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4 Writing Books That Will Make You Better at Self-Editing

self-editing fiction

Take a quick browse through a bookstore or Amazon’s virtual shelves and you’ll discover that there are hundreds of books about how to write fiction. But when you need to get serious about self-editing your manuscript, pickings are slim. Still, a few fantastic books stand out as tremendous guides to help fiction writers self-edit. Here’s our list of four you should consider adding to your shelves.

#1 – Self-Editing For Fiction Writers: How To Edit Yourself Into Print

By Renni Browne and Dave King

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersWhen your goal is to turn a rough draft into a work of fiction you’d be proud to submit to an editor, you can’t go wrong with two professional editors guiding you through the process. Consider this book a how-to for tackling the job of revision after you’ve shrugged off the mantle of writer and donned your editor robes. It’s an easy, straightforward read.

If you want to practice your self-editing techniques, Self Editing for Fiction Writers also contains hands-on exercises you can work through.

PRO TIP: AutoCrit covers much of the same ground “automagically” by guiding you through the self-editing process step-by-step. But it also does something no editing book can—it compares your book to scores of published books in your chosen genre. Want to see how? Hop over and give it a try!


#2 – The Little Red Writing Book

By Brandon Royal

“My! What big adverbs you have!” said Little Red Riding Hood.

“The better to ruin your manuscript, my dear,” said the Big Bad Writing Wolf.

The publishing woods are scary, and this book is filled with self-editing advice that will ultimately help you navigate them. Just be warned that it’ll lead you through by an indirect route—it’s not written with fiction writers in mind.

The Little Red Writing Book is for students and business professionals. But as it talks about persuasive writing and essays (bear with us) it teaches twenty “immutable rules” for writing clearly and effectively and runs through thirty grammar issues, too. These guidelines apply to fiction writing as much as they apply to the big quarterly report you’re writing for Monday’s meeting. No matter what you’re writing, clarity and precision are critical. What good is fiction if its meaning is lost in disorganized thinking and muddy language?

#3 – On Writing

By Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen KingIf you’ve already read Stephen King’s On Writing you’re probably having a fond flashback to one of his entertaining writer origin stories right now. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no time like the present.

King’s book is one part memoir about his evolution as a writer and one part craft book. It’s low on actionable, hands-on editing advice, but overflowing with insight and inspiration. It’ll make you want to be a better writer. And that will make you want to be a better editor, too.

King’s advice to “Write with the door closed; edit with the door open” is timeless. So is his warning that “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” His words will make you eager to pick up that red pen and start taking your manuscript to task.



#4 – Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells

By James Scott Bell

Best-selling thriller author James Scott Bell takes a big-picture view of manuscript revision. In this book, he tackles issues like editing for plot, structure, character, and theme. He also includes The Ultimate Revision Checklist, a step-by-step process for taking a deep look at your work when self-editing.

Despite the utilitarian title, Bell’s book delivers sound advice in a thoughtful, entertaining way. And it’s got glowing reviews from Amazon, Google, GoodReads and more to prove it. Just keep in mind that this isn’t a book on copy editing so much as taking a long look at problems with structure, conflict, and pacing.

If you’ve got no time to read books on becoming an expert self-editor, put your revision process on Easy Mode with AutoCrit.

Do you have a favorite self-editing book? Has one of these books helped you in your mastery of self-editing techniques? Leave a comment to tell us about it!

Join the Discussion on “4 Writing Books That Will Make You Better at Self-Editing”

  1. Lissa Crosby says:

    The Story Grid, by editor Shawn Coyne is the best resource I’ve found for editing. There’s a book, a website, a weekly podcast, and a free 5lesson guide to help get you started. I’m currently using this process to edit the book I wrote during NaNo last year, and looking forward to NaNo this year to get started on part2.

    It’s great for people who are very process-oriented, who want a clear explanation for not only *what* works, but *why* it works, and how to use an established pattern to make your own book better.

  2. William Ramshaw says:

    This is an excellent list! I have read (and own) all but The Little Red Writing Book.

    My favorite editing book is Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon. Why? Two reasons.

    Each chapter includes a comprehensive checklist. I have found this feature is quite useful. Rather than needing to reread each chapter, a quick review of the checklist is all that is required.

    Besides this, she helps the reader get inside the head of an editor. How they think and what they look for in well-crafted manuscript.

    Again, Manuscript Makeover is an excellent editing resource. I highly recommend it.

  3. Pat W Coffey says:

    Love your selection!
    Pat W Coffey

  4. Carol Shetler says:

    I’m a professional editor who currently works at both “ends” of the editing process -I beta-read my clients’ first drafts, then copy edit and do a final proofread of their final draft. My challenge is to leave their writing style intact, when such style is comprehensible and entertaining. I am concerned that Auto-crit will short-circuit that process. At the same time, I’d like to improve my skills in the “middle” of the process, where the substantive editing needs to happen. Thanks for what I have learned from you so far, and for your guidance as I become better at my editing tasks. This will benefit both my clients and myself.

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Hi, Carol! Thanks for sharing a little info about your editing process and your concerns about AutoCrit. We hear you!

      It’s interesting that you refer to the “middle” of the process—that’s right where AutoCrit sits. It comes between the developmental edit (where you might fix a plot hole, for example) and a copy edit, where you’re carefully proofreading and fixing spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. The beauty of AutoCrit is that you don’t have to accept any of it’s suggestions. We like to think of it as an awareness tool. It highlights points of concern and helps train the author to decide what to fix, and what to leave alone.

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