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Writing in a Nutshell #5

Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide

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Are you ready to publish or submit to a literary agent? You might be. But is your manuscript as squeaky clean as you think?

Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide will help turn your manuscript into a shiny book.

With more than ten years’ experience as an editor and author of both fiction and nonfiction, I offer you my tried and tested advice on the quickest and easiest ways to polish different areas of Writing Style, Consistency of Prose, Grammar, Punctuation, Typography, and Layout.

Each section is armed with a numbered checklist for moments when you need that “at-a-glance” reminder and nifty Microsoft Word tricks that will save you time. At the end of the book there are also magnificent accounts of editorial mistakes other authors have made during their careers, to show you that no matter how many times a book is edited, something always slips through—so don’t be so hard on yourself!

*Indispensable companion to the bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series.


First published May 28, 2014

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About the author

Jessica Bell

80 books465 followers
Jessica Bell is a multi-award-winning author/poet and singer-songwriter who was born in Melbourne, Australia.

In addition to having published a memoir, five novels, three poetry collections, and her bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series, she has been featured in a variety of publications and radio shows such as Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, Life Matters, and Poetica.

She is also the Publisher of Vine Leaves Press, and a highly sought-after book cover designer. She currently resides in Athens, Greece, with her partner and son, and a pile of dishes that still don’t know how to wash themselves despite her consistently teaching by example.

For more information visit: iamjessicabell.com

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Graeme Ing.
Author 14 books97 followers
May 29, 2014
Oh no, not another book on writing? Actually, I liked this one. Short, fast read that concentrated on the essentials with no waffle and padding, but still written in an easy-to-read, slightly humorous style.

This book won't teach you how to write, and doesn't pretend to, but serves as a great reference to have nearby when you come to edit your manuscript. Divided into clear sections, so that you can concentrate on one thing at a time, like punctuation, POV, tense etc. Each section has a handy checklist so you don't have to wade through pages of text.

Keep this book by your keyboard, as I shall, follow its great advice, and your editor will love you when you submit a polished manuscript. :)
Profile Image for StarMan.
636 reviews17 followers
August 30, 2019
4.5 stars. A short but useful guide for doing the final proofing on an already-edited work.

This is NOT a book that covers EVERY aspect of editing. And that is OK.

Instead, it covers some of the FINAL things you should do before submitting a book to publisher/agent/self-publication/etc. It assumes you've already done most of the real editing work, have a 99% finished product, and are concerned with final proofing and touches (formatting, unnecessary words to remove, tenses to check, POV to check, etc.).

It also mentions some handy free websites or software you can use to help in this process.

Some of the tips are obvious (read your work out loud, use more than 1 editor/proofreader, spell-check is not very smart, etc), but others were new to me, and everything is well put together here.

After the main content, there are several examples of real-world goofs that made it into print, along with the various authors' comments about the goofs.
59 reviews
May 18, 2015
Polish Your Fiction is another title in Jessica Bell’s “in a nutshell” series. It is subtitled “A quick and easy self-editing guide”, which is a very apt description. Interestingly, although Jessica gives great tips on self-editing, she very much advo0cates using a third party editor too.

The book contains information and advice about how to tighten up on your descriptions and dialogue, and also advice on the correct way of writing numbers, dashes, dates and other stuff. She even goes into differences between American and British spelling.

It’s very readable, because it’s written in a very down-to-earth style. What I especially like is the admission of oversights and errors—there’s even a section at the end of the book in which other authors relate their nightmare experiences. What Jessica and the other authors have done, in effect, is to offer further proof of the truth of a rule I came up with a long time ago: if you want to spot a glaring and embarrassing mistake, have 5,000 copies of the item printed or, latterly, send it out to several thousand readers; it never fails.

I don’t write fiction much, so I was unsure about whether this book would be useful to me. I found that it is, for two reasons. First, there are enough tips about punctuation and other things to make it relevant to me. Second, I think the advice on tightening up your prose applies to all writing. There are enough examples given to enable you to apply the suggestions to other forms of writing as well.

There are also some useful tips on using Word, and some handy websites included.

A “lightbulb” moment for me was the advice to use em dashes rather than en dashes. I’ve always preferred the latter, but Jessica points out that using an en dash can result in a rather awkward-looking dash at the end of a line. So ‘m now training myself to think “em” rather than “en”!

I think as far as this book goes, it is very good, and great value for money. It does what it says on the tin, and is a very easy read.

Profile Image for Debbie Young.
Author 35 books209 followers
May 31, 2014
Having enjoyed and found helpful Jessica Bell's "In A Nutshell" series of writing guides, I was looking forward to reading this one, not least because I am at the polishing stages of a book of my own which is due out on 21st June (a collection of flash fiction called "Quick Change"). I've spent most of my working life needing to edit written copy, whether for business reports, PR materials or journalism, yet this book offered plenty of new advice that I'm sure I'll find useful.

