20 Best Books on Writing and Editing

Since I started freelancing, books on writing and editing have literally become my bread and butter. When you’re new to any craft, there’s generally a bit of floundering (or overconfidence resulting from ignorance) involved. I’m currently working on a post about my first six months of official freelancing, but one thing is sure: I’ve grown a lot.

In the beginning, I read interviews with other freelance editors such as Rayo and Joy, and watched YouTube videos from others, like Mollie. I also took a couple of online courses, but what has made the most significant difference in my writing and editing has been reading books about both subjects.

Lately, I’ve been receiving more questions from budding editors and writers looking to improve their craft, so I decided to share a few of the books that have helped so far. I’m also sharing a few others that I have yet to read, but will be exploring soon.


On Writing Well

Perfect for: Writers especially interested in non-fiction.

Whether you write for work, create blog posts, news articles or write research papers, this book will help. It is a perfect beginner’s guide covering everything from writing a good lead, developing your own writing style, and understanding the right way to use semi-colons. Author William Zinsser covers writing memoir, humor, sports, business, and even science content. All his advice is immensely practical and his book is a breeze to read.

Still Writing

Perfect for: The budding fiction or non-fiction writer trying to make sense of the crazy process of writing.

This is one of the first books I ever read about writing. Although I read it close to four years ago, I still remember how wise the advice in this book is. Through a blend of deeply personal stories about what formed her as a writer, tales from other authors, and a searching look at her own creative process, Shapiro offers her gift to writers everywhere: an elegant guide of hard-won wisdom and advice for staying the course. “The writer’s life requires courage, patience, empathy, openness. It requires the ability to be alone with oneself and gentle with oneself.

On Writing

Perfect for: Writers curious about the BTS (behind-the-scenes) of Stephen King’s writing life.

This one I’m yet to read. However, according to the synopsis, “This superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery.”

Bird by Bird

Perfect for: Anyone vaguely interested in writing fiction or non-fiction.

In this book, author Anne Lamont shares brilliant insights about writing and many funny moments littered through this book. I loved it and learned from it. It’s basically a “step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?”” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.”

Reading Like a Writer

Perfect for: Anyone who wants to understand the mechanics of good writing.

I started this one last year, but had to stop when life got busy. It’s a very slow process of deconstructing great prose to understand how to emulate good writing. Author Francine Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov—and discovers why their work has endured.  She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

The Art of Memoir

Perfect for: Future memoirists.

This one is high on my TBR. The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

What Editors Do

Perfect for: Rookie editors trying to understand how editing and publishing work.

This one has been highly recommended so many times. I can’t wait to get to it. In What Editors Do, Peter Ginna gathers essays from twenty-seven leading figures in book publishing about their work. Representing both large houses and small, and encompassing trade, textbook, academic, and children’s publishing, the contributors make the case for why editing remains a vital function to writers—and readers—everywhere.

Ironically for an industry built on words, there has been a scarcity of written guidance on how to actually approach the work of editing. This book will serve as a compendium of professional advice and will be a resource both for those entering the profession (or already in it) and for those outside publishing who seek an understanding of it. It sheds light on how editors acquire books, what constitutes a strong author-editor relationship, and the editor’s vital role at each stage of the publishing process—a role that extends far beyond marking up the author’s text.

The Emotion Thesaurus

Perfect for: Writers struggling with showing emotion instead of telling.

This book may be the most genius thing I’ve ever encountered. Many fiction writers struggle to show readers their characters emotions and this book is essentially a thesaurus, but for emotions. It details the internal and external responses to a variety of emotions, from adoration to worry. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, and is designed to be a jump-off point to help writers brainstorm better ways of portraying emotion. But I’ve used it in helping my fiction writers, and would wholeheartedly recommend for writers and editors alike. (Shout out to Mollie for this recommendation!)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Perfect for: Writers and editors seeking to up their game.

This book is a gem. I’m only halfway through, but it helps writers improve their showing skills, tighten their work, refine characterization, and more. There are even exercises and answers to the exercises included in this one! Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.

Second Sight

Perfect for: Writers and editors of children’s books.

