Monday, April 13, 2009

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

When I joined the fine editors here at The Blood-Red Pencil, Dani asked me to review editing books. Since then, I've been wading through different books, looking for one I could both recommend and use for my own editing. After many months of disappointing starts, I found one: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Renni Browne and Dave King
Quill Publishing
copyright 1993
ISBN: 0-06-272046-5

This book has everything I've been looking for: descriptions and examples of non-grammar editing, followed by suggested writing/editing exercises (with sample results). Who could ask for more?

The short introduction describes the changes in the publishing industry and the resulting burden placed on writers to present edited manuscripts to agents and publishers. The authors do not believe self-editing can replace professional editing. In fact, the authors make a point of thanking their editors and suggest that authors are too close to their own work to fully polish it and need the support of experienced editors.

So why self-edit? From my own experiences and conversations with editors and publishers, I can offer two reasons.

1) If your manuscript looks like a first draft, or the work of an amateur, it will be rejected. Agents and publishers do not have time to work with unpolished manuscripts.

2) If you intend to submit your work to a professional editor who charges a fee, you may find that submitting sloppy work will result in either rejection (if the editor feels like her fee will not cover the work needed to get your manuscript up to speed) or an invitation to pay a higher fee to cover the additional work.

In other words, learning about editing, and using that information to improve your writing, increases your chances of success.

Another reason for polishing your work to the best of your ability before submitting for publication is because there is a chance that no other editing efforts will be expended on your work. Do you really want an unedited work going to print with your name on the cover?

I recommend reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and using the information to perfect your manuscript.

As I worked through each chapter, I looked for other sources of information on the same topic and worked out a personal editing plan. In the coming weeks, I'll discuss, here at The Blood-Red Pencil, some of what I learned.

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

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  1. I'll have to check this book out. Thanks!

  2. I seen this book in the store a couple of weeks ago... I knew I should have picked it up. I'm working on my second draft now and this should help with my writing process. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. One of my professors in college, who taught Creative Nonfiction Writing, had us use this book all semester to learn useful strategies for self-editing. To tell the truth, it was probably one of the most useful books I had in my repertoire that semester. Highly recommended, especially for people like me who can edit like a maniac when it comes to someone else's manuscript, but can't see beyond her own nose when it comes to her own.
    Jenny Bean

  4. I have that book, different cover though. I've had mine so long, it's probably the original cover. It's a very good reference book. Read it, then keep it handy for quick checks.

  5. I will need to check this out. Just today I was wondering about the best to self edit, as I got some feedback from a journal that did not accept my work. I look forward to seeing your upcoming posts.

  6. Yes, this appears to be the revised edition - I added the live link to and noticed their other title, too. Will have to look at this one, especially to read their revised Great Gatsby demo!

    Good post, Char.


  7. This is the first time I've heard about this book - shocking! Sounds like a must-have resource. Thanks for sharing such a strong, useful review, Char.

  8. Wow, sounds like this is a book I should have on my bookshelf. And then actually take it down and use it sometimes. :-)

    Thanks for reviewing it for us, Charlotte.

  9. The more you know about editing, the easier it is all around.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. Great article. I appreciate the tips.

  11. All,

    Thanks for the great feedback. I'm reassured knowing others found the book helpful. Like many of you, I have the old-cover version. It's been collecting dust on the shelf for a while. I'm pleased I finally opened it.

    Next post is on Show and Tell (Chapter 1 in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers). Sound familiar? Many editors here have tried to tell us how important this is. Have we listened?


  12. Thank you for the tip- I am going to check this book out. I am looking forward to your future posts on self editing.

  13. Self Editing for fiction Writers in on my shelf and I refer to it often.


  14. I've used this book for years, since i read an article by the authors in Writers Digest. It's a great resource. I typed the exercises at the end of each chapter into a single file, that I use when I'm ready to begin editing.

  15. I'm another long-time fan of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the original edition.

  16. Those of you who liked Self-Editing for Fiction Writers might be interested in the Facebook Fan page for the book. I've just founded it as a place where you could come to ask the co-author of the book any questions you might have about self-editing.

    Dave King
    Co-author, Self Editing for Fiction Writers


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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