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Editing is often an invisible job. That’s why the best books for editors—on the craft of editing—are interesting for anyone learning about publishing. Authors of editing-related books are lifting the veil on the book editing process, which is pretty mysterious to a lot of people.
No matter what type of editing you want to learn about, these are the best books on editing and proofreading (and even famous editors of books!) to help you sharpen your editing skills or motivate you in the writing process.
Best Editing Books for Grammar Refreshers
1. Comma Sense by Richard Lederer and John Shore
Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation is a great foundational grammar book and will refresh your memory on sentence fragments, the different parts of speech, and the basics of grammar. You can even take mini quizzes at the end of each chapter!
2. Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style is a sharp, funny guide to all-things grammar and usage by Random House’s longtime copy chief. This book is helpful and practical and anything but stuffy.
3. Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner
Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English is entertaining and instructive. Patricia O’Conner helps answer reader’s many questions about grammar, style, and usage in a no-BS way. This is a great reference book if you’re looking for a grammar Bible and not just a style book.
Best Editing Books for Understanding the Editor Process
1. The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn
The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications is hands down my favorite editing book. This resource has everything, from in-depth descriptions of style sheets and how to make one to a breakdown of editorial roles in the publishing world. If you’re an aspiring or newbie editor, you need this book. Full stop.
2. What Editors Do by Peter Ginna
What Editors Do: The Art, Craft & Business of Book Editing is a must read for any editor. Not only does it discuss how editors acquire books but it sheds light on the editor’s role at each stage of the publishing process.
3. The Book Business by Mike Shatzkin and Robert Paris Riger
The Book Business: What Everyone Needs to Know explains how book publishing actually works and what challenges the industry faces today. If you want a holistic understanding of the entire editorial process and how each stage of publishing fits in with the rest, this will be a great resource for you.
Best Books for Growing the Author-Editor Relationship
1. The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) is incredibly insightful on so many levels. With humor and clarity, longtime manuscript editor and Chicago Manual of Style guru Carol Fisher Saller really peels back the layers of the writer and editor relationship. She offers practical advice and reflection to help garner trust and develop healthy editor habits. This is another must read.
2. The Artful Edit by Susan Bell
The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself is such a joy to read. I love when people recognize the creativity of editing. It’s true: editing is an art, and Susan Bell’s strategic tips and exercises are so valuable to editors and writers.
3. Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein
Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults covers everything from what makes a strong picture book manuscript to tackling the revision process and the query letter. Cheryl Klein was the continuity editor for the Harry Potter books, and she has so much to say about the author-editor relationship, especially in the world of children’s books.
Best Books for Proofreading
1. McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook by Laura Anderson
McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook is the best resource out there if you’re learning how to proofread books. I return to this book over and over again, along with my checklist for editing and proofreading books pdf (which you can get for free here!). In this book you will learn how to use good judgment when querying the author as well as the art of making proofreader’s marks, decoding the typesetters’ language, and how to create a style sheet for consistency.
2. The Best Punctuation Book, Period by June Casagrande
The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson is an all-in-one reference for sticky punctuation questions. Catching punctuation and typographical errors is a huge role for any proofreader, and it’s helpful for the book publishing world as well as academic writing.
3. Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies by Suzanne Gilad
Can’t go wrong with Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies! This resource really digs into how to build a lucrative career as a proofreader. It covers querying, using proofreader symbols, how to freelance, and how to balance between style and rules.
Best Books for Developmental Editing
1. Developmental Editing by Scott Norton
Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers is my go-to resource on developmental or heavy content editing. Scott Norton has a knack for communicating how to shape a narrative and find the hook—he is a master at different storytelling techniques, such as point of view, suspense, plotting, setting, et cetera.
2. Editing Fiction at Sentence Level by Louise Harnby
Editing Fiction at Sentence Level offers line-craft guidance and tips for writers to double-check their blind spots. I’ve always said if you want to get into fiction developmental editing, you need to study the craft of writing first. So while this book is a great guide for writers, it’s invaluable to editors.
3. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers really dissects story structure and character development, using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. Anyone who is writing a book or performing structural edits would benefit from his thoughts on storytelling.
Best Books on Writing
1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ve heard of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. This book is special to me personally, but it’s also so valuable for writers and editors interested in overcoming perfectionism and writer’s block, finding your voice, understanding plot, character development, dialogue, and more.
2. Writing Fiction by Gotham Writers’ Workshop
Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School is a foundational course on the elements of fiction craft—character, plot, point of view, dialogue, pacing, and more. For writers of short stories and novels, as well as developmental and content editors of fiction, this is a must read.
3. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level is the practical guidance every aspiring novelist needs. He dives into how to create subplots into the main action, how to develop well-rounded characters, maintaining narrative tension, and much more.
Best Resources for Editors
1. The Chicago Manual of Style
2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, is the preferred dictionary for many publishers in the United States. Of course, your client or author may prefer a different one. Either way, I recommend getting a physical copy as well as an online subscription.
3. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is one of the best resources to have on hand if you’re performing line-by-line edits in a work of fiction. Any time you need to flag something that has to do with character development, expression, or body language, you can find helpful examples in this resource.
Best Editing-Adjacent Books
1. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg
Max: Perkins: Editor of Genius is the best biography out there of the fiction editor of the twentieth century. While it’s not a technical editing or craft book necessarily, it’s so fascinating to follow the man who assembled America’s favorite literary gang, including Fitzgerald and Hemingway. If you’re interested in a career in editing, this book may romanticize it, but it will motivate you!
2. Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey
Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences is a fun read for any grammarian and nerdy lover of language. I never learned sentence diagramming at school growing up, and it really is a lost art. If you’re interested in actually practicing or learning sentence diagramming, copyeditor Kitty Burns Florey recommends Drawing Sentences: A Guide to Diagramming by Eugene Moutoux.
3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a hilarious and delightful book about how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and former editor Lynne Truss boldly defends proper punctuation in a way that’s funny, informative, and . . . honestly? Cool. Mixed in with the anecdotes and personal content are the rules of punctuation, spelled out for the reader in a memorable way.
Frequently Asked Questions about Editing Books
What do professional book editors use?
Professional book editors use a variety of resources, depending on the editing project and level of editing needed. In general, book editors reference a trusted style book, such as the CMOS; a house style guide or notes from the publisher or client; a trusted dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary; and a style sheet.
How much do editors make per book?
How much an editor makes per book completely depends on the length of the book, what shape it’s in, the type of book, the author’s budget, the editor’s experience, and many other factors. To determine an editing quote, I always tell editors to perform a sample edit (two to five pages).
Editors and authors should check out the editorial rates through the Editorial Freelancers Association to gauge the potential cost of an editing project.
Do book editors make good money?
Book editors can be quite successful, but the majority of book editors who make good money are also providing editing services outside of book publishing, such as technical editing, medical editing, and digital SEO editing and marketing. Some freelance book editors supplement their income in other ways, especially if they are also authors selling their own books.
Annually, most book editors make between $30,000 and $60,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released that the median annual wage for editors (in the general editing profession) was $63,350 in May 2021.
What do editors look for in a book?
In a book, editors look for areas that need improvement or clarity, including the plot, pacing, action, dialogue, characterization, and other storytelling techniques. Editors look for author intrusion and believability, marketability based on comparative titles, and stylistic consistency and correctness when it comes to grammar, usage, punctuation, and syntax.
Whether you’re looking for the best books on editing, writing, or proofreading, these craft resources will help you better understand the ins and outs of the editing process. Add them to your copyediting tool belt, along with continued education through editing certificates, associations or editor groups, and so on.