Book Review: Self-editing Fiction that sells by Lorena Goldsmith


Do you know what it’s like when someone is looking over your shoulder killing your creative energy with all the force of a gaffer-tape plaster being whipped off of a lambs’ eyeballs? I do. I have just finished reading Lorena Goldsmith’s Self-editing Fiction that sells, after abandoning it mid-way through for a very good reason.

I was delighted to rip it out of the envelope (a weighty print, with good quality white paper) and even more delighted at the formatting: it oozes white-space. People who know me well know that I am not a reader (some would argue that I’m not even a writer). I frequently thumb through a book in .3 of a second and put it back down if it has praesentatione terribilis (as everyone in Stephen Fry’s head would say). SeFts (as it will be known from here on) breaks with tradition and presents a really light read, one which is clean to the eye and convenient to dip in to when needed. “This is a book I can read!” I announced to our bemused pair of guinea pigs trying to hump each other in the living room. I can honestly say that the formatting acts as a constant reminder to be reading, writing, re-writing or editing your manuscript, rather than burying your head in yet another book thinking about editing, and not actually doing it.

I’m a busy man; and by busy I mean I stare at myself in the shiny-shiny Internet all day long in Cafés, bashing keys like a classical pianist. I realised that SeFts started to mess about with my creativity. I found myself reading over sections of text, wincing at hints of my authorial voice clashing with my characters voice, and mulling over the effectiveness of choosing first person point of view when the story I’m writing should span generations. It was at this point I wished Lorena wasn’t looking over my shoulder, scooping up all my newbie writer faux pas’ and throwing them down the stairs – hence my abandonment. Once I’d realised that the first 5/7ths of the book were actually hindering my creativity, I put the book away for a few weeks to finish my writing. On returning to it with my logical brain switched on, the pages were devoured easily and without internal conflict. Hoo-raa.

The book is built with the bricks and mortar of information, examples and exercise sections, and despite being aimed at fiction ‘that sells’ (genre fiction, to you and me), I would heartily recommend it those writing literary fiction too. Once you’re past the creativity stage of writing and you’re looking to really polish your manuscript, you could do no worse than having a copy of SeFts by your side. My local writing group seemed to receive my enthusiasm well, scribbling down the title as I waved it in front of them.

If you visit any writing section of any book shop you will find lots of titles about the art (motivation, ideas, etc.) of writing, however, to find good books on editing is rare. I have The Artful Edit by Susan Bell and have to say I was disappointed, as it seemed to take me on a long-winded love of The Great Gatsby rather than helping me edit my own. SeFts on the other hand gave me everything I needed: an industry insider presenting the most common faults and fails seen every day, which could keep your manuscript out of the slush pile.

This is a title with longevity, worthy of a purchase, and a place on the shelf next to New Harts Rules, or The Elements of Style. I won’t be loaning this one out to anyone. Sorry.


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