A Pain-free Editing Checklist For Authors


I’ve been thinking lately (I know, it’s as much a shock to me as it is to you).

There’s one main thing that tends to add tension to a working relationship if you’re editing non-fiction or business documents, or having your fiction writing edited.

And it’s something that’s SO easily remedied.

first aid kit

It’s simply not being prepared (and before you ask, I got thrown out of the Girl Guides … long story).

once upon a time


Both sides need to be prepared as much as possible to make for a smooth job. If one side, or the other, isn’t really prepared (but they think they are) tensions can arise

So I’ve got a simple checklist to make the experience as painless as possible for you. (Don’t worry about me, despite my short-lived Girl Guide experience, I’m always prepared.)

 blank checklist


Pain-free edit checklist

1. Make sure your writing really is finished.

Fiddling once you’ve sent your document to an editor is a big no-no. Huge. It causes more problems than you can imagine. The phrases ‘just a small change’, ‘can you just …’ and ‘here are the missing paragraphs I forgot to tell you about’ strike fear into the heart of most editors. We either have to say ‘no, no more changes’ as nicely and firmly as possible, or watch our schedule slide out of control.

Every editor works differently, but basically we work on a document as a whole. That means when you send us your text we’ll go though it in a variety of ways, especially when we’re creating a style sheet (to keep things nice and consistent for you if you haven’t specified your own preferences).

So, when you send us a forgotten paragraph, even at the start of the edit, we’ll probably have gone through a few checks already. And this means that the new text won’t have been checked. As a result we might have to run a number of extra checks to make sure it fits in with the rest. Adding time and frustration.

The same happens if you decide to alter the wording. For example, you keep reading the text once you’ve sent it off to your editor and decide the word you’ve used in one sentence isn’t as effective as the one you’ve decided upon at 8 p.m. over an Irish coffee after dinner. When you send that ‘can you just change this’ email it sends a ripple effect through the document (and probably time and space).


Pain-free editing tip 1: only send a FINISHED document to your editor. Then leave it alone. Do not touch. Once it’s with your editor it’s going through a process that can cost time and money to alter.


2. Don’t use fancy formatting.

Checklist number two is don’t be tempted to use fancy formatting or give us a document that’s how you envisage the finished book will look. We edit, therefore we need as clean a document as possible. Save the fancy stuff for the end, once the edit is finished and you’re sending the document to a typesetter, designer or setting it out yourself.

Don’t add fancy fonts, images or anything else. Make a note (in red) if you want to key in images you want, and add them in a separate file if you have to, but don’t include them in the document. We only have to strip them all out again.

When an editor gets a document that’s all fancy and looks like a beautifully-designed book interior a piece of us dies inside. We know all the work that’s gone into it. It’s taken blood, sweat and tears as the author decides just how their document will look. They might even have spent hours looking for the detailed brush script that perfectly enhances their dark, gothic writing style.

But it all has to go.

All of it.

rubbish bin

The editor has to go through the entire document and strip out the images (making a note of what the image was to enable it to be keyed back in at a later stage). They have to make sure the line spaces are adequate enough to enable a comfortable edit and change the font to a ‘boring’ standard font such as Times New Roman or Calibri, to make the document workable. They also have to make a note of all those fancy bits in case they’ve been used for emphasis or other important areas of text.

This takes time.

Sometimes a lot of time.

Your editor may charge you extra for all this, and believe me you don’t want a bill for extra hours that you could have easily avoided.


Pain-free editing tip 2: plain and simple may be boring, but it’ll save your editor much heartache (and will probably save you a nasty surprise on the bill).


3. Get permissions before sending to your editor (or publisher).

That means don’t just lift images from the internet, and don’t use large quotes (or copy paragraphs) from your sources. And definitely don’t use lyrics or poems unless you really, really have to. If you have to use something that you don’t own the copyright to (which is basically anything you haven’t created yourself), find out who does own it and apply to them for permission to reproduce. And be prepared to pay for the privilege.

Permissions take time.

It’s better to seek permission before you hit the editing stage, as you have to find the copyright owner, then find their contact details, then send an email (or sometimes even a paper letter, or phone them) then wait. There’s a reason publishing houses have special permissions staff. It’s a complicated, legal issue and you have to wait for the copyright holder to get back to you. You could be lucky and it could take a few days. Or you might have to wait weeks (or months) for a reply. Sometimes you might never receive a reply, which means you can’t use the material.

Once the reply comes back you might have to change your plan if the price is too high, or if the answer is a solid ‘no’. For a simple one line quote, or an image, you could be looking at a LOT of money. This could mean a rewrite, or altering or cutting huge chunks of text.


Pain-free editing tip 3: seek permission to use other people’s material well in advance of the editing stage. That way your edit won’t get held up.

4. Create a style sheet.

A style sheet is a document that goes into detail about language preferences for your document (it can also include any other information you’ve decided on for the look of your project).

If you feel you’re not confident in creating a style sheet, make a list of any preferences you have, which dictionary you use (yes, dictionaries differ in their treatment of words) and anything you think your editor should be aware of. Your editor will create a style sheet anyway, but it’s good to know your preferences before they start editing. Undoing a thousand alterations when the author decides to stet everything can be soul destroying.

Just because you’ve always done something the same way doesn’t mean it’s correct. Anything you put on your style sheet should ideally be backed up with a reason (but you don’t have to put the reason on your sheet, just know it’s there for when you’re asked).

It’s a simple thing to do, but makes for a less stressful edit if your editor knows in advance that you prefer things done a certain way.


Pain-free editing tip 4: create a style sheet of your preferred wordy styles. Your editor will thank you for it.


5. Make sure you have plenty of time.

When you’re looking for an editor you really do have to think in advance. The chances of hiring one as soon as you’ve finished writing are slim – most get booked up in advance. You’re looking at at least a month’s wait, possibly more. Sometimes you might get lucky, but don’t count on it (for example I sometimes leave gaps in my schedule in case anything nice turns up, but it’s often just time I’m intending to take off and dedicate to other areas of my business).

Some editors I know are booked up at least six months in advance at any one time. Really, you have to either book your editor in advance (and make damn sure you finish your writing in enough time to get it really finished [see tip 1] before sending to them), or you have to wait until you’ve finished and book an editor for a few months later. Obviously this will depend on the nature of your document and whether there’s a tight timescale.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I get an email asking for an edit to start immediately. It’s frustrating for an editor to have to say no to a lovely job because you’re fully booked up, and it can also mean the writer has to either choose to wait or perhaps use an editor with space but who is perhaps less than qualified.


Pain-free editing tip 5: Think about booking your editor in advance, or accept there will be a wait (getting mad or trying to wheedle your way into the schedule probably won’t help).


happy girls with an ipad

There are so many other things that will help to make the edit a pleasant experience, but if you have these five things sorted you’re on the right path.


Here’s a handy summary:

  1. Make sure your writing really is finished.
  2. Don’t use fancy formatting.
  3. Get permissions before sending to your editor (or publisher).
  4. Create a style sheet.
  5. Make sure you have plenty of time.


These are just my top five. Are you an editor with a different list you prefer? Or have you been edited and found something else just as important?

Let me know, it’s good to share.


3 Comments on “A Pain-free Editing Checklist For Authors

Leave a Reply to mistimaan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: