The Editor's Toolkit: Post-It Notes, Highlighters and More

Find-and-replace is a great tool but that only helps you when you are doing quick edits on the computer screen.When you edit on the computer, you edit as you go and the changes happen. When you edit in hard copy form, you are making notes but will you know what those notes mean when you are ready to put them into the computer? Will you know what a red circle on a word means if you do not have a system?

In this article, you will learn why Post-It notes and highlighters are important parts of your editing process. In addition, you will learn what other tools are great for creating an editing system that you can be happy with.

Post-It Notes

Your Post-It notes are very important because they provide you with the ability to refer back to something quickly. There are many ways that you can use the Post-It notes in your manuscript, including,

  • As a way to put a lengthy description of something you want to edit on a page that has no room for you to write.
  • As a way to refer to a page where you mention a character, plot point, or theme, allowing you to verify that everything stays consistent throughout the book.
  • As a reminder to yourself about something relating to the book, what you want to put in, or what you want to remove.

It is not surprising at all to know that many writers will use Post-It notes and sometimes a manuscript can become overwhelmed with Post-It notes. Putting in Post-It notes also serves the purpose of showing you that you are making progress. As you move through the manuscript reading it, you will be putting in post-it notes and while you edit, you take them out. Each day you see fewer and fewer Post-It notes and you know that you are getting closer to being able to send your "baby" away for possible publication.

Another great aspect of Post-It notes is that you can keep the notes in a file, which you can refer to later if you wonder why you changed a certain plot point in the story.


A highlighter is an important study tool but it can also be an important tool for editing. Of course, if you go through your manuscript highlighting everything, then you may end up wondering what exactly you were drawing attention to. Having multiple colors of highlights is a good idea, where each color refers to something specific about the editing process.

A good system is outlined below.

  • Red. Spelling errors.
  • Green. Grammar errors.
  • Blue. Plot point to address, change, or verify.
  • Pink. A sentence to reword.
  • Purple. A word to remove.

The highlighter, when used in this system, is a very useful tool that will help you go through and edit the manuscript quickly. Another great plus with the highlights is that you do not write anything out. When you put a purple highlight in, you know you want to remove the word and you do not have to write, "Remove this word." into the margin. This helps to keep the manuscript cleaner during editing and less confusing.

Just remember the system you have created!

Different Colored Pens

If you are not a fan of highlighters, or you want to put in notes on the manuscript, you can use pens of various colors. Pencil crayons also work but the only problem is that you will find your manuscript becomes a bit more confusing the more you write in it.

That all being said, many writers prefer that because then they will not be wondering why they highlighted something in blue, wanting the plot point changed, without remembering what they wanted that plot point changed to.

With your pen colors, you should try to stick to the same system that you created with your highlighters.


If you do not want to use Post-It notes or highlighters, then one option you have at your disposal is to have a notepad sitting next to you. With one pen and one piece of paper, you can make detailed notes, referring to page numbers and chapters about what you want to do concerning the changing of items. You can still cross out words you do not like or whole pieces of the manuscript, but with a notepad you keep things very clean and organized, but sadly, not as colorful when compared to using highlighters or colored pens. One great aspect to the notepad is that you can file it away in a cabinet to refer to at a later date, or to even sell it if your book becomes a major success.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Book Editing course?

Why Fresh Eyes Help Your Edit Process


Every writer sees their book as perfection by the end of editing, but this is far from the case.

As a writer, you need to be able to give your book to someone else and ask them to read it for you. These people do not need to be editors; in fact it is sometimes best if they are not.

Friends and Family

Giving your manuscript to a friend or family member to look over can be difficult to do. You feel that your manuscript is a part of you and it is who you are. When you hand over the manuscript with the words, tell me what you think, coming out of your mouth, you can feel awkward and worried about what your friend is going to say about your book.

The thing is, your book needs to be read by someone else and a friend or family member is a great person to read it. They will read it as a reader, not as an editor and not as a writer. They will read your manuscript as someone who reads books and they will be able to tell you:

  • Characters that they liked.
  • Characters that they did not like.
  • Areas where the book dragged on.
  • How the ending could be better or changed.
  • What did not make sense to them.

It is important to explain to your friend or family member that you do not want them to come back to you and say, "I loved it!" without telling you why they liked it. If you do not know what they liked, how do you ensure that other parts of the book will also be likable to other readers? For example, if your friend or family member really liked how the main character was a detective in the first few chapters of the book, you may change the book so they are a detective throughout the entire book.

You need to explain to your friends and family members that you will not be offended if there is something they did not like. In fact, you will be happy they brought it to your attention so that you can go through and edit to make it better, and therefore more publishable. You are a writer, you have thick skin, what they say will not be able to hurt you. If it does, then you may be in the wrong business.

A good way to ensure that you get proper feedback on your manuscript is to give your friends and family a checklist that they can go through while reading the book. This checklist shows you what they liked, what they did not and more. On the checklist, you will have a list of items that can be rated as Loved It, Liked It, Didn't Matter, Didn't Like It, Hated It. With this checklist, you see in a quick manner what they liked and what they did not like. One problem with friends and family reading your book and providing your feedback is that the feedback often comes out like this:

"Well, I really liked the part, you know, with the main character at that place, which was good."

