Revision and Self-Editing for Publication Review

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Let’s get this on the table right now: Jim Bell does not write a bad craft-of-writing book. Does NOT.

In one case, however, the title of his book does not match the contents. That case is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. As K. M. Weiland noted in her 3-star review of this book on Goodreads, there’s little here about revision or self-editing. That’s too bad because what little there is clearly shows that if Bell had focused on those tasks, rather than writing yet another book about writing a decent first draft, he could have done well.

Bell divides the book into two sections: “self-editing” and “revision.” The self-editing section is classic Bell writing craft material, full of suggestions and techniques for coming up with ideas, getting over/under/around/through blocks, and making sure each scene has a Lead who has an Objective but is faced with a Confrontation before the scene reaches a Knock-out ending that launches the reader into the next scene—his LOCK method. All of which is great, but where’s the self-editing? It’s found only in the occasional, in-passing reference to the fact that you’ll come back and edit your work. That’s true, but where’s the retrospective, “now that you’ve written a first draft” approach?

To some extent, it’s in the second section, yet even here there the chapter on “deepening” focuses on techniques for building a good first draft, rather than revising it.

This is not to say—again—that this is a bad book. The chapters on things to do before you start revising, and on doing the first read-through, and the revision checklist make the book a worthwhile read. But for an author looking for guidance on revision and editing, those are about the only ones he or she needs to read.

What disappoints me most about this book is that my copy is a second edition. That means that Bell and his editors had the opportunity to realize what they’d done after the first edition and refocus the book for the second, or do a completely new book. They didn’t.

There are plenty of books on revising and editing out there already—Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King stands at the head of the class as far as I’m concerned—but Bell could be right there with them with a book that truly focused on post-draft-one tasks. He can do this, and I hope someday he will.

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