Books on Editing
Whether you’ve committed to fully self-publishing your book, you’re looking to save money on an editor, or you just want to send the best version you can to your editor; self-editing is a hurdle that most writers will face at some stage of their writing process.
Editing your own prose can be soul-crushing work: cutting lines, tearing apart paragraphs and furiously rewriting sentences to the point where they’re unrecognizable – there’s a reason editors are hated as much as they’re loved.
If you’re striking out and going it alone, a little help is much appreciated. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of eight editing and writing-style books to help you through the your editing process.
The books on the list are for all stages of the editing process – from shaping your style, right down to the nitty-gritty grammatical detail, which is usually done close to the end. Knowing that your cupboard is probably already packed full of books, we’ve tried to keep the list light on your shelves, and light on your wallet.
Editing for Style
Style is something that is personal, that you have to create yourself – but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a bit of help developing it, nor that you can’t go over your already finished working with a fine-toothed styling comb.
1. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, is the pocket sized style classic for any type of writing. Now in its fourth edition with a foreword by Roger Angell, this guide imparts advice that will never date. You hardly need to read any further because this timeless reference guide will be enough for most of your editing needs.
2. The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron packs the fiery punch that Strunk and White’s manual lacks. This is a passionate ode to creative expression and impacts your actual writing by changing the way you write – perfect for getting past creative or productive blocks, or developing new habits of creativity. Loved by many, and its iconic journaling process (the morning pages) will set free your creativity and confidence.
Editing for Readability
Paragraph by paragraph, nothing is more important than readability, and it is one of the main aims of the editing process. When self-editing, the material is so known to you the author that readability is one of the hardest things to look for. Your content must be readable whatever the style of your chosen field – not always an easy balance. Editing apps are very popular (and we love them), but some writers prefer to stick with the written word.
3. Self-Editing For Fiction Writers: How To Edit Yourself Into Print, the second edition, by Renni Browne and Dave King is an invaluable asset for any writer, fiction or non-fiction. As two authors with years of experience as professional and freelance editors, Browne and King teach writers how to think like editors when evaluating their own work. Not so much of an editing manual as a training guide for fiction writers, the elements of writing, and the professional examples used put this book high on our recommended reading list for storytellers in both the fiction and the non-fiction space.
4. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition by the American Psychology Association, our priciest suggestion and a little out of the ordinary; it offers instruction on editing publications that relate to behavioural sciences (a topic that many how-to books will touch on). It covers guidelines on the organization of scientific manuscripts, how to reduce bias while expressing ideas, the correct rendering of illustrations, scientific abbreviations, measurements and findings. Although more expensive than most on this list, for those writing within the behavioural sciences field – or even treading anywhere near it – this book is a must.
Editing for Grammar
What is it that makes your sentence a sentence? What is your subject or is it a who? When is it which and why is it that? When should you dash and how should you semicolon and why are they both so misunderstood? It’s true that the great writer writes outside the rules of conventional grammar, but first they must understand it.
5. Write Right!: A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style, by Jan Venolia is a compact, humorous, and cut-to-the-chase style guide to grammar. It’s small enough to carry around with you, and entertaining enough to read in any waiting room or line. You can’t ask for much more from a grammar book. Concise and easy to read, with regular updates, this is a detail-driven writer’s dream.
6. Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Grammar Errors, by Jenny Baranick, is another grammar book that, remarkably, makes grammar fun. The examples she uses are scattered with references to film stars, and it’s perfect for those who learn with illustrations and unforgettable stories.
Editing for Better Writing
If you become lost in the minutiae of proof-reading and you want to go back to the single best guide to writing that you can have in your hand, on your shelf and at your desk to flip through at any time during the self-editing process, then these two are the books for you. They may not be reference points for every editing problem that you come across, but they’re a good place to start, to refer to when you want to improve your writing and, ultimately, to help you reduce the self-editing you have to do in the first place.
7. The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal is a pocket-sized guide to penning prose for all occasions. There are five main sections in the book, which cover structure, style, readability, grammar and the appendices. From writing an email to editing a book, this manual will help you write with precision and clarity, while guiding you through the editing process when it comes to your structure and grammar. The before and after examples will particularly appeal to active learners who like to practice and critique case studies.
8. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser is an all-encompassing tome that offers you the principles of writing on almost any topic. This is not a page-by-page reference guide for writing, rather, a persuasive collection of essays with tips and tricks littered throughout. However, if you want to find out what could go wrong with your writing before you make too many mistakes, it’s a good place to start.
And one final reminder for all self-editors is that, at the end if the day, it’s your book, and your choice of style and language. Correct errors, but allow your words to flow the way you want them to.