Writing Craft Reviews: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Updated: Jul 19
Title: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, second edition
Authors: Renni Browne & Dave King
Publication Date: April 13, 2004
Page count: 288
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a guide written by two editors that sets out to help you make some very common editorial changes yourself. The focus of this book is to make your writing, at the scene and sentence level, a smoother reading experience, and more entertaining for your readers. The idea is that if you can make these changes yourself, you’ll save money on an editor later down the road.
Writers who have finished the major structural edits of their novels and are ready to start going through line by line.
Not Recommended For:
If you are absolutely brand-spanking-new to writing, you might find this book a bit overwhelming due to the sheer volume of tips and advice—it’s a lot to take in. You also won’t find this book helpful if you’re looking for advice on plot, character development, or other macro-level aspects of your book, nor if you’re looking for grammar tips.
This is an excellent guide to line editing. It is packed (and I mean truly packed—just about every line has a nugget of wisdom to take away) full with advice on word choice, tightening sentences, showing vs telling, and general reader-friendly writing principles.
One thing I love about this book is that the authors are editors themselves, so they not only use examples from famous novels, but also from their clients’ work or from workshop pieces they’ve helped with. They’re able to provide a wide variety of examples for each concept they cover, and the before and after excerpts clearly illustrate the effects of each type of edit they suggest.
The authors are also careful to note that the editing principles they’re illustrating in the book are more like guidelines than rules, and that there is no one way to edit. A lot of books are very strict in this way, so I was happy to see these authors taking a more realistic approach.
I also have to give this book credit for its thorough explanations. It not only highlights some writing habit (such as using –ly words) as a problem, but also explains why it’s a problem and how to use it in an unproblematic way if you want to use it in your novel. It’s so valuable to writers to learn how to break rules in effective ways, and this book truly helps with that.
It also gets straight to the point, with no nonsense or waxing poetic. Just the straight information so that you can get to editing!
Not So Helpful:
I wish the book had been structured in a more step-by-step order. While yes, technically you could make the edits suggested in the book in any order, I think there are some things that are better to address before others. For example, I personally think it’s better to nail down point of view before thinking too much about character introductions. A slightly different order to the topics addressed would help newer writers approach their edits in a more efficient way.
There was also one point in the book where I disagreed with the authors. Do take this with a grain of salt, though, as this is obviously a matter of opinion and perspective. But the authors listed points of view as first person, third person, and omniscient. I have always thought of omniscient as an aspect of point of view—it tells us whether the narrator can see into the minds of others—rather than a point of view itself. After all, an omniscient narrator can be either third person or first person. The book also neglects to mention the first person omniscient point of view. Think of The Lovely Bones or The Book Thief, both of which are written with this type of narrator. Any of you out there who have written novels in this point of view might find yourselves confused and feeling a bit left out.
Finally, a little quibble, but the use of the word amateur throughout the book left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Of course I understand that writers want to sound like they know what they’re doing, but the usage in this book felt a bit elitist. I would have preferred the authors stuck to the effects of certain edits on the reading experience rather than explaining how certain writing habits mark a writer as an amateur. (Everyone is an amateur at some point, and there’s no shame in that!)
The checklists are perfect to use while going through your editing passes. They’ll help you make sure you haven’t forgotten anything as you get lost in the dark forest of editing. The exercises also make great practice during novel resting periods, so you can try out a type of edit risk free before doing it to your precious brainchild.
If you’re looking for a line editing book that has a more nuanced take than “kill all the adverbs!” then this could be the one for you. It is absolutely stuffed full of excellent editorial advice, explanations, and examples. However, if you’re looking for something to provide more big-picture advice on plot or character development, then this one won’t help you out. I highly recommend this one to anyone who’s ready to enter the line editing stage of revisions!
Check out my review of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and other books on my Goodreads!