I love a good piece of fiction. But if you were to scan my bookcase (well, “book pile” since I recently moved and haven’t shelved them yet), you’d see an overwhelming majority of titles on writing, branding, and productivity.
The obsession dates back to adolescence. I realized early on that 1) if I sharpened my natural writing skills, I could make a career out of it; 2) if I told my story my way, it would be harder for others to push me even further outside the margins; 3) if I found ways to save time here and there, it would make meeting deadlines less stressful.
And while I’m always adding to my collection, there are a handful of books that have earned the distinction of recommended reading. I’ve rounded them up below and organized them into three categories: Writing/Editing, Productivity/Leadership, and Business/Branding.
Some are oldies but goodies, others have only been around a couple of months, but all of them have made me a better writer, marketer, businessman, and professional. I’m certain they’ll do the same for you too.
1) The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Often called the “writer’s bible,” I received this reference book from a boss at one of my college intermships. Inside she wrote, “Keep this always. These guys know what they’re doing.” And she was right. A must-have for every wordsmith, whether you’re a novice or veteran.
2) Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style by Arthur Plotnik
This was a godsend as I was finding and refining my writing voice. You’ll find tons of tips on how to grab attention with your text while staying true to the journalistic standards that have withstood the test of time.
3) The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly
The “Writing To Sell” chapter alone has supported me in writing stronger, tighter, and brighter sales copy for campaigns, launches, and collaborations. In the copywriting world, Bob Bly is the real MVP.
I keep this reference tool handy when I need to inject my copy with precision, energy, and persuasion.
Just in case the 6,000 words in the book above aren’t enough.
This book outlines the “marks of good writing”—good content, focus, precise language, and good grammar—then follows up with in-depth guidance on how to edit for each. I especially love the “Samples of Editing” section, which includes real-life editing examples with notes about what the author changed and why.
7) How To Write Short: Word Craft For Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark
I consider Roy my writing godfather, a title he’s earned for making it plain on how to write for what he calls the “nanosecond news cycle.”
8) Nicely Said: Writing For The Web With Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
Written with punch, humor, and clarity, I consider this a must-have for anyone who assigns, writes, edits, or approves text exclusively for online audiences.
9) The Art of Styling Sentences by Ann Longknife, Ph.D. and K.D. Sullivan
When you write all day everyday, it’s easy for your sentences to turn stale. If you can relate, here’s an antidote: a jam