10 essential books for writers and editors.

10 books for writers and editors

I’ve got a bit of a thing about reference books. I sort of collect them. I never usually manage to read them from cover to cover (so I’d recommend reading some more in-depth reviews if you’re thinking about buying any of these), but they’re great for dipping in and out of for information.

Here are 10 books I’ve found really useful. Topics span copywriting, digital copywriting, idea generation, editing, content marketing, social media, and blogging (and, to a lesser degree, SEO), and I’d highly recommend all of them*.

* I’ve only just started two of the books, as detailed below, but I’d already rate them as essential reading. Here’s hoping they don’t take a nose-dive after the first few chapters…

10 essential book for writers and editors, from the bottom up:

1. The Yahoo! Style Guide – The Ultimate Sourcebook For Writing, Editing, And Creating Content For The Digital World

Yes – the title’s very long. But the book is worth it. Having started out in print and moved into digital publishing relatively recently, I now work across both, which means I need to keep reminding myself of the differences between writing for offline and online platforms. This book is perfect for that – it’s essentially a guide to writing for an online audience and how best to tailor your copy. It also touches on the basics of HTML and XHTML coding and Search Engine Optimisation (although it really is just the basics), as well as internet law (although this is all tailored to US law). It’s easy to read and I’d definitely say essential reading for anyone working in digital copywriting or editing.

2. Copywriting – Successful Writing For Design, Advertising And Marketing – Mark Shaw

If you’re not clear on the difference between a writer and a copywriter, this is the book for you. It explains how to work as a copywriter – when the whole point of your writing is to move the reader to some sort of action (usually you want them to buy something) – with examples from brands like Pret and Innocent. It shows how it’s possible to be creative within the confines of a client brief, and it looks nice, which is always a bonus.

3. WordPress For Business Bloggers – Paul Thewlis

This is one of the rare books I have read from cover to cover, just before I began editing our company blogs. If you’re starting out in business blogging in WordPress this will give you a good basic grounding in the essentials – from the difference between categories and tags to the basics of SEO (my copy was published in 2008, though, so Google has moved the goalposts when it comes to the bulk of this info – the link above is to the 2011 edition, but even that will be out of date in places). Nevertheless, it’s a great basic guide to get you started.

4. Guardian Style – David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon

This isn’t a book I use often, but every writer needs something to look to when it comes to issues of style, and this is the one for me. It works brilliantly as a back-up to our in-house style guide at work, for those times when only the Guardian has the answer.

5. The Associated Press Stylebook 2013

Another one for dipping in and out of occasionally. The first two-thirds of the book are dedicated to style – from air bag (two words) to zip line (no hyphen). The final third includes some really useful social media guidelines, a separate style guide for food, and a good basic guide to media law.

6. Contagious – Jonah Berger

I bought this on the recommendation of a speaker at BrightonSEO and am only halfway through, so I won’t wax lyrical about it just yet. That said, the few chapters I’ve read have been an interesting study into word of mouth advertising, or what makes people talk about stuff. I’m interested to see if the second half of the book is as easy to read as the first.

7. Made To Stick – Chip and Dan Heath

I was loving this book – about how to make your ideas and messages memorable (or ‘sticky’) to your audience – and then I dropped it in the bath. The half I did read was brilliantly entertaining and really engaging – this is a must-read guide for anyone who needs to get important messages across in their job (teachers, trainers, managers). The second half is soggy and blurry, but that’s my own fault for reading it in the bath.

8. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be – Paul Arden

I love this little book of creative inspiration from advertising bigwig Paul Arden – former creative director of Saatchi and Saatchi. It’s made up of anecdotes, images and short stories from Arden’s advertising days and offers advice on everything from getting out of a creative rut to seeing the positive in getting fired (yes, really). There are lots of headlines in shouty caps along the lines of ‘DON’T LOOK FOR THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY. THE ONE YOU HAVE IN HAND IS THE OPPORTUNITY’ and ‘I WANT TO BE AS FAMOUS AS PERSIL AUTOMATIC’ (Victoria Beckham’s words as a teenager on her ambition to become a household name). Somehow it manages to be self-affirming without tipping over into self-help.

9. A Technique For Producing Ideas – Young

Another pocket-sized book – just 48 pages long – this one is a classic that’s stood the test of time since it was first printed in 1965. Young’s 5-step plan to unleashing your inner creativity starts with one simple instruction: absorb and take note of everything you learn and discover day-to-day in something like a notebook or scrapbook. Only when your mind is open and ‘listening’ – and you give yourself some space to let ideas form naturally – will you come up with anything new. In essence, don’t expect to formulate a groundbreaking new idea if you’re too focussed on the task (or limited by time) to be aware of what’s going on in the world around you, because you never know where the spark will come from. Permission to daydream, basically.

10. Ladybird Spelling and Grammar

Everyone assumes I’m some sort of expert on spelling and grammar because of my job. The truth is, I can (usually) spot bad grammar and edit it. I can’t usually tell you why it’s bad grammar, because I’m rubbish at remembering the proper terminology (I don’t remember ever being taught it at school, but I may have been daydreaming at the time). This book is written for school-age kids, so you don’t get any of the waffle you find in weightier tomes on the subject (and believe me, I’ve got plenty of those). In a nutshell, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

I’ve linked to Amazon UK for all the titles above, purely because I find the customer reviews on the site really useful. They are – of course – available to buy elsewhere.

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