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Advice for unpublished writers: Suggested reading

Part 2 of a series first written in 2003 and updated for 2011. Although I make my living by copyediting (and designing books and websites), often a writer will approach me for services they just don’t need yet. The manuscript has to be ready for copyediting before I can take it on.

The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers
The title says it all: Chicago is the standard style guide for U.S. books. There are nifty sections on The Publishing Process (the different parts of a book and their content, rights and permissions, more) and Style and Usage (punctuation, how to handle foreign words and quotations, more). As a writer, you don’t really need to know all these fine points of style. The copyeditor will take care of this stuff. But don’t you want to make your manuscript as foolproof as possible?

Words into Type, Third Edition
Why buy WIT if you already own Chicago? While they cover much of the same material, they have a different layout and, more important, different examples. If the examples in Chicago don’t exactly match your problem, try WIT. Words into Type also contains a list of cliches, a section of words and the correct preposition to use with them, and more. A very useful book. You will need to order a used copy.
The Gregg Reference Manual
Gregg is my first resource for questions about grammar. The index is superb — no thumbing through the book trying to find the right rule. Here’s a short list of how the index handles one of writing-s most troublesome areas:

Commas — in addresses, with adjectives, with adverbs, with afterthoughts, with ampersands, with appositives, with as well and similar expressions.

There are over 50 comma index entries! And the explanations are written in plain English.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged
Words are your tools. You need a good dictionary, whether this one (the house dictionary for The Chicago Manual of Style) or another one such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, or The American Heritage Dictionary.
The Elements of Style
A simple, common-sense guide for people who don’t like a lot of rules — many writers swear by this book. The original 1918 version (which was self-published) is online.
Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
This book by Ursula K. Le Guin, a set of writing exercises used in a workshop she ran, includes a great explanation of viewpoint.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print
Easy-to-follow examples and clear explanations by Renni Browne and Dave King. I suggest reading this book after your first draft is complete and making a review pass through your draft for each issue covered.
Writing the Breakout Novel: Winning Advice from a Top Agent and His Bestselling Client
This book by Donald Maass is an excellent companion for Self-Editing for Fiction Writers; whereas Self-Editing covered the bricks and mortar of novel construction, Breakout delves into the architecture of a memorable novel. He discusses elements of plot, theme, and character that create a bestseller. Read this book while writing your first draft and again after the draft is complete.

This list includes just a few of the many excellent books about writing. You don’t need to go broke learning the art of writing: make your public library your second home.

Advice for unpublished writers

About Sandra K. Williams

Sandra K. Williams loves books, both printed and digital. Since 1996 she has worked with authors and independent publishers, editing and designing books for print. Since 1999 she has built easy-to-use, accessible websites, and she uses her HTML and CSS skills to design reader-friendly e-books.

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