USEFUL BOOKS FOR AUTHORS EDITING THEIR NOVELS
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King
A classic work that really gets into the nitty-gritty of writing, editing and styling fiction, this covers topics such as speaker attributions, dialogue beats and inner monologue. The book is packed with useful, highly practical information and punches well above its weight. It talks about big-picture stuff, too, and discusses show and tell, and developing narrative intimacy with your main character or characters, among other subjects.
The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook, by Brian Shawver
Published in 2013, The Language of Fiction is a welcome addition to the very small library of works available to authors looking for self-editing guidance. It wasn’t written with authors of genre fiction in mind, but there’s still a lot of helpful advice and information within its pages, such as a discussion about using phonetic spellings in dialogue to convey dialect. Occasionally a little off target, and not as street savvy as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, this book is nevertheless a useful one to have, and Shawver is a very eloquent writer.
The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, by Amy Einsohn
There’s no reason why Amy Einsohn’s classic, which graces the shelves of copy editors everywhere, shouldn’t also be at an author’s side. Einsohn covers topics such as capitalisation, punctuation, and spelling and hyphenation, and offers sane advice on navigating a few perennial grammar issues. The book does use grammar terms a lot, though, so you need to be confident that you can tell a subordinate clause from a main clause, or a pronoun from an antecedent, in order to get full value from it.
When you self-edit your novel, you should choose a style manual to follow. Style manuals give recommendations on subjects like when to capitalize words, when to use italics, and whether you should spell out numbers or give them as figures.
The Chicago Manual of Style, which is produced by the University of Chicago, is considered the publishing industry standard in the States; New Hart’s Rules, from Oxford University Press, is popular in the UK. Chicago is a highly intricate style guide, but now that it’s available to subscribers online, it’s a lot easier to search than it was when only a physical copy was available (the current edition is over a thousand pages long and contains large sections that aren’t relevant to genre fiction writers). New Hart’s Rules is available as a physical book, a Kindle edition and to subscribers to Oxford Dictionaries Online.
Neither book was written with genre fiction specifically in mind, though, and you won’t always find the guidance you’re looking for within the pages of these guides. I address some of the style gaps in my blog, Be Your Own Copy Editor.
Don’t think that you have to follow what Chicago and New Hart’s Rules say to the letter. Publishers may use one of these works as their principal source of style advice, but they also have their own rules, some of which may go against the recommendations of their chosen manual. Each book a publisher produces should also have its own style sheet, which, among other things, lists exceptions that are being made to the general style rules for that particular book. There’s no reason why authors shouldn’t establish their own rules for their books – as long as they do so for sound reasons.