• dairbrown

S2/E35: Author Checklists

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

A few years ago, I heard about a doctor named Atul Gawande, who was advocating for surgeons to have a checklist when they go into surgery. He very reasonably explained that the humble checklist could dramatically reduce medical errors. We’ve all heard stories of the poor souls who had the wrong ovary, testicle, arm, or leg removed, for instance. A checklist could help catch those big mistakes, as well as the smaller ones that can still lead to less-than-optimal outcomes. Gawande wrote about the value of using a checklist in a book called The Checklist Manifesto. In it, he shares stories of times when a basic checklist saved lives or prevented an outbreak, as well as offers ideas about how people in other industries might employ the checklist in their own fields.

In that spirit, today we’ll be covering three books that offer their thoughts on how authors can use checklists. So without further ado, here are my…


1 The Author’s Checklist: An Agent’s Guide to Developing and Editing Your Manuscript by Elizabeth K. Kracht. Written by an agent, this book is promoted to people who are hoping to have their book traditionally published (TradPub). I would argue, however, that it’s a great book for anyone with a finished manuscript who wants to get it punched up before they hand it over to a beta reader, a freelance editor, or an agent. It’s a lean, mean 220 pages. The chapters are alphabetical and contain everything from the big, big picture stuff (think genre or self publishing) to the big picture stuff (think characterization, pacing, and point of view) to the more detailed stuff (like author bio, the use of dreams in a novel, and text boxes). At the end of every chapter is a checklist of questions. For example, the end of the Timelines chapter includes the following questions:

  1. Are your alternating POV characters synched chronologically?

  2. Can you shorten your timeline to create more tension and better pacing? (See Pacing and Tension)

  3. Have you created a visual timeline of your story to identify potential discrepancies and see how much time elapses from beginning to end and from chapter to chapter?

She also includes a sample query letter and synopsis. Always nice to have good examples of those laying around.

I strongly recommended this one if you are in the revision and/or submission stage! You might also consider pairing it with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

2 The Indie Author Checklist: From Concept to Launch and Beyond by Adam Croft. Just like the title suggests, this one is geared toward people who want to go the Indie Publishing (IndiePub) route. It’s even leaner and meaner than the previous book, weighing in at only 196 pages. The thing I like about this book is that it breaks the process into six different stages:

  1. Plotting and Planning

  2. The Inevitable Roadblocks

  3. Pre-Launch Considerations

  4. Preparing to Launch

  5. The Launch

  6. Post-Launch

At the end of the each stage, Croft includes a summary page with a checklist of all the core things you need to remember from that section. In addition, he assembles all of these lists into one big master list at the end, which is nice and handy. The list of resources at the end is also organized by stage and held a few surprises for me. There are a couple that I’ll be tracking down for future reviews.

Recommended for (especially thriller) writers who want a just-the-facts version of hand-holding through the entire writing and IndiePub process.

3 Fearless Author: Prepare, Publish, and Launch Your Own Ebook by Ashley Emma. Another one obviously geared toward IndiePub authors, Emma’s book is also slender: only 150 pages. In addition to an opening pep talk, this book offers a lot of nitty-gritty detail (including pictures). She offers advice from everything from the basic steps to setting up your author platform to how to go about doing things like getting editorial reviews and deciding which experts to hire to help you. The “Book Launch and Marketing Checklist” at the end brings it all together at the end. I really appreciate the Beta Reader Questionnaire in the bonus materials.

Recommended for (especially sweet romance) writers who want a fair amount of hand-holding and encouragement through the IndiePub process.


“I make lists to keep my anxiety level down.” Mary Roach, author of the books Stiff, Spoof, Bonk, and Packing for Mars.

HACK: Choose *YOUR* Poison 😉

While not necessarily sexy per se, checklists clearly offer a way to keep yourself and your work from going completely off the tracks. There are obviously tons of ways that you could keep up with them. The main thing is to choose one that works with your actual life, not the life you wish you had or think you should have. Are you always on the go and need to find a digital solution? Google Keep is free, available as an app for your phone, and works alongside the rest of your Google suite. Ready to take it up a notch? Consider Trello, especially if you’re working with a partner or team on something. It also has a free level, and I find that one incredibly easy to use. Very intuitive. If you really need a lot of horsepower, take a look at Airtable. Again, there is a free level and even that program will do everything but file your taxes and take out the trash for you.

If you’re someone who needs to see it down on paper, there are so many planners I would scarcely know where to start. Are you a bullet journal type of person or do you prefer a more structure like A Happy Planner or an Erin Condren planner might offer? Check out these episodes where I give my best advice on that front:

  1. Episode 035: Balancing the Big and Small Pictures

  2. Episode 015: 5 Essential Systems for Writers

Consider also downloading a free sample of The Rookie Writer Playbook, which includes a few standard checklists, as well as places to make your own checklists.


I hope this was helpful! Next episode (November 19, 2020) I’ll bring you three things and a quote (and a hack!) from The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings by James Scott Bell.



Fellow author Robin Knabel and I recently posted a new episode of our podcast, Unsettling Reads. Come check out our spoiler-free review of The Intercepts by T.J. Payne. Visit www.UnsettlingReads.com to browse our other reviews of books from the crime, fantasy, horror, literary, mystery, sci-fi, suspense, and thriller genres. And a reminder to look for Robin’s short story in the summer issue of The Raven Review!

Until then. . .

Happy writing, people!

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