Recommended books for writers and editors

Recommended books for proofreaders and editors (and writers)At a recent meeting of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, we spent a couple of hours talking about our favourite resources: those books and websites we turn to first when we are working. Here are some of the books I would recommend to proofreaders and editors, and to writers – and the good news is you may be able to try them all out before deciding to spend your hard-earned money.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide (Oxford University Press, 2014)

New Hart’s is a handy little style guide, primarily for conventions within UK publishing. It’s thorough and straightforward, and it gives plenty of helpful examples. I used it a lot when I started out and I still have it within easy reach now. If you have a UK library card, you may be able to access New Hart’s for free (use this link and look for the PREMIUM tab).

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

CMOS is probably one of the best-known style guides. It’s a treasure trove if you are working with US English and need to know US-publishing conventions. The print copy is a beast but, fortunately, you can access the same information – in a searchable format – online (a subscription is required but there is a free trial available).

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R.L. Trask (Penguin Reference Books, 1997)

Don’t be put off by the publication date on this one – it’s still the best book on punctuation I have come across. Trask provides clear, simple explanations, and does not assume prior knowledge. If you are worried about how to use semicolons, or don’t know a hyphen from a dash, this book is for you. You can access an online version of the guide for free via the University of Sussex (thank you to Etty of Elegant Words for that tip-off!).

New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word (Oxford University Press, 2014)

This isn’t your standard dictionary – it focuses on those words and names that may cause an editor or writer difficulty. NODWE is designed with us in mind. Not sure about a spelling variation? Wondering if that term should be hyphenated? NODWE is the book you need. As with New Hart’s, it is available free online to many UK library-card holders.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. J. Butterfield (Oxford University Press, 2015)

I love Fowler’s. It is eminently sensible – there’s no nonsensical pedantry here. Its advice is easy to understand and international in scope. This respected authority on English usage is a bit of a tome, so if you’d like to get a sense of the book, a ‘pocket’ version is available alongside New Hart’s and NODWE.


For a slightly different take on some of my favourite work-related books and websites, check out my blog post on the resources I use as guides to style and usage.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_ June round-upI almost can’t believe we are halfway through the year already – where does the time go? I’m pleased that my workload has remained steady, and that I managed to find some time to enjoy the much-improved weather at the end of the month.

One of my June highlights was being asked to approve the typeset version of the review I wrote of On Editing – I’m not ashamed to say I was quite excited to see my words nearly ready for print! I think the review will feature in the July/August edition of Editing Matters.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the fantasy-romance edit I started in May. The author was delightful to work with and I hope she finds great success with her novel. I also completed the second part of the short-story collection I began in May – it was great to see the themes coming together and the realisation of the direction of the piece as a whole.

I was then on to two fiction proofreads. One a modern-day revenge thriller and the other an action thriller set during the Second World War. I followed these with the proofread of a long and complex non-fiction book on how our brains absorb visual information. It’s good to do something different every now and then, but this project reminded me how much I prefer to work on fiction.

What I read for fun

I managed one book this month: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. It has a great concept and the story rolls along nicely. It did make me think, however, about the art of using punctuation. The correct use of punctuation is, of course, important, but I think those little marks need to be wielded with style and sensitivity. For example, if the reader has to stop and re-read the sentence to make sense of what the dashes are doing, that’s a problem. If the reader (I admit this may be specific to me) is thinking about how ugly the punctuation combinations are, they aren’t absorbed in the story anymore. The punctuation should help the words flow by, should clarify and reinforce meaning, and all while being unobtrusive.

Looking ahead

Early July sees another SfEP local group meeting. We’ll be talking about our favourite books and other resources when we are working or training. I have a few go-tos (hello, newly re-branded Lexico) and it will be interesting to find out what other editors recommend.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2019

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Mini and Ella having a snooze after a walk.

Welcome to the May round-up. I had another full-on month – I’m starting to think this is the standard now and I should get used to it. I’m getting on well with Toggl, and I have found it has significantly increased my productive time.

We had a good time at Black Cat HQ, with Mini visiting for a week or so mid-May. Her dad had swanned off on holiday, again (this time to Spain). Mins is an absolute sweetheart, and Ella always loves having her here.

