19 Best Books To Learn Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

POSTED ON Dec 24, 2014

Home > Blog > Editorial, Self-Publishing > 19 Best Books To Learn Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Are you looking to polish your NaNoWriMo book in the new year? Are books on your holiday wish list? (Silly question, right?) Below is a list of 19 titles teaching self-editing for fiction authors that we believe every indie writer should have on his or her bookshelf.

These books will arm you with valuable writing tips and insights so that you can tackle your writing with new resolve.

We’ve divided the books into levels of editing, so you’ll know which book to refer to when you need to. Keep in mind that a book may not fit neatly into an editing category. Some books will address more than one level of editing. The key is to be systematic when you self-edit, and often, addressing one level of editing at a time can make the editing process more manageable.

To remind you, how you’ll revise and polish your book will depend on how you tend to work as a writer , and where your strengths and weakness lie.

Self-Editing Workflow

If you’re not sure where to begin your revisions, start with big-picture items. When assessing a manuscript, editors begin with big-picture items and slowly work through all the stages of editing, ending with word-level details. If you’ve nailed your plot (big picture), for example, begin with the next area that you know needs work. If you’re not sure what needs work, run your manuscript past a couple of betareaders.

How did we choose the best books on self-editing for fiction writers?

It wasn’t easy narrowing our choice to 19 titles for self-editing. Many excellent books have been written on various aspects of the subject. We’ve chosen books that are

    • short(er) and to the point
    • helpful (some of them are personal favorites)
    • easy to understand, without too much editorial jargon
    • less than $15, with one exception (Jim Taylor’s Quick Fixes)

As a result, books commonly used by editors didn’t show up on this list.


Writers are not editors.

Many books directed to editors are also written by editors, and they’re heavy on theory and discussion. Writers want accessible books that provide clear explanations, examples and instructions. (Editors like these books too—but we like to read everything and think about it, first.) So you’ll see some writers’ craft books on this list—our choices address revision and self-editing directly.

Finally, we’ve also picked a couple of titles specifically for nonfiction authors. When it comes to writing and self-editing guides, nonfiction often gets short shrift. The two we’ve selected complement each other well, and provide sound advice for focusing and delivering your message to the reader.

Beyond Paper Picks

Big Picture

  1. The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell
  2. Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern
  3. On Writing Well:The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
  4. Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells, by James Scott Bell
  5. This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley
  6. The Ebook Style Guide, by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod

“If you have trouble with structure, it may be helpful to choose one straight off and use it as a guardrail as you write.” — Susan Bell

Paragraph Level

    1. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman
    2. Quick Fixes for Business Writing: An Easy Eight-Step Editing Process to Find and Correct Common Readability Problems, by Jim Taylor
    3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King

“Even writing that was never intended to be…read aloud can be improved if you read aloud as you revise.” — Renni Browne & Dave King

Sentence Level

    1. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
    2. Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Conner
    3. You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Publishing Authors, by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod

“Surprisingly often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by simply getting rid of it.” — William Zinsser

Word Level

    1. The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson by June Casagrande
    2.  Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies, by Suzanne Gilad
    3. Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors, by Jenny Baranick

“Use the semicolon like you would your most powerful weapon (your best pick-up line or your most effective push-up bra): carefully and sparingly.” — Jenny Baranick

4 Books that Will Inspire You to Write
You may not always feel like writing. These books will light a fire under you:

    1. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
    2. Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper, by SARK
    3. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
    4. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Self-Editing is a Process

Don’t try to do it all at once, and don’t try to do it only once.

Each of the books we’ve recommended offers a different voice and a different approach. Some are straight “how-to” and some are more “what” and “why.” What works for one writer might not be right for another. So take some time to explore a few of these titles to find an approach you can work with.

“When you write…say, ‘I’m free to write the worst junk in the world.’ You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination.” — Natalie Goldberg

If you haven’t already, over time you’ll develop your own self-editing style. This may mean working to a detailed plan or, as it does for some writers, simply reading, re-reading and re-keying your draft multiple times.

And, as we’ve said before, how you self-edit depends on how you wrote your first draft. It will also depend on your manuscript and what it requires—your second, third and fourth books will present different issues than your first. All the more reason to have our 19 titles at the ready, lined up on your shelf.

a portrait of the authors of self-editing for fiction writersCorina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas of Beyond Paper Editing are Contributing Writers for The Book Designer.

They are also authors, copyeditors and proofreaders who work with and instruct self-publishing authors.

You can learn more about Corina and Carla here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

Book Cover Design Checklist

Set your book up to SELL with our FREE Book Cover Design Checklist to boost the quality of your book to its very best!
Liked this post? Share it with friends!

More Helpful Articles