This is hands down the best book I’ve read about writing and editing children’s books, and I’ll forever be indebted to the author, Cheryl Klein. Her book touches even on the publishing business and the kinds of books and characters that publishing houses are looking for. She even discusses how to craft a query letter to publishing houses and my favorite thing is the generous amount of examples Klein uses in her book. If you’re interested in writing a children’s book, I’d suggest starting here.

The Copyeditors Handbook

Perfect for: Copyeditors of non-fiction especially.

I’m waiting for the most recent edition of this book to be released in May and then I’ll be buying a hard copy. I read half on Scribd, but it’s definitely one to purchase if you plan to work as a copyeditor. “The Copyeditor’s Handbook is a lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft. This book may be used for self-instruction or as a textbook in copyediting classes. The exercises are accompanied by answer keys and detailed line-by-line explanations.”

The Chicago Manual of Style

(aka the editor’s Bible)

I’ve been using the CMOS online (there’s a subscription fee) and while I enjoy the online version, I recently purchased the (hefty) hard copy because I want to read allll the words. It’s basically a grammar and style guide and I love it.

“This seventeenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style has been prepared with an eye toward how we find, create, and cite information that readers are as likely to access from their pockets as from a bookshelf. It offers updated guidelines on electronic workflows and publication formats, tools for PDF annotation and citation management, web accessibility standards, and effective use of metadata, abstracts, and keywords. It recognizes the needs of those who are self-publishing or following open access or Creative Commons publishing models.”

Developmental Editing

Perfect for: Developmental editors, newbies interested in the field, and writers in need of developmental edits.

Still on my TBR and highly recommended by Kendra of Reading Women, “Developmental Editing includes detailed case studies featuring a variety of nonfiction books—election-year polemic, popular science, memoir, travel guide—and authors ranging from first-timer to veteran, journalist to scholar. Handy sidebars offer advice on how to become a developmental editor, create effective illustration programs, and adapt sophisticated fiction techniques (such as point of view, suspense, plotting, character, and setting) to nonfiction writing.

Norton’s book also provides freelance copyeditors with a way to earn higher fees while introducing more creativity into their work lives. It gives acquisitions, marketing, and production staff a vocabulary for diagnosing a manuscript’s flaws and techniques for transforming it into a bestseller. And perhaps most importantly, Developmental Editing equips authors with the concrete tools they need to reach their audiences.”

The Elements of Style

Perfect for: Individuals needing a quick brush-up on grammar and style.

Although, I’m still in the middle of it, I love this little book of writing tips. This style manual offers practical advice on improving writing skills. Throughout, the emphasis is on promoting a plain English style. This little book can help you communicate more effectively by showing you how to enliven your sentences.

Writing Down the Bones

Perfect for: Writers open to a spiritual twist.

While I’m not sure this one is for me, it’s been widely raved about and I thought it worth including. For more than thirty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice—”it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind.

Writer for Hire

Perfect for: Freelance writers trying to make sense of freelancing.

This one is already in my Scribd queue! I’ve heard many good things and can’t wait to get to it. Writer for Hire is just the wisdom full- and part-time freelancers need. Author Kelly James-Enger details:

  • 101 secrets to success, organized into five overarching strategies. You’ll be able to implement what you learn immediately.
  • Invaluable advice on managing deadlines, querying effectively, working with clients, handling taxes, invoices, and more.
  • Strategies for getting more writing gigs, including networking (in-person and online), establishing yourself as an expert, working more efficiently under tight deadlines, and handling rejection with confidence

The Subversive Editor

Perfect for: Editors trying to improve relationships with writers.

Since I’ve started editing, I’ve worked to maintain open communication with my writers and always remind them that I’m on their side. So this book has come in handy. I’m currently flying through it and finding the advice super practical. “In this second edition, Saller adds new chapters, on the dangers of allegiance to outdated grammar and style rules and on ways to stay current in language and technology. She expands her advice for writers on formatting manuscripts for publication, on self-editing, and on how not to be “difficult.” Saller’s own gaffes provide firsthand (and sometimes humorous) examples of exactly what not to do. The revised content reflects today’s publishing practices while retaining the self-deprecating tone and sharp humor that helped make the first edition so popular. Saller maintains that through carefulness, transparency, and flexibility, editors can build trust and cooperation with writers.

