lea schafer, editing, editor, self-editing, fiction, writingFiguring out what needs to be tweaked in your manuscript is difficult to do. After all, you’ve lived with your “baby” for months, sometimes years on end. You know it intimately, and as with a child, it can be difficult to see past the wonder of your creation to the flaws that must be fixed. So where do you turn? Perhaps a critique partner?

A good CP is worth their weight in gold! They bring a fresh eye to the work you are too close to see objectively. And because they are so precious, it’s important not to take advantage of their generosity. Never send an unedited manuscript to your critique partner. Why? Because many of the flaws that weren’t obvious to you take no more than a second pass to see for yourself. Show your CP you value their time by sending them the best you can do so far, not your first effort.

So if you need to edit your rough draft, but you don’t want to get advice from your CP (yet!), what do you do? I believe it’s important for every author to continually educate yourself about the skills involved in your craft — and I practice what I preach! I’m constantly reading craft books and articles, searching for ways to better my writing and better help the authors I edit see where their manuscripts can be improved. There are more books about the various aspects of writing out there than we can probably count, but there are a couple of general books that I have found useful when educating myself. Take a look and see if one of these might just help you:

lea schafer, editing, editor, self-editing, fiction, self-editing for fiction writers, renni browne, dave kingSelf-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King


“Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories.

In this completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.”

Self-editing for Fiction Writers is easily the best book I’ve ever read on revising your own work — and the most recommended (for very good reason). Browne and King have an easy-to-read style that doesn’t bother with lofty prose. They tell it like it is and include a ton of examples to help you understand each concept. There are exercises at the end of each chapter as well. Whether you just completed your first book or your fifth, this is a must read for all writers.

lea schafer, editing, editor, self-editing, fiction, techniques of the selling writer, Dwight SwainTechniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain


Techniques of the Selling Writer provides solid instruction for people who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it. It gives the background, insights, and specific procedures needed by all beginning writers. Here one can learn how to group words into copy that moves, movement into scenes, and scenes into stories; how to develop characters, how to revise and polish, and finally, how to sell the product.

No one can teach talent, but the practical skills of the professional writer’s craft can certainly be taught. The correct and imaginative use of these kills can shorten any beginner’s apprenticeship by years. This is the book for writers who want to turn rejection slips into cashable checks.”

In addition to some of the points Browne and King discuss, such as characterization, Swain discusses broader issues for modern writers, such as conflict and story arc. He also discusses at the beginning of his book some of the “why” and “how” behind our chosen career. Why should a writer bother writing if it’s so hard? How can a writer reduce the painful trial-and-error period of learning to write well? Not as easy a read as Browne and King’s book, but definitely worth your time.

lea schafer, editor, editing, fiction, self-editing, the first five pages, noah lukemanThe First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman


“Whether you are a novice writer or a veteran who has already had your work published, rejection is often a frustrating reality. Literary agents and editors receive and reject hundreds of manuscripts each month. While it’s the job of these publishing professionals to be discriminating, it’s the job of the writer to produce a manuscript that immediately stands out among the vast competition. And those outstanding qualities, says New York literary agent Noah Lukeman, have to be apparent from the first five pages.

The First Five Pages reveals the necessary elements of good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or poetry, and points out errors to be avoided[…] With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher — and more successful — level.”

Lukeman’s book covers a plethora of topics that can hinder a writer’s manuscript from being its best. Though Lukeman focuses more on literary fiction as opposed to commercial fiction, his explanations of each topic are perfect for beginners who need information on both overarching concepts and basics like word choice, all in one place, and his examples and ending exercises make it easy to see exactly what he’s talking about. A fast, easy-to-understand read.

As I said above, these are just a few of the hundreds of books to choose from. Once you’ve identified the areas in your writing that need the most work, you can find books devoted just to that area, whether it be dialogue or characterization or grammar. Ask your writer friends what books or other resources helped them as well. The one key is to never stop learning and growing in your craft.

Be sure and check back May 1st for the next installment of the blog. Next month, the worst grammar mistakes you can make!

– Lea

*Top photo courtesy of idan586.

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