I’ll start with a confession: I don’t use checklists. I like them in theory, and I collect a wide range as part of my work—so I can share them with writers—and I even know that checklists can be critical in improving performance in certain professions (see The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande).
But I’ve always balked at using checklists in my day-to-day work.
Many years ago, when I worked for Writer’s Digest, I was the editor in charge of producing a special newsstand-only magazine on self-publishing. Part of the issue included announcements and coverage of the annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award, but what I didn’t know was the magazine also had to include a special insert about the winners that came from the competitions staff.
The magazine went to press and was distributed without that insert, and I had never seen my boss so angry as when she found out. Her solution to my ignorance: create a checklist of every special insert required for each special issue. It was a pretty short list—it may have only included my situation, in fact. But I admired her attempt to create a repository of institutional knowledge.
And that, to me, is what a checklist is about. It attempts to formalize and put into tangible terms someone’s expert practice or knowledge, so that everyone can access and benefit from it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a lot that a checklist is challenged to convey, such as: What are the exceptions or alternatives to these steps, if any? What skills are involved in proper execution of this checklist? If one step gets executed poorly, how does that affect success on the overall project?
When embarking on a process that is new or unfamiliar, often you don’t know what you don’t know. A checklist, at the very least, will help you recognize what you don’t know, so that many months later, you’re not beating yourself up for complete ignorance.
Without further ado, here are some of my most favored checklists, from sources I trust.
Of all the knowledge areas in publishing, marketing is probably the most favored for checklists. It’s such a sprawling, unknown area that there’s incredible demand for a system to help make it all comprehensible and step-by-step. There are two authors I highly recommend for their expertise and experience in this area: Tim Grahl and Jenny Blake.
Book Marketing Plan: The Definitive Checklist by Tim Grahl
Tim says, quite accurately, “At any given time, there seem to be 1,000 different ways to market your book. It’s not only hard to know what you should be doing. It’s also hard to keep up with all the options that are available.” His checklist focuses on proven book marketing methods to help you build a customized plan.
The Ultimate Author Checklist for Online Book Marketing
This checklist is from the folks at Book Marketing Tools. It’s for self-publishing authors who are likely focused on selling their ebooks via Amazon. Download the PDF.
Pivot Marketing Tracker by Jenny Blake
This is a newly revised version of an old favorite that Jenny produced some years back that she called the 15-tab book marketing spreadsheet. Understandably, for many authors, the 15-tab version was just too much to handle, so the new marketing tracker, presented as a Google spreadsheet, may be less intimidating. It’s not so much a checklist as a way to track your marketing efforts across many categories, such as blurb gathering, advance copy mailings, podcast exposure, speaking gigs, webinars, giveaways, and so on. When you see what areas an established author focuses on to gain exposure, it helps spark your own ideas and methods for your own campaign. So, this tracker is best treated as an inspirational prompt and guide, not a recipe for your own plan.
This is another area where authors tend to have little insight or experience, and need to feel some reassurance and confidence that they’ve included all the essential elements.
The Basic Components of an Author Website
This is my own informal review of what materials you need to prepare to have a professional author website. Many unpublished writers ask me what belongs on their site, and I try to address that as well. Read my post on author websites.
How to Build the Ultimate Author Website by Tim Grahl
Again, I’ll draw on Tim Grahl here, because he offers excellent, practical, how-to information on getting stuff done. Unlike my post, he goes through all the technical steps of setting up an author website, from start to finish.
The Ultimate Website Launch Kit Template by Jenny Blake
I’m like a broken record, but both Tim and Jenny really know how to put together great lists! Jenny’s kit is likely the most extensive road map you’ll ever find on launching a site. It may be too involved for the average author, but if you’re investing significant dollars into a website launch, take a look.
This is an area where I have seen little or no resource, which is why I created my own checklist for authors on the production and distribution process. The one drawback is that I don’t take you through any of the technical steps related to ebook production or the actual uploading process at Amazon or related service providers. It’s rather a high-level view of how to go from Word document to published book on sale. See The Self-Publishing Checklist: Editorial, Production, and Distribution.
Do you use checklists in your writing, editing, or publishing process? Have you found any that are invaluable? Please share in the comments.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.