The biggest surprise for me was her advice to pick off one aspect of your writing at a time, e.g. dialogue tags ("He said", "She murmured" etc) or chapter endings, and perfect them. This means going through your work multiple times to effect a single edit - but it sounds like a very effective approach.

It's also a great book for the 21st century writer, because it harnesses tricks from Word to help you fine-tune your prose, e.g. search and replace, rather than relying on your own eye.

As a career editor, she's not afraid to debunk commonly held myths about writing, e.g. the old saying "murder your darlings". With her characteristic incisive Australian wit, she advises "If everyone killed all their darlings, they'd have no family left".

The format is a really practical working guide, full of checklists to help you put into practice the author's top tips. Having bought the Kindle edition of this book, I'm now going to order the paperback, because it's going to have a permanent place on my writing desk whenever I'm at the editing stage. Enough said.

Disclosure: I do know the author personally as we both belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors (I'm quoted in the back, in the heartening section in which authors confess their biggest editing errors), but I bought my copy direct from Amazon and Jessica Bell didn't solicit this review, nor does she know I'm writing it!
Profile Image for Luca Marchiori.
15 reviews3 followers
June 1, 2014
I have long been a fan of Jessica Bell's excellent writing craft books, and this one is no exception. Short and to the point, as Bell points out, this book is for adding that final sparkle to your writing that gives your work that professional, edited edge. I already used the first section to help with a story I am writing and I found the tips practical and easy to implement.
If, like me, you are mostly a non-fiction writer, this book is also for you since the second section, covering style, applies equally to all writing. The final section, including quotes from a number of experienced writers will also make you feel a lot more confident about your abilities.
Written in Jessica's usual down-to-earth style, this book is well worth the cover price and a great addition to any writing craft library.
Profile Image for Avid Reader.
36 reviews3 followers
June 1, 2014
I cannot put to words how much I loved “Polish Your Fiction”. If you’re a writer, you need this book.

“Polish Your Fiction” gives you simple and straightforward advice that is worth sooo much more than the price of the book. Seriously, let’s say you paid X. The value you’ll get is X * 500.

And the checklists, bro. The checklists are awesome.

I’m someone who learns by doing. I don’t need a lot of theory; I need examples. Jessica delivers both in a very dynamic way. This book answered so many questions I had for a really long time, and most important of all, it kept me interested to the end. It’s a wonderful guide to making your fiction shine, whether you’re a seasoned pro or someone starting out.

I’ll keep it close once I start polishing my manuscript, and so should you.
Profile Image for Clarissa Draper.
Author 2 books41 followers
June 5, 2014
Amazing book! It's not a big book but it packs a punch. The suggestions are realistic and practice. A must have for all writing shelves.
Profile Image for Elzevera.
77 reviews
February 28, 2020
Quick read with many useful, actionable tips to polish the final versions of a manuscript. I would have preferred to see a clearer indication on the cover that this book is meant for the final changes, and assumes that the first part of the self-editing process has already been done, but knowing that, these guidelines will definitely help a lot of writers out there :)
Profile Image for Kyra.
Author 36 books286 followers
July 25, 2014
This is a must-have guide for any writer, and really proves that even when you make an effort to learn as much as you can about writing and editing, there is STILL more you can learn. There will always be more.

Jessica Bell's guide does exactly what the cover promises. It's a quick and easy guide - no complicated terms, no waffling, just straight to the point, and super effective. Depending on how much work your novel needs, the actual editing part might be quite time consuming, but the learning part is simple!

Here's what I love most about this book. When you've been writing for a while it's easy to fall into using the same sentence construction, the same overused words, the same patterns of speech. This book forces you to spot things you might never have even considered a problem before, and think of a way to change things up. You improve your writing and exercise your brain (or your thesaurus, in my case lol!)

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a wonderful resource every writer should have in their collection!

Profile Image for Rachel Morgan.
Author 49 books1,682 followers
August 20, 2014
When it comes time to polish my work before it goes out into the reading world, I don't have time to crawl through hundreds of pages of writer guides explaining in excruciating detail how to improve my fiction writing. Essentially, what I want is a checklist. A checklist I can work through quickly and methodically to target every area of my manuscript. And that's exactly what Jessica Bell's POLISH YOUR FICTION gave me. Straightforward and to the point, with the occasional dash of humour, this book was not only extremely helpful, but enjoyable. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for India Brown.
Author 5 books515 followers
July 16, 2015
I definitely recommend this for writers who have finished their manuscript. It's a quick read but jam packed with so much information and so many tips that I wouldn't have thought to look for before.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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