This does not help you, especially if you have a few main characters going to a variety of places in the book.

A quick checklist can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. A list of characters to see who your friends and family liked. You may want your readers to hate certain characters, rather than like them, so this is an important feature of the checklist.
  2. Plot points.
  3. The dialogue between characters.
  4. Unexpected surprises.
  5. The beginning.
  6. The way the book is split up in chapters, parts, etc.
  7. The ending.
  8. The writing style.

All this information provided back to you will help make your writing much more concise and tight, and you will find you will have a better shot at getting published as well.

As a courtesy to your family and friends, if they help you by reading your manuscript and providing you with feedback, put in a notation or a thank you to them in the book. They have taken time out of their day to help you and you should return the favor.

Professional Editors

Once your friends and family have had their shot with the book, you may want to send it over to a professional copy editor. These are people who make their living by creating good products through their editing.

Copy Editors

A copy editor is a person who works to improve a manuscript by ensuring accuracy, adjusting the formatting and style of the book to make it read better. The work of a copy editor is done before that of a final proofreader in a publishing company. The proofreader is one who will handle your manuscript, if it gets published, before the final publication.

Copy editors work on the five Cs. These Cs are related to making the copy, your manuscript, as,

  1. Clear as possible.
  2. Correct as possible.
  3. Concise as possible.
  4. Comprehensible as possible.
  5. Consistent as possible.

In essence, a copy editor will make your manuscript say what it means and mean what it says. Copy editors are extremely handy for you when you are putting together a manuscript because they will know more about grammar, spelling, and all those other writing aspects than you will. They have the ability to take your writing and make it jump off the page by just changing around how you are saying things in the book, without changing the underlining plot of the book.

A copy editor typically will look at the following in your manuscript,

  1. Spelling.
  2. Punctuation.
  3. Grammar.
  4. Mathematics.
  5. Terminology.
  6. Jargon.
  7. Timelines.
  8. Semantics.

It may seem odd to state that a copy editor will verify your math in the book, but if you have a character in the book doing math and you do the math incorrectly, it will cause the reader to lose the realism aspect of the book. No different than how a blooper in a movie can take us out of the movie, inaccuracies in a book will take us out of the book. That is not good if you want to sell copies of the book and be a bestselling author. A copy editor will keep that from happening and they will keep your book real and error free.

A copy editor will also make sure that the text within your book flows properly, and is sensible and fair. One of the biggest roles a copy editor plays, especially if they work for a publisher, is that they will keep the book from causing any legal problems for the publisher.

If you have sent your book off to a publisher, the copy editor may also trim your book to conform it to the limits of what the publisher wants. If you hire a copy editor, you can ask them to do the same if you have a 120,000 word book and you want it to be a 100,000 word book.

What Should Copy Editors Have?

When you hire a copy editor, you want to hire someone who knows how to do their job. As a result, you want a copy editor who has a very good command of the English language and you want a copy editor who can spot errors in facts and other problems within your story.

Copy editors typically have degrees in communications, English, or journalism, and some even have degrees in copy editing.

How Much To Pay

The great thing about friends and family editing your work is that they are free. On the flip side, they may not know much about editing. To compensate, you need a copy editor but copy editors are going to cost you money. If you get a six-figure book contract, then the price you paid is worth it. How much you should pay the copy editor is based on many factors.

  1. How much editing has to be done? If you have to get your book edited a great deal, then you may end up paying a lot more for a copy editor. Copy editors will sometimes charge based on how much editing needs to be done. If you do not have to do much editing in the book, then you will not pay too much. Of course, it is hard to know how much editing needs to be done until a copy editor looks at your work.
  2. How long is the book? The word count of the book will have an influence upon what you pay the copy editor. One way to get a good estimate on how much you will be charged is to ask the copy editor how much they will charge to edit a 50,000 word book and an 80,000 word book. If the copy editor gives you a quote of $4,000 for the first and $6,000 for the second, then you know that your book of 65,000 words will be around $5,000 to edit.
  3. The experience of the copy editor is also a factor in how much you are going to pay them. If the copy editor has years of experience, you will be paying them more than an editor who only has limited experience. With greater experience comes a better job usually, so you are paying to have the job done right by someone who knows how to copy edit and may have been doing it longer than you have been alive.
  4. How quickly you need the book edited also creates an added cost to the copy editing. If it takes the copy editor one month to edit a manuscript and you need yours in two weeks, you may end up paying double the usual monthly rate. This is something to consider and a reason to give yourself plenty of time before sending a manuscript off to a publisher.

Given all these factors, the average copy editor, according to The Writer's Market, is $0.12 to $0.40 a word. This means that if you write a book that is 65,000 words, then you will be paying between $7,800 and $26,000 for the copy editor to go through your book. This is a lot of money, but if you get a bestselling book out of the deal, it is well worth it.