My Color-Coding System for Book Edits

The past few weeks, I have been heads-down on edits for my novel Song of the Shieldmaiden. It comes out in just a few short weeks!

At first, I’ll admit the process of editing an entire novel was a little overwhelming. But now I have a simple color-coding system to track my progress as I make my manuscript publication-ready.

So for the writers here — and any other interested parties — I thought I’d share my editing process today!

How It Works

Before reading through my manuscript, I quickly label each chapter with a color, depending on how “ready” I think it is for publication. Here is the color-coding system:

  • Green: Polished and ready to publish.
  • Yellow: Needs polishing (line edits).
  • Red: Needs significant work (story edits).

It’s really that simple. Working in Google Docs, I just highlight the chapter header and give it the appropriate color as a background. Here’s how it looks for me now:

Color-coded chapter header

Once every chapter is labeled, I read through my book to assess the flow of the story overall. And at this stage specifically, I use the Natural Reader app to listen to my story. This helps me catch things I might not notice on the page, such as awkward phrasing, run-on sentences, and repetitive wording. Any time I hear something is off, I pause the reading to fix it. Then I play it back to make sure it sounds right and continue with the rest of the chapter.

When I am finished with this type of line editing, I assess whether the chapter is now ready for publication. Nine times of out 10, it is! So I update the chapter label from “yellow” to “green.” Now I don’t need to do any more edits, other than proofreading to catch typos. 🙂

Now, when I come to a “red” chapter, I don’t use Natural Reader. That’s because the chapter requires significant work, such as rewriting several paragraphs, adding a new event, or changing the tone of the entire scene. So I just dive right in and fix the story bits. At that point, I update the chapter from “red” to “yellow,” because it still needs line edits.

Once I am finished with my read-through of the entire book, I hope to see most of my chapters labeled “green!” But it is likely I have a few “yellow” chapters too — either because they used to be “red” and need a round of polishing now, or because I just couldn’t quite clean them up during my last round.

At this point, it’s quite simple to go back to the “yellow” chapters (which are hopefully few and far between) and polish them so they are ready for publication, too.

This process makes it easy for me to see where each chapter is at. Without it, I would go back to the same scenes and edit them over and over again, without a clear idea of whether I was making them better… or just changing things for no reason! On the other hand, using a numerical system (like rating each chapter from 1 to 10) would only stress me out, because how could any chapter be a perfect 10? But with this simple color-coding, I have clear goals to make every scene polished enough for a “green” rating.

And then it’s time to publish!

I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at one step in my editing process. Keep in mind this is for the final rounds of edits before publication. The book has already been through extensive developmental edits, and I’ve already polished a few favorite chapters.

And if you’re a writer, I hope this helps you too! Let me know how you like to edit your work in the comments. 🙂


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