manuscript or editing project.
  • Admin to-do list: A running list of administrative tasks. Any time you have an administrative task to do but can’t get to it in the moment, you add it to the list for when you have time.
  • Marketing to-do list: Similar to the admin to-do list, but for marketing-based tasks

You may wonder what I mean by “design.” After all, a checklist is fairly straightforward: you have open boxes next to the items to check off.

But you may need more than just that on your checklists.

You may need

  • multiple checkboxes
  • a priority number/symbol
  • a date
  • a note section
  • headings

Multiple checkboxes. With your editorial process checklist, you may need room for multiple checkboxes to check off the tasks for different projects running simultaneously. Of course, you may opt to just have a new checklist for each project, or you could just have multiple checkboxes.

Priority number or symbol. With big running to-do lists, like your admin or marketing one, where you continuously add tasks to them, a date, priority number, or symbol can come in handy.

To indicate priority, you can use a number or a symbol. So for example, a star might mean top priority, an open circle might mean medium priority, and a closed circle might mean low priority.

This way when you have time to complete a task from your admin or marketing to-do list, you make sure to do top priority ones first, then medium ones if there aren’t any top ones, then low if there aren’t any top or medium, etc.

Date. If your task has a due date, you may need a date next to it.

Note section. With checklists that help you while you’re editing, you may want to include a section to take notes. This can help you create an editorial letter or note things to look out for in additional passes. So if you have the item “Are there any illogical plot holes” on the list, you can leave room next to it to include notes about plot holes that may exist.

Headings. You may want to organize your checklist into categories. For example, a fiction developmental editing checklist might have the headings “plot,” “character,” “setting,” “conflict,” etc.

A to-do list may have the headings “top priority,” “medium priority,” and “low priority” (you can symbols for this instead of headings).

An editorial process checklist can use the stages as headings: “inquiry,” “intake,” “editing round one,” etc.

You can word the item/tasks as questions, statements, or shortened notes.

In determining the wording, keep this quote in mind from The Checklist Manifesto:


“Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

In essence, don’t make the items in your checklist long, containing all the details needed to complete that item/task.

Let’s take the plot hole example from a fiction developmental editing checklist.

The checklist could say:

  • Are there any plot holes?
  • Ensure the manuscript is free of plot holes
  • Check for plot holes
  • Plot holes

You don’t need to say: Check for plot holes where the character acts in a way they would not realistically choose or something happens that contradicts a previous occurrence or something happens that’s incongruent with what we would expect based on our knowledge of the world and story, etc., etc.

Just use the checklist to provide a reminder, and if it is a concept you struggle with and need more in-depth information to complete that task/item, then simply add something like “see plot hole notes in reference binder.”

  • Check for plot holes (see notes in reference binder)

Do you want to print out one or a few copies and make them reusable?

Do you want it to be a digital template that you pull up and reuse digitally with clickable checkboxes?

Do you want to handwrite it?

Do you want to print out multiple copies and use one for each project?

These options all work, and you may want a different method for different checklists.

You’ll need different tools for each of these methods.

Reusable printout. The secret weapons to reusable printouts are wet erase markers and sheet protectors.

For your editing checklists, print out as many as you may need at one time. If you only work on one project at a time, you only need one. If you work on up to four at a time, you need four, etc.

Place these checklists in sheet protectors, then mark them with wet erase markers, NOT dry erase.

When you are done and no longer need the checklist, wipe it off with water on a rag, and bam, it is reusable.

These document holders are very useful for propping up checklists, so you can see them while working without having to glance down at them on a flat surface.

I use this method for my editorial process checklist. I only printed out one, as it contains multiple checkboxes next to each item, and I use a different color of wet erase marker for each current and future project.

Digital template. You can create a digital template in Word with clickable boxes by following the option one instructions in this article. After creating the checklist with clickable boxes, save it as a template, so you can open it and reuse it.

My new favorite digital template method is using a reMarkable. I was hesitant to buy one, but I am so glad I did. It is truly remarkable.

For this, I create a template either in Word or Excel (don’t need to make the checkboxes clickable, just use a checkbox icon for a bulleted list), then I save it as a PDF. I then load the PDF to my reMarkable.

And now I can write on the template and check things off with my stylus.

I use this method for all my editing checklists: copyediting fiction, copyediting nonfiction, developmental editing, and substantive editing.

When I am editing a new book, I go to the template checklist on my reMarkable, duplicate it, rename it with the project title, and I’ve got myself a checklist I can write on for that book.

Once I am done with that project, I just delete the checklist from my reMarkable.

You can create folders to organize your lists. My templates are all stored in my work > checklist templates folder. The ones in use (they were copies of the templates that I then renamed) are in my work > current work notes folder

The reMarkable also has a standard checkbox template built into it that looks like this

I use this for my to-do list, my admin to-do list, and my marketing to-do list.

I created a new workbook called to-do lists. Then I created a new page using the checkbox template, labeled that page “daily to-do list”, then another page with the checkbox template labeled “admin to-do list,” etc.

On the daily to-do list page, I fill it out each day, then I just erase the content at the end of the day. The reMarkable makes it easy to erase.

If you get a stylus pen with built-in erasable capabilities (I recommend this one, as it is cheaper than the official remarkable one), you can just use the back end of the stylus as an eraser. If not, you can select the eraser tool on the remarkable, and the writing end of the stylus turns into an eraser.

You can purchase additional to-do list/project checklists to download to the reMarkable, or you can make your own.

Free Checklists for You

I have made my checklists available for free, and you can customize them to suit you. They are Word documents with clickable checkboxes. After you customize them to suit your needs, you can save them as a digital template, save them as a PDF and load them to your reMarkable or tablet, etc., or print them out in sheet protectors to place in a binder or on document holders.

I have the following checklists available:

  • Editorial Process
  • Developmental Fiction
  • Substantive Nonfiction
  • Copyediting Fiction
  • Copyediting Nonfiction
  • Formatting

To receive the checklists, just fill in your email address. You will not be automatically subscribed to my newsletter. You will just receive three emails with advice and tips on running your business and only those three. I will not use your email for anything else.

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About Me

With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

Lest you think I don’t have much of a life, I should add I also enjoy dancing, singing, acting, eating out, and spending quality time with my husband and adorable kids.

I’m pretty cool. And you may want to be my friend. But in order for that to happen, you will need to know more about me than this tiny box allows.