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Posted Friday, April 15, 2011, at 8:33 AM

My bookshelves hold a wide assortment of reference books, from several different style manuals to ancient dictionaries and thesauri. As for the latter, even though I keep the print versions (probably for nostalgia's sake) it's just so much easier to go to Dictionary.com, or to right-click on my mouse for a list of synonyms.

One of my favorite style manuals is "Strunk & White's Elements of Style." This handy little book has been around for decades. It has such helpful chapters as "Elementary Rules of Usage," and "Words and Expressions Commonly Misused."

A side note here: Recently I noticed that the newer version of Strunk & White doesn't list "irregardless" as a word commonly misused, while my old version does. Though I'd always been taught that "irregardless" is not a word, apparently it's becoming acceptable through frequent use. This is what Grammar Girl has to say about it:


There are other, bigger style manuals, but Strunk & White is a good place to start.

The Associated Press Stylebook is the source to use if you're interested in writing for newspapers or news magazines.

Then there's "The Chicago Manual of Style," which is a wealth of information, but at nearly a thousand pages the print version could cause a hernia just to pick up. An online version is available for a yearly subscription fee, but it's so convoluted that I find it frustrating to navigate. It's primarily for book authors, so if you have the patience to shovel your way through it, it can be well worth the effort.

And for all of you writers out there, the king of reference books--the bible--is "The Writer's Market," which is updated yearly and lists book publishers, small presses, magazines (by category) literary agents, and even seminars and contests. Once you're serious about sending your work out in the hope of publication, this book will be invaluable. It's available in hardcopy as well as online (for a paid subscription) at www.writersmarket.com. Last time I looked, the Spencer Library had the 2007 version, which, though outdated, is still full of useful information until you're ready to buy your own copy.

"Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators." William Saroyan

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Thank You for this information! I have found the 2011 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market to be very helpful. (Jean suggested I purchase this book.) Although a bit overwhelming at first, I have now made my way through it. I have learned a vast amount of information that gives me a much better understanding of the entire process. Thanks again Jean!

-- Posted by lesliemeans on Sat, Apr 16, 2011, at 9:13 AM

I pick up a Writer's Market every even year and it is quite helpful. I also have more specific versions -- Screenwriters and Playwrights Market and Fiction Writers Market.

Other books I frequently use are "Write is a Verb," (which I highly recommend for motivation and "finding the time to write"); "Naked Playwriting," (which is not as racy as it sounds -- it works for other genres too as far as building memorable characters and laying it all on the line; one of my playwright friends says a play is like puking your whole life out on stage).

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Mon, Apr 18, 2011, at 6:47 AM

The English language seems to be constantly evolving and I don't always agree with the changes, such as "irregardless." To me, it's still not right. Another example is the past tense of "sneak" which I learned was "sneaked." Almost everyone now says "snuck" - not good! - and now even it's in the dictionary.

-- Posted by ggilmore on Mon, Apr 18, 2011, at 1:25 PM

Its not a reference book exactly but a writing book I like is "Bird by Bird' by Anne Lammot. Its about finding your passion.

-- Posted by DHarris on Thu, Apr 21, 2011, at 6:06 PM

Another helpful and interesting book is Stephen King's "On Writing." Part memoir and part nuts-and-bolts tutorial on how to be a better writer, I get it out and re-read it every couple of years. And I learn something new each time.

-- Posted by JTennant on Thu, Apr 21, 2011, at 8:34 PM

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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