What are some essential books an author should have on their shelves?
Whether physical or electronic, an author needs an appropriate dictionary and style guide. And maybe one or two other books on the craft.
These are just my thoughts on the basic tools of the trade.
Dictionary. In these days of ubiquitous internet access, it might seem strange to start with a dictionary. After all, you can just google a word. And most editing programs have a built-in spell checker. For day-to-day tasks, these are perfectly fine, but you need to understand a few things.
First of all, each country will have its definitive dictionary, the ultimate authority on spellings. Even for English, these will differ from one another in subtle ways. Spell checkers are one step removed from these sources, and they don’t always catch homophones.
Second, the major dictionaries are apolitical ‘mirrors’ of word usage. Their researchers include the definitions of words as they are currently being used, and they will defer to the most commonly used definition in each case. Some words get redefined by certain groups who then wish these alternative definitions to become the norm. But it is not the dictionary’s place to promote these definitions; unless and until they become the norm in broader society, the previous definition will remain.
As an Englishman, my choice of dictionary includes the Oxford English Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, and Fowler’s Guide of English Usage. There is, obviously, a lot of overlap, but I have all three. (If you are an American, you are required by many publishers to defer to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)
Style Guide. When you are getting ready to publish, whether traditional or self-publishing, your work needs to follow specific presentation standards if you want to be taken seriously. Indeed, conforming to these standards are often a submission requirement … some publishers assume you know this and may not list it in their guidelines, but failure to adhere can result in rejection. This can be confusing given many style guides out there.
When not writing for a specific entity that has a chosen preferred style guide, I use New Hart’s Rules, the style guide of the Oxford University Press. (My copy was published as part of the New Oxford Style Manual.) I also use the Chicago Manual of Style (where it does not contradict New Hart’s Rules) as it is more extensive.
Other. There are numerous books on writing, and I have many of them; either physical or electronic. They can cover different aspects of writing and have different opinions on the matter. It is important to remember that there is no One True Way™ to write; take from these what you find useful, but do not be dictated to by them.
That being said, I do strongly recommend 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing by C. S. Lakin … part of the Writer’s Toolbox series from Ubiquitous Press. This book does not tell you how to write but explains how an editor sees your writing.
Note: The links above are to the latest editions at the time of writing, not necessarily the editions I currently own. Additionally, links should auto-converted to your local Amazon site. Also, these are not affiliate links or anything like that, I get nothing from them.