Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's on a Shelf?

Have you ever wondered what kinds of resources a writer or an editor uses? Have you been wanting to kick your blog up to the next level? If you've aspired to that lofty-sounding title of published author, I'm going to give you a peek onto my reference shelf to give you a boost along the way.

The most important book to have on any reference shelf is a good dictionary. I know, that's a let down for those of you expecting a great secret! Seriously, you'd be surprised by how many times I reach for it while I'm writing and editing. The gold standard is Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. The next most important resource I have on my shelf is Roget's International Thesaurus, Revised & Updated Sixth Edition. Just so you know, it's about the same thickness as the dictionary. Think how boring your writing would be if you used the same words over and over again. A sufficient thesaurus will expand your vocabulary and make your writing much more interesting. Another must have for a writer and an editor is a good grammar handbook. I have several, but one of the more accessible options is The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is another necessity on every writer's (and editor's) shelf.

Here is where the road divides between the author and the editor. Let's go on the author road first and take a look at those books. Both The Christian Writer's Manual of Style and Christian Writers' Market Guide (2009 edition) are indispensable for not only appropriate style guidelines in the Christian genre, but also for where to send your writings in order to get published. Both books contain helpful tips and articles for newbies as well as seasoned pros. Since I'm fairly new to writing for publishing, I've invested in a few helpful tools. I'm currently working my way through Ethel Herr's An Introduction to Christian Writing. It has not only helpful ideas, but also exercises to work through that reinforce the concepts introduced. For the Write Reason by Marybeth Whalen (of Proverbs 31 Ministries) provides a month's worth of encouraging devotionals in the form of stories of the journeys that thirty-one published, Christian authors took on their path to the printed world.

On the editor's shelf are several more style books, even though every publication usually has its own specialized style sheet. For general books outside of the academic realm, The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition is the mainstay. Newspapers and magazines tend to follow the guidelines set forth in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, otherwise known as the APA style guide. (I do not actually own this one.) Colleges tend to use the MLA Handbook. Many of the differences between these style guides are formatting and citations, so you will find that rules for things such as hyphenation are the same throughout all styles. If you're editing for academic theology, you'll need The SBL Handbook of Style as it pertains especially to quoting and using ancient (biblical) texts.

There you have it: the main reference books I use to edit and to write. Oops, I almost forgot the most important book: The Bible. While I'm not trying to toot my own horn, I will list my credits here just so you know I've got a few of them. I write about once a month for Heart of the Matter Online, a wonderful resource for Christian homeschooling parents. I've had a few articles show up in Currclick's weekly newsletter, and I write the bi-weekly newsletter for Codex Publishing. As far as editing goes, I'm a professional, freelance editor, and I mostly edit books for publishers, although I have edited some other projects. Before you go putting me on a pedestal, just let me mention that I also have an email box full of rejection letters from magazine editors. I have definitely NOT arrived yet (where ever there may be!), and am still a sojourner on the path to being a published author. Please let me know if you've found this list helpful and what steps you're taking on your journey towards getting your writing published.