If you’ve attended one of my seminars on publishing, then you’ve undoubtedly heard me yap about the three essential books every writer and aspiring author should have in their libraries.
If you haven’t attended one of my seminars (which is highly likely as I only average perhaps one or at most two per year), then let me bend your ear now and yap about the three essential books.
The foundation of any writer’s library has to be a good dictionary. My recommendation is to acquire one of the foundational dictionaries published by Oxford University Press. Follow that up with any specialized dictionaries you might need, but remember to make liberal use of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (20 volumes, 21,728 pages, not counting supplement updates) that is available at the nearest library.
My dictionary of choice is the Concise Oxford English Dictionary edited by Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, and it is never far from my elbow.
Originally published as Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford, the book originated as a compilation of rules and standards for composition and typesetting for internal use at Oxford University Press by Horace Hart, Controller of the Press.
First printed as a single broadsheet page in 1893, the rules were developed continuously until they were first published in book form in 1904. Revised volumes appeared periodically as the work gained wider use culminating in the 39th Edition published in 1983. The 39th Edition was reprinted with corrections four times with the final corrected version printed in 1989.
Two other successor volumes since 1989 have been published which purport to build on the legacy of Hart’s Rules, but my advice is to locate a used copy of the 39th Edition, 4th printing of 1989 and study it carefully, supplementing it with the other volumes published by OUP.
In an age in which every Tom, Dick and Harriet are writing and publishing their own books, the quality of typesetting and of layout and design has understandably nose-dived, principally because writers have not been sufficiently schooled or trained in what constitutes acceptable standards much less good quality. It doesn’t matter if the aim is a printed book, an eBook or both, the principles of great layout and design and of what constitutes excellence in typography remain the same. Writers today are attempting to learn – at the warp speed of the Internet – skill sets that have taken professional designers and typographers years of study and on-the-job training to master. So, if you are going to attempt to typeset your own book, you could do worse than to consult frequently with Hart’s Rules. Even if you aren’t aiming to design and typeset your own book, this volume will make for more fruitful interaction and conversations with professional designers, compositors and typographers.
As the title suggests, this concise volume is focused on presenting the essential elements and principles of what constitutes good writing style in English. From its humble beginning as a handout to freshman English classes at Princeton University, the successive editions of this book has achieved a reputation – and deservedly so – for distilling the very essence of the principles of good writing style and presenting them in an accessible and entertaining form. This book is not so much meant to be read as absorbed. Regardless of how one characterizes one’s own writing style and honestly believes it to be, there is much to be gained from ingraining the lessons of this entertaining book into one’s consciousness. The book provides a sound logical structure upon which to refine and develop one’s own writing style. In short, this is a wonderfully indispensable book.
So, there you have it, my recommendations for three essential books that every writer and aspiring author should have in his or her personal library. No doubt, there are many other books that others would suggest are just as essential, but if you begin with just these three books and end up not adding a single additional book to your library of writing resources, you would still have the core of the knowledge you need to become a successful writer and published author.