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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,881 Ratings  ·  560 Reviews
"A superb tutorial for anyone wanting to learn from pros how to polish fiction writing with panache."-- Library Journal
Paperback, Second Edition, 288 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published January 1st 1993)
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On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
10th out of 541 books — 1,041 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne TrussHow to Format Your Book by Dorothy May MercerThe Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman
Best Writing Reference
7th out of 127 books — 124 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aug 02, 2008 Taka rated it really liked it
Great tips--

As a writer, I winced at every amateur mistake they listed that applied to me. The book tells you how to write a story and edit it so that the reader can identify with the characters and enjoy the story.

It's not catering to the mainstream.

It's about the craft.

Sure, they cite many obscure and minor authors and bash literary giants like Melville et al, but frankly, many of literary giants come to their prominence not because of their story-telling talent, but often because of somethin
Becka Sutton
Jul 22, 2009 Becka Sutton rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all writers
There are three kinds of writing books.

* Those that try to tell you how to get published. These books generally claim to have found the magic formula to get publishers to accept your book. The problem with this - as the blog entry I linked in my previous post pointed out - is that there is no magic formula.
* Then there are those that try to tell you how to write in the first place. They tend to be a formula the writer found worked for them to get the words out and therefore assume will work fo
Jul 18, 2010 Jacqui rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
I am a big self-editor. I don't want a professional editor or even my writer's group to see my writing before it's as good as I can get it. I'm like that in all parts of my life. I clean the house before my house cleaner shows up so she never knows how messy I really am.

I have a long list of self-edits I go through (checking for passive, the use of 'was', repeated words, etc.), but I found a book I like called Self Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. It covers everything
Lewis Weinstein
Sep 10, 2015 Lewis Weinstein rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
UPDATED 5/12/15 ... Read it again. The margins are filled with notes. It is so helpful to read this while I am in the midst of editing my own novel-in-progress.


This is an absolutely terrific book ... page after page of suggestions ... great stimulus to thought about my novel in progress ... LEW ...
Feb 01, 2013 Kelly rated it really liked it
I should have read this book seven years ago, which is when I bought it. I find non-fiction (and any story lacking the presence of aliens) difficult to focus on, though. Maybe I thought having it on my shelf, or the simple purchase, itself, would make me a better writer. I could look up at the spine now and again and say, “Yeah. I have that book. I’m a writer.”

I am a writer—anyone can be one of those. But according to this book, I’m not a very good one. Yet. I’ll get there, but it won’t be becau
Una Tiers
May 28, 2015 Una Tiers rated it it was amazing
When I clicked I'm Finished, I didn't mean it. While I read the book, I know I will come back to it again because it has so much terrific information and observations.
My favorite is what they say about dialogue. :)
Oct 12, 2011 Malin rated it did not like it
Even though I think there's a need for a book that explains the basic "how-to's" for beginner writers, this book had too many good "bad examples" and too many bad "good examples" to be objective. The authors seem to have their own fixed way of seeing good writing without making room for the stylistic variations that occur between genres. The give no leeway for different tastes either, and I'm afraid they'll force many new writers into boxed-in space. They do state that the old version of this bo ...more
Oct 14, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
The first thing I always want to know when I'm reading a book that purportedly teaches you how to improve your writing, especially if the intent is to be published, is "Okay, how many books have you published?"

However, this isn't necessarily a fair question. My own publication history is pretty thin -- basically, I have written a lot of roleplaying game supplements for a major RPG company. (See my author page for details.) My writing was generally well-regarded, but that's a rather odd niche and
Jonathan Peto
Mar 28, 2015 Jonathan Peto rated it it was amazing
I have skim-read this book at least three times since carefully reading it two or three David Mitchell books ago (maybe ten Stephen Kings ago?). This week, I reread previously marked passages. It was so thought-provoking I “finished” the book, even though that had not been my intention.

The first time I read it I had countless revelations. Did I even pay attention to the difference between narrative summary and a scene then, never mind their uses? Did I understand that third person POV was a cont
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 Beth Cato rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in, 2009, writing
This was a highly rated editing book on Amazon, but even then, I was concerned that it would be dry or boring. I shouldn't have been. I can see why the ratings were so high - it is an excellent guide to honing technique, bit by bit. The thing that makes this book so compelling is that there are constant examples of mistakes or correct usage from both published and non-published stories. They covered a wide range of genres, too (I was happy to see an excerpt from a YA/sci-fi book I loved as a kid ...more
Jul 24, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing
This book has helped me out the absolute most with my craft. If you are writing anything then I recommend four things:

-This book
-The Writing Excuses podcast
-On Writing by Stephen King
-The Emotion Thesaurus

But I think this book helps me the most with actual craft. So if you're looking for books on how words interact with one another and how to do it well. Read this book. Front to back and back to front.
Leo Robertson
Jun 07, 2014 Leo Robertson rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, non-fiction
Really nice collection of pitfalls. Sure to relieve any young writer, either because they have new eyes with which to view their manuscript, or because there are many mistakes they are glad not to have made.
Mar 07, 2008 Matthew rated it it was amazing
When people talk about books that changed their lives, they usually talk about novels. The power of fiction is incredible and stories like "The Lord of the Rings" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" resonate for decades. But if someone asked me what book changed my life, I'd have to point to "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers." Yes, I'd immediately be branded a super-dork, but this book transformed my work like nothing before or since.

For ten years, I'd been struggling with "Show, Don't Tell." Everybody
Jan 16, 2015 Lynxie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Authors, anyone interested in improving their writing or editing skills
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a great book that covers the basics of editing your own work, or that of others, and how to apply those skills.

Having been involved with editing and writing for a number of years, the book didn't offer me anything ground-breaking, but it did reaffirm my love of editing and brought to the forefront of my brain, the things to keep in mind when reading and reviewing a piece of writing.

The book gives you plenty of examples of poor writing, mediocre writing and s
Lisa Ard
Aug 28, 2011 Lisa Ard rated it it was amazing
The minute I finished this (library) book I went on Amazon and purchased it. This is a must-have reference book, workbook and good read for every fiction writer out there.

The topics are spelled out in the table of contents:
1. Show and tell
2. Characterization and Exposition
3. Point of View
4. Proportion
5. Dialogue Mechanics
6. See how it sounds
7. Interior monologue
8. Easy Beats
9. Breaking up is easy to do
10. Once is usually enough
11. Sophistication
12. Voice

Each topic includes examples, many from we
Josephine Myles
Oct 23, 2010 Josephine Myles rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-books
This book didn't exactly cover what I was hoping for, which was a more general overview of how to go about editing a long manuscript for structural problems. There is some advice about proportion, but on the whole it focuses on polishing your writing scene by scene (or word by word). That said, it is a very useful resource and I've certainly learnt about a few ways I can improve my writing.

The strengths of this as a writing book are in the clear explanations and numerous examples to illustrate t
Daniel Roy
Oct 22, 2012 Daniel Roy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, non-fiction
A quick, instructive read. Although this book didn't teach me anything new per se, it explained a lot of the groundwork of solid writing and editing in a clear, concise manner, with some great examples. For instance, the authors dissect and re-edit some parts of The Great Gatsby using modern editing sensibilities (for instance by ditching dialog adverbs), and the effect is immediate and striking.

The two chapters on dialogues were the most insightful to me. Although I've long since inherited Step
Apr 10, 2014 Lotz rated it really liked it
I’ll start with the summary: This book has fantastic advice for any aspiring fiction writers. It is well-written, full of examples, and even comes with exercises (which I didn’t do). Definitely worth reading.

And now the review.

Any rules for art are bound to fall short. Art is distinguished from craft or other activities by its freedom from definite laws. Even the advice of an experienced professional will likely be contradicted by the advice of another, and it is almost certain that someone will
May 14, 2008 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any writer
This book came recommended to me so I bought it and then didn't have time to get to it until it came recommended once again. I took it on vacation with me for six weeks and worked on a chapter a day. This worked out great because it gave me time to absorb the information and do the exercises at the end of each chapter.

It's definitely filled with practical advice any new writer needs to know. If you're more experienced, don't let that sway you. We all need reminders from time to time. I saw thing
Britt Skrabanek
Aug 02, 2013 Britt Skrabanek rated it really liked it
Decent tool for writers to check out. While parts of it boosted my confidence, other parts brought me to a screeching halt...which is good.

More than anything, this is a refresher with a level-headed viewpoint. I wouldn't expect it any other way from an editor's stance.

I breezed through it once and plan to work through some of the check lists with my second draft.

Take some of it, leave the rest. But, totally worth checking out.

Britt Skrabanek
Will Once
Nov 08, 2014 Will Once rated it it was amazing
Let's be honest here ... the publishing world is awash with very poor books.

For every book that is published, there are 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 that never make it. They either can't find a traditionally publisher or they are self published and sell only a handful of copies.