One of the other highlights of the month was the SfEP local group lunch meeting. It’s always an enjoyable few hours, but this was a particularly lovely meeting. We had a couple of new faces, but the atmosphere was still warm, friendly and unguarded.

What I’ve been working on

May started with the proofread of the memoir of an economist and former banker, which was straightforward enough. Alongside that, I copy-edited the first part of a varied and thoughtful collection of short stories. My second proofread of the month was a crime novel set in London and dealing with issues of sexuality and gender. And then I got stuck into the edit of an epic (in length as well as content) fantasy-romance novel. I don’t usually work on romance titles but the quality of the writing and the strength of the fantasy elements enticed me to make an exception.

What I read for fun

I mentioned in the April round-up that I would be writing my first review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine. Well, I read the book and I wrote the review. The book I tackled was On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price. I won’t spoil my review but I loved the book and I’d highly recommend it for fiction authors and editors.

The Princess Bride Black Cat Editorial Services_ May round-up(1)by William Goldman was my only fiction read this month – yet another classic I really should have read already (I have recently bought a whole load of classics to try to address this failing of mine). It is, of course, brilliant, and if you love the film you will love the book. Perhaps the most striking thing, for me, is the framing device of Goldman editing the work of the fictional author S. Morgenstern. It took me a while grasp the complexity of the whole thing – Goldman narrates as a fictionalised version of himself, weaving a story within a story. If you are thinking about using a framing device in your work, you should check out Goldman’s stunning, intricate example.

Looking ahead

I have a couple of projects to finish off for the beginning of June. I’m hoping to put aside a few days to start working through the SfEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course. I aim to do at least one training course each year to support my continuing professional development. I love working on fiction, I have heard good things about the SfEP’s course, and I had a discount voucher to use up – it seemed the obvious choice.

Five reasons NOT to choose Black Cat Editorial Services

Black Cat Editorial Services_why I'm NOT the editor for youThere are lots of proofreaders and copy-editors out there, all trying to make themselves visible and entice you to use their services. It can be hard to choose the right one for you. Will they do a good job? Will they understand what you want to achieve? Will you like them? Well, I’m going to make your life a bit easier and tell you why you should cross me off your list of editors to contact.

I’m totally laissez-faire

You’re using serial commas? Cool. You aren’t using serial commas? Also cool (unless they are needed for sense). We are using single quote marks for concepts but double quote marks for speech? No problem, as long as it’s consistent. You want to spell verbs with the -ize ending? Super, I’ll make sure they’re all like that. It’s your writing and they are your style choices, not mine.

I’ll encourage your ‘rule’ breaking

Rules, legitimate or otherwise, shouldn’t come between you and great writing. Split your infinitives for effect. Put a preposition at the end of the sentence because it reads more naturally. Use comma splices in that section of dialogue to convey your character’s anxiousness. I’ve got your back.

I’ll ask you some hard questions

Is this word appropriate in this context? Could we make this language more inclusive? Have you got permission to use these song lyrics? I’ll admit it right now: I might be a tiny bit annoying. But that’s better than alienating your audience or getting in trouble because you forgot to seek copyright permissions.

My services aren’t cheap

I’m a highly trained professional. I edit for a living. I invest in continuing professional development. I belong to one of the most respected editing organisations in the world. My time and services are in constant demand. And I have a cat who will eat only Felix As Good as it Looks.

You might have to wait a while

It’s really, really unlikely I’ll be able to start work on your 100,000-word manuscript immediately, and I definitely won’t get it back to you within a couple of days. I’m usually booked up at least two weeks in advance, so the best thing to do is get in contact as early as you can. And your project deserves time and attention – I won’t rush through it or assume it’s all fine. I’ll take my time on an edit, and I’ll do it properly.

In summary

If you want an editor to take the ‘rules’ and their favourite style guide and stamp them all over your writing, you’ll find me very disappointing. If you’d like thoughtful guidance and support, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re searching for someone who won’t flag up anything dubious buried in your manuscript, I’m not for you. If you want to work with an editor who will advocate for your potential readers and support your long-term interests, you’ve found her.

If you need editorial services that are cheap and quick, you’d best look elsewhere. If you want high-quality editing, giving your writing the time and respect it deserves, Black Cat Editorial Services is for you.