The Subversive Copy Editor brings a refreshingly levelheaded approach to the classic battle between writers and editors. This sage advice will prove useful and entertaining to anyone charged with the sometimes perilous task of improving the writing of others.”

The Writing Life

Perfect for: Writers working to hone their craft.

This book has been hailed as an extremely helpful guide for writers needing to improve their craft. It’s also currently in my Scribd queue.

The Artful Edit

Perfect for: Authors and editors learning the ins and outs of editing.

The Artful Edit explores the many-faceted and often misunderstood—or simply overlooked—art of editing. The book brims with examples, quotes, and case studies, including an illuminating discussion of Max Perkins’s editorial collaboration with F. Scott Fitzgerald on The Great Gatsby. Susan Bell, a veteran book editor, also offers strategic tips and exercises for self-editing and a series of remarkable interviews, taking us into the studios of successful authors such as Michael Ondaatje and Ann Patchett to learn from their various approaches to revision. Much more than a manual, The Artful Edit inspires readers to think about both the discipline and the creativity of editing and how it can enhance their work. In the computer age of lightning-quick composition, this book reminds readers that editing is not simply a spell-check.

The Editor’s Companion

Perfect for: Editors who want to hone their skills.

The Editor’s Companion is an invaluable guide to honing your editing skills. You’ll learn about editing for:

  • CONTENT: Analyze and develop writing that is appealing and appropriate for the intended audience.
  • FOCUS: Ensure strong beginnings and satisfying endings, and stick with one subject at a time.
  • PRECISE LANGUAGE: Choose the right words, the right voice, and the right tense for every piece.
  • GRAMMAR: Recognize common mistakes in punctuation, parts of speech, and sentence structure–and learn how to avoid them.

You’ll also find valuable editing resources and checklists, advice on editorial relationships and workflow, and real-life samples of editing with explanations of what was changed and why.


In the end, most people prefer writing to editing or editing to writing; you need not do both. For either, however, remember that while books are great for learning, nothing helps as much as practice does. So keep practicing your writing and editing skills. There’s always room for improvement!

If all else fails, I’m more than happy to be your editor, whether you run a website, business, or are working on a manuscript! You can view my services here.

Which of these books have you read? Which books on writing and editing would you recommend? Let me know!

-Afoma

 

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10 thoughts on “20 Best Books on Writing and Editing

  1. Hi Afoma. Thanks so much for this list. I have been reading your blog for years but this is my first time commenting. I always procrastinate till forever. I am currently looking to transition into a freelance writing career and this list truly helps. I already found some from your list in my personal research and will definitely add the others. Thanks for all you do and I will always remain one of your avid readers. Take care.

    1. Hi Ese! Aww I’m so glad to see a comment from you 🥰 I’m glad I could help! I’d love to hear which ones you find most helpful! Please let me know ❤️ And all the best with freelancing!

  2. This is a very helpful post, so thank you for this list. As a blogger, I’ve been trying to get better with my writing. I think I’ve heard of “the writing life” from someone else before, so I will be checking that out. One of my goals this year is to hone my writing skill, so this is tremendously helpful.

    1. Hi! I’m so glad I could help. Please let me know if it helps! I think bloggers can underestimate the value of good writing, so I’m glad you’re trying to hone your skills 🙂 Thank you for reading.

    1. Hey Emete! Thanks so much for reading! I purchase books on Amazon or read or Scribd. You can get two months free on Scribd, if you want, using this link https://www.scribd.com/gi/6q37dw Writers do so much; it’s always great to support their work by purchasing 🙂

  3. Hello there,
    Hearing, seeing and reading you for the first time – am glad I found your blog! Thanks for this wonderful list. I am a graphic artist/academic who is managing an inward writer that is screaming to break out…I see one or two titles that will definitely help settle this conflict. Great meeting you

    1. Hi Kahnge! So glad to have you here. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 All the best with writing! You may also enjoy some of my freelancer interviews under the FOR FREELANCERS tab, as they share some great advice and resources.

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