And behind every single one of these books is a huge dollop of pain and heartache for the author. They had such high hopes of fame, fortune and glory and it just didn't happen. The slush pile can be a very gloomy and lonely pl
Chad Schimke
Dec 27, 2011 Chad Schimke rated it it was amazing
SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS - In the writing reference book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, the editing-authors teach the would-be writer to apply editing techniques they developed. There are important distinctions in writing reference, for example: 1. Writing craft and 2. Fiction mechanics. My favorite book on the topic of craft is Book in a Month; my favorite book on the topic of mechanics is Self-Editing. Self-Editing has a focus on fiction mechanics: how ...more
Nov 23, 2014 Donna rated it it was amazing
If you’re even considering the thought of editing your own work, whether it’s a full length novel, novella, short story, flash or whatever other piece of fiction you have, go out and buy this book now. Read it cover to cover. Take notes. Read it again. Do the exercises. Relate it to your own work. Read it again. And again. And again.

This book highlights what really are some of the most obvious fallacies a writer can make and it does it in the most poignant of ways. Everything they say is in the
Lee Dunning
Nov 29, 2012 Lee Dunning rated it it was amazing
Pretty much the best book I've read in terms of helping writers learn the actual mechanics of hunting down and fixing the little horrors that creep into our writing. Once I finished the book I immediately picked up Chapter 1 of my story and went through it utilizing the knowledge I had gained. It was quite amazing how much my ability to see problems with my writing improved.

In terms of how the book presents material, it's quite straight forward. They generally provide an excerpt from a well-know
Carol Kean
Dec 06, 2011 Carol Kean rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all fiction writers
Recommended to Carol by: I found it at a book store
The "bible" for all writers, the most-recommended of all the many how-to-write books out there. You'll still want your Strunk and White if you don't understand grammar and syntax, but this book is the most articulate, easy to read and understand of the fiction writing manuals. A great investment. Funny thing is: you'll read this and think, "I know exactly what they mean. Of course I don't write like that." Then you'll submit your manuscript to a critique group (most likely, all members are disci ...more
Aug 19, 2012 Tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In short: As valuable as I found this book, I don’t feel it (and you) should be your ‘only editor’. KDP/PubIt make it simple for anyone to publish their writing, but an investment in an editor (please make the investment if you’re going to charge people to read it) is an obligation all writers have—it’s not just about the readability of the work, it’s about evolving as a creator--no writer can do it without a set of independent eyes. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is an excellent way to fashio ...more
Jun 24, 2015 Nicola rated it really liked it
My biggest pet peeve when it comes to writing books is when writers offer a list of 'rules' for what you absolutely must(/must not) do in your writing. This is one of those books. But it's okay, because Renni Browne and Dave King are editors, so their rules have a little more sense behind them.

This really is a book that will make your artistic soul die just a little bit. But slicing through the bullshit of your first-draft writing is a necessary evil for all writers, and Browne and King offer to
Apr 02, 2011 Jane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-writing
There are lots of writing craft books around, but this one has an excellent reputation among writer groups. I can see why. It's a thorough, yet not overwhelming, primer on how to look at your own work with critical eyes and edit the living daylights out of it. The authors emphasize that you shouldn't follow their prescriptions too rigidly (as, so they say, people tended to do with the first edition of this book) and thus stay on the fine line between allowing writers the freedom they need to be ...more
Laura Oliva
Sep 30, 2012 Laura Oliva rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-library
So far, I am seriously loving this book. I'm only in about three chapters because they're so dense with information (I usually read fairly quickly). Total gold-mine. More when I'm finished!

Update: single most helpful book on self- editing that I have ever read. EVER. Helped me to recognize the (now) glaring structural and technique problems with my first draft of my first novel, as well as demonstrating how to fix them.

Actually, I would recommend reading this book before you even get started wr
Jessica Strider
Aug 11, 2011 Jessica Strider rated it it was amazing
Want to improve your fiction writing skills? Then this is the book to buy. The editors discuss the most common problems they have to fix when doing their jobs - and give the aspiring author the skills necessary to make their work more professional and become better writers.

The book's chapters each focus on one issue, giving examples of how to and how not to use the techniques, a check list of things to watch for in your writing and exercises to make sure you understand what they're teaching.

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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Q&A with Khanh Ha: Writing process 1 11 Jun 23, 2012 06:39AM  
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel
  • Writing the Breakout Novel
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • Description
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
  • Description & Setting
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work (Writers Digest)

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“Frey, James, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. Helpful emphasis on the three C’s of Premise: character, conflict, and conclusion; useful throughout. One of the damn best books on the subject.” 0 likes
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