Developmental Editing Checklist: How To Edit Your Book Like A Pro

Developmental Editing Checklist
Editing your book can be a daunting prospect.

Everything is so much more than checking for typos and plot holes. It, therefore, makes sense to approach the task of self-editing with a clear outline.

This is best presented in a developmental editing checklist.

In this article, you will discover what is involved in the editing process, you'll find out what you need to do to lift your book to the next level, and you will come away with a checklist you can use when editing your next project.

What is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is known by several different names. In addition to developmental editing, it is called content editing, structural editing, story editing, substantive editing, comprehensive editing, macro editing, or even heavy editing.
But they are all the same. 
The role of the book editor is to ensure that a book is of a publishable standard.
Wikipedia describes developmental editing as "significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse".
In reality, editing is a much more involved process. The editor will examine the entire manuscript in the process, considering all aspects of the book, including its narrative and flow. They will also consider readability, plot, and structure. Some editors will also look out for line-level problems, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. The better editors will assess a book's suitability for the marketplace. They may also help you to pinpoint the book's genre correctly.

Getting Ready to Edit

Before you embark on the editing process, you can take several steps to ensure the best possible outcome.

  • Create a fresh digital copy of your novel and use this for editing. This will mean that you have two copies of your novel: the first draft and the edited copy. This will allow you to easily see what changes you have made and revert to the old version if needed. Make sure these two files are named in a way that will be clear in six months' time.
  • If you wrote a plan before you started writing, dig the plan out, and read over it to refresh your mind. The same is true for any old notes. You want to ensure that you have a clear picture of your initial vision for your novel.
  • Make a list of questions or problems you wish to address during the edit. If you have niggling doubts and worries about your novel, write them down into one document. This will give you a strong oversight of your potential problems before you begin editing. 

Editing Checklist

Below, you will discover an eleven-point checklist you can use four self-editing your next book. 

This list contains a number of highly practical suggestions that you can apply to your work to ensure the best possible outcome. 

1. Check you have a backup copy 
Before you start editing, make sure that you have created a backup copy of your manuscript. This way, you will end up with an unedited and edited version. As a side note, we use Dropbox to back up all of our edits. They not only have a free option, but they also have 'version control', which means you can often rescue text you've accidentally deleted.

2. Turn tracked changes off 
This is a point aimed more at professional editors, but I know many writers who like to edit them using tracked changes. However, even if you intend to use tracked changes, you must ensure that they are turned off at this point. The reason is that if you leave them, the next steps in this list will potentially produce thousands of changes you'll have to accept or reject manually.

3. Turn non-printing characters on
The ability to turn non-printing symbols on or off is still not common knowledge. If you click the 'Home' ribbon in Word you will see in the center the symbol for non-printing characters. You need to ensure this is on. Once clicked, you will be able to see loads of formatting symbols in your text that are there to help editors, but that won't show in the final manuscript. These include paragraph breaks, manual line breaks, spaces, and page breaks.

Non-printing characters

4. Check line spacing
As a rule, we find it is best to edit at 1.5 line spacing. This is more to do with ease of reading. The way that the spacing is changed is to highlight the whole manuscript (ctrl A) and then right-click and press 'paragraph'. In the spacing section hit the 'line spacing' box and set to 1.5 lines. 
Once the edit is complete, feel free to change back to the line spacing of your choice.

5. Check indentation
The correct way to indent a manuscript is for the first paragraph of each new chapter to be flush and the remaining paragraphs to be indented. The way that the indentation is changed is to highlight the whole manuscript (ctrl A) and then right-click and press 'paragraph'. In the indentation section hit the 'special' box and set to 'first line'. You can alter the indentation size in the next box. 

Please note that this will indent ALL paragraphs. You may need to go back and remove the indentations from chapter headings and each chapter's first paragraph.

6. Remove double paragraph breaks
Paragraph breaks are what appear in your manuscript when you press Enter or Return. They indicate that a paragraph is complete. It is not uncommon for writers to separate paragraphs with two paragraph breaks (hitting return/enter twice). There's no need to do this. If you are looking for space between paragraphs, this can be added at the conversion stage. More importantly, many eBook conversion processes will strip out the extra 'white space' and using two breaks can cause potential problems.

7. Remove double spaces
In the days of typewriters, it was often considered that adding double spaces between sentences was the best practice, but this is no longer the case. Single spaces are enough. At some point down the line, someone (a typesetter or the person doing eBook conversion) will need to remove the extra white space, so you should solve this problem now.

8. Replace exclamation marks with periods (full stops)
The overuse of exclamation marks is considered a sign of weak writing. You should use the context of the surrounding paragraphs to show the reader any 'shock'. The problem you face is that most exclamation marks will be in speech, and in most cases, it will be OK to replace them with a full stop. However, in some cases, other punctuation will be more appropriate (comma, question mark, etc.). 

Therefore, you have two options. The first step for both options is to use the find/replace tool to find all exclamation marks. You then have two choices. You can either do a manual 'find next' and replace each with the correct punctuation. The second option is just to replace all with a full stop and then pick up the mistakes when you edit the manuscript.

9. Check chapter breaks
One essential element of the eBook conversion process is the ability to identify the start and end of chapters. The best way to do this is to use page breaks. To do this, first, find the end of a chapter. You must then place the cursor at the end of the last sentence of the chapter. Once you are happy the cursor is correctly placed, click the 'insert' ribbon. On the left-hand side of the screen, you will see an icon for 'page break.' Just hit this once.

10. Check ellipses
An ellipsis is the three dots that are used to indicate the omission of a word, or perhaps a pause. You need to make sure that these are three dots in length. The problem editors face is that the 'correct' way to present an ellipsis is . . . (dot space dot space dot). 

The issue is that many eBook conversion tools will not recognize this format. The eBook language (HTML) already has its own symbol for an ellipsis, and that's… (dot dot dot – no spaces). Therefore, it is just better, in the long run, to make sure you are using the version with three dots and no spaces. 
To fix this run a find and replace that 'finds'. . . and 'replaces' with …

11. Turn tracked changes on
This is optional – naturally, it is essential for our editors but less so for self-editing writers.

It is also important to ensure that you have correctly formatted your dialouge.

In addition, you need to consider your narrative viewpoint, be that first- or third-person

Editing Questions

When a professional developmental editor approaches each book, they will hold in their mind a number of questions they wish to apply to the book.
These questions provide a framework and mindset on which the edit can be based.

The questions will vary for each project with all books having specific issues and genre questions that should be considered in detail.

However, here are some examples of these questions that you can use when editing your next book…

  • Does the structure of the book make sense?
  • Is the presentation logical?
  • Is there a wider story arc that engages the reader and pulls them through the narrative?
  • Has a coherent viewpoint been applied? Is it consistent? Does it make sense for the story?
  • Does the chapter structure make sense? Does the writer understand scene structure?
  • Have narrative techniques been correctly applied?
  • Does each scene contain sufficient description?
  • Is each new character sufficiently described?
  • Is the tense consistent? 
  • Is the characterization believable and consistent?
  • Are the characters sufficiently developed?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • If the novel is set in the past, are there any inconsistencies in the use of objects etc.?
  • Does the book's voice, style and format match the genre expectations?
  • Is the writer telling, when they should be showing?
  • Are the facts accurate?
  • Does the book's word count meet the genre expectations? If it is too short, how can it be extended? If too long, what approach should be taken?
  • Has the writer correctly formatted paragraphs? Will shorter or longer paragraphs better suit the style or genre of the book?
  • If a prologue is used, does it match the genre and make sense to the wider narrative?
  • Does the book need an introduction?
  • Does the book need additional end material, such as bibliography or epilogue?
  • Should the writer include information about themselves?
  • If relevant, is the book correctly referenced?
  • If images, tables and diagrams have been used, has the copyright been correctly attributed?
  • If included, are all footnotes or endnotes correctly presented and formatted?

Final Thoughts

Book editing is a complex and time-consuming process. It is easy to become quickly overwhelmed with all of the changes and alterations that must be made to your book. However, by using the guidelines and checklists outlined in this article you will ensure that you can approach your next project with a clear mind, Confident that you are lifting your book to the next level.

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