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More Reference Books for Writers & Editors

December 8, 2012 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified December 14, 2012

I keep links to a few of my favorite reference books in the left sidebar here at The Editor’s Blog (and you can read why I recommend these particular books in this article ). But I’d like to recommend a couple more, especially as we celebrate a time of gift giving. This short list includes a couple of oldies, but they’re also definitely goodies.

Perhaps a writer or editor of your acquaintance could use something new this year, something useful for his or her career or hobby.

Perhaps you’re looking to treat yourself.

I hope you’ll find these beneficial. They’re listed in no particular order or rank. (Book images link to Amazon.)


The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing (1992)

The editors of Writer’s Digest put this together back in 1992. But most of the info is still relevant. Writer’s Digest gathered articles written earlier by writers for their magazine and put the results into a book. The bad news is that the book is apparently out of print. But you should be able to find a used copy.

Pros: A wide range of topics in short, easily digestible chapters.

Note: My copy of the book matches the image shown on the link, though at Amazon, the book matching that image lists a publishing date of 1998. Amazon does list another version of the book with a publishing date that matches mine (1992), but with a different cover. I mention these details because I’m familiar with only the contents of the 1992 version.


Get That Novel Written (from Initial Idea to Final Edit) by Donna Levin (1996)

I don’t own a copy of this one, not yet. But I’ll probably buy one for myself. I recently picked it up from the library. Much of the advice sounds just like mine, delivered in the way I’d say it.

Pros: Levin provides definitions and examples as well as exercises for practice. The style is easy, conversational. A good book for reminders of what you might already know. Also good for a new novelist.



The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale (1986)

Easy to use and filled with lots and lots of words. You can get lost in this one. (I have the 1978 edition.)

Cons: The print style and size may be hard to read for some readers.

Whether you choose this book or something such as Roget’s International Thesaurus, do invest in a synonym book if you’re serious about writing or editing. Internet sources don’t always give you enough options, and you won’t always be working where you have Internet access.



Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: Sixth Edition (2007)

If you can’t afford the full Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—and who can?—invest in this two-volume version. It’s my go-to dictionary if I can’t find what I need in any of my desk dictionaries. It’s rather large and a bit heavy, but it’s an invaluable resource. It also comes with a CD.

Pros and Cons: This one’s pricey, but if you’re going to indulge or invest, it’s the perfect investment masquerading as an indulgence.


American Dictionary of the English Language (1828 Facsimile Edition)

This is Noah Webster’s version of a dictionary. The first American dictionary, it makes reference to literature and the Bible in its definitions.

Not a dictionary you’d want to limit yourself to today, but a good resource to see what writers and students of two centuries ago had access to as a reference.

A man I worked with kept a copy in his office. And yes, I borrowed it more than once.



The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative Newspaper (2002)

This one is on my wish list. I don’t have it, haven’t peeked into it, but can’t imagine it wouldn’t be useful.

I’d read this one always remembering that the New York Times folks write newspaper articles and not novels; some of the rules are different. The link here is for the paperback. Amazon apparently doesn’t carry the hardback, though that doesn’t mean you can’t get it anywhere else.



And one more. This one is already listed in the sidebar and in my other list of recommended reference books, but I don’t mind reminding you again that if you’re writing or editing for a career, you should own this book. Or at least subscribe to their online service.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (2010)

It’s full of great rules and it’s easy to use. I can’t recommend CMOS enough. You will learn rules you didn’t know. And even if you choose to not follow their recommendations, you’ll at least be aware of them.

Use this one to look up rules you don’t know or read a chapter for fun. Yeah, fun. We love our words, don’t we? Love them and love putting them to work for us.



Disclaimer: I am an Amazon associate, so if you click through from my links and buy something, I do receive a fee.



Tags: ,     Posted in: For Editors, Recommendations

6 Responses to “More Reference Books for Writers & Editors”

  1. For all the Australian readers :

    The ‘Macquarie Dictionary online’ is fantastic, although it does have a small joining fee. You can buy a hard copy of the dictionary, but the book is huge. You’ll find every kind of colloquialism /common usage word linked to the Australian language, plus the English spelling of words.

    The ‘Style manual For author’s editors and printers: Sixth Edition’, is the recognised industry standard editing manual for Australia.

    Australia uses an English style of punctuation, spelling and grammar. I recently read a book by an American author who published with Allen and Unwin ‘-which is Australia based.
    The spelling etc used an English edit -not an American one.

  2. Iola says:

    I have the 3rd edition (1973) of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and one of the things I most like about it is the information on the date that words were first used – great for editing historical novels. (Incidentally, I picked this up at a second-hand book sale for about $10 – great find!)

    I supplement the SOED with the Oxford Dictionary of English (2010), and am considering whether or not I need the SOED 6th edition as well. I looked at the 5th edition in my local library, but that didn’t have any of the etymological information. Does the 6th edition? Because without it, I may as well stick with what I have.

  3. Julie, thanks for the tips. The Macquarie looks like a great resource, and you can get gift subscriptions to the online version. The dictionary was first published in 1981, apparently the first Australian national dictionary.

    I love the varieties of “English,” the way we approach words and punctuation a bit differently from country to country. I know that publishers can adapt these elements based on the audience. That’s something to consider for those writers contemplating self-publishing—which spellings and punctuation will you go with, those you’re familiar with or those used by the countries of your target audience? Will you offer different options? Is that even necessary? Can we expect readers to easily adapt?

    Thanks for giving us something to think about.

  4. Lola, keep your 3rd edition for the etymology info—it’s not in the 6th edition. I’d love a good etymology dictionary and for the same reason you mentioned—knowing whether or not words were in use in a particular time period. I use the Online Etymology Dictionary for quick look-ups, but I’d like another source as well.

    I’m glad you mentioned you’ve also got a current dictionary. I’ll take this time to say to all writers and editors and students that if your dictionary is getting old, it’s time for a new one. If it’s got something no other dictionary has, such as what Lola has in Shorter’s 3rd edition, keep it. But still use a new dictionary to keep up with new words. You don’t need a new dictionary every year, but if yours is 10 or more years old, consider something new.

    Thanks for the info on the 3rd edition, Lola.