This content may contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. However, I only recommend products or services that I genuinely like and trust.
As a new proofreader, you’re not going to know the answer to every grammar, punctuation, or style issue you come across. You will need to do research and consult many different sources. To help you find the answers as quickly as possible, you’ll need some proofreading books.
It might feel hard to justify spending money on reference books at this stage because you’re not making money yet, but these resources are an investment. They’re not just useful for new proofreaders; you’ll continue to use these resources for your entire career.
Here are the best proofreading books I recommend. All of these proofreading and editing books are available on Amazon Prime with 2-day shipping if you can’t wait to get started. If you don’t already have Amazon Prime, you can grab a free 30-day trial here.
Proofreading Style Guides/Style Manuals
A style guide/manual is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and design of a piece of content. The aim of using a style guide or manual is to create consistency within a document or across multiple documents.
Which manual you choose to follow depends on the type of writing (e.g., academic, journalistic, fiction, etc.) and where your client’s audience is based (e.g., American English, British English, etc.).
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition is one of the most used style guides in North America. Whether you need to know how to treat numbers, when to italicize certain terms, how to use hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes, how to format dialogue, when to capitalize a term, or when to use an ellipsis and how to format it, the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) has the answer! You can buy a hardcover copy or sign up for the yearly online subscription.
PRO TIP: You might be able to get free access to CMOS through your library account or college.
The Associated Press Stylebook
The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) is the style guide used for news or journalistic writing. Like CMOS, the AP Stylebook will help you apply the AP’s rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and word and numeral usage.
New Oxford Style Manual
Editing Canadian English
Correct spelling is just as important as grammar and punctuation. You’ll find yourself consulting a dictionary multiple times per day. Never assume you know the correct spelling as, inevitably, you’ll find you were incorrect.
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition: My go-to dictionary for American English spelling queries. When I’m working from home, I go between using the free online website or the printed hardcover copy. You can also subscribe and get access to Merriam-Webster Unabridged for $4.95 a month.
Punctuation & Grammar Books
The Best Punctuation Book, Period
The Best Punctuation Book, Period by June Casagrande is my favorite resource for punctuation queries. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. She explains everything in a detailed but clear manner. The comma section is particularly useful.
I used Practical Grammar by Maxine Ruvinsky at the very beginning of my career as a proofreader to brush up on grammar rules. I LOVED it! Each chapter has exercises to help you apply the rules you’ve just learned. This practice helped me understand the rules better and remember them.
Another favorite grammar book, which has just been published in 2022, is Comma Sense by Ellen Feld. I love how this book brings you right back to the beginning when it comes to grammar, so you can get an excellent foundation in the parts of speech, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, etc. There are mini quizzes after each chapter, which I found useful.
If you’re looking for even more punctuation practice, check out my e-book and workbook combo, Punctuation 101. I created a 150-question quiz to help you cement your knowledge of tricky punctuation rules. Hands-on practice is the best way to learn!
Find the Errors!
Although Find the Errors! by Nancy Lobb is for students, I think it’s useful to help you brush up on the rules. It focuses on helping you find errors in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, and style.
The Copyeditor’s Handbook
If you want to add copyediting to your skill set, The Copyeditor’s Handbook and Workbook by Amy Einsohn is an excellent resource to help you fine tune your skills. It includes exercises and answer keys at the end of each chapter as well as detailed explanations. You can purchase it with a workbook as a combo or separately.
Editing Fiction at Sentence Level
Whether you’re a self-publishing author or an editor wanting to switch from non-fiction to fiction, Editing Fiction at Sentence Level by Louise Harnby is an excellent way to dip your toe into the intricacies of narrative, point of view, head-hopping, filter words, and dialogue.
If you’re looking for a grammar guide that’s a little less stuffy but still full of useful information, check out Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, Random House’s copy chief.
Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers
I recommend reading Louise Harnby’s book Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters. This book is for new entrants in the editing field and give a very detailed breakdown of what should go into your business plan to start your business the right way.
Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business
Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business gives a very detailed breakdown of how you can market your proofreading business. Perfect for newbie and experienced proofreaders and copyeditors. I found this extremely useful when I was started out, and I still refer back to it.
Work at Home
If the thought of starting a work-from-home business scares you, check out Work at Home by Caitlin Pyle. Caitlin started proofreading from home after getting brutally fired from her office job. After successfully running her business for several years, she started teaching others how to start their own proofreading businesses through her Proofread Anywhere courses.
Her book Work at Home isn’t strictly about proofreading. It’s about getting into the right mindset to start a business and overcoming the self-doubt and obstacles that stop you from being successful. And it includes a 30-day launch plan so you can start your business with a bang.
Taking This Show on the Road
If you want to work as a proofreader while you travel, but you think it’ll be impossible to maintain or grow a business, think again.
I had exactly the same fear. In 2019, I took a ten-week trip around the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, and I continued to proofread the whole time. Before I left, I had worked really hard to get some regular clients, and I was terrified that they wouldn’t stick with me when I became a little less available to them. But I went anyway because I had faith that they were happy with my work and would want to keep using me as their main proofreader.
I was right! I didn’t lose a single client while I was away. It took some compromises, like staying in and working for a few hours instead of spending the whole day sightseeing or lounging on the beach. Now I’m confident that I can maintain (and even grow!) my business from the road whenever the urge to travel comes on. I don’t feel like I need to stay in one place to be a successful proofreader.
So now, I’m sharing all my secrets in my book Taking This Show on the Road.
This 80-page PDF e-book is going to help you…
- Figure out how to start a freelance proofreading business
- Prepare for taking your business on the road
- Overcome the challenges of working while you travel
- Find balance so you meet your deadlines AND still enjoy yourself
- Stay healthy despite your nomadic lifestyle
Final Thoughts on Essential Proofreading Books
It’s not necessary to buy all of these style guides, dictionaries, and grammar books straight away. To begin with, choose the ones that cover the dialect and type of writing your ideal client uses. You can build up your resource library as time goes on (and as the money starts coming in!).
Continuous learning is a huge part of creating a successful proofreading or editing business. Language changes over time, and it’s our job to keep up with these changes.
Are there any other reference books for proofreaders that you’ve found helpful? Let us know in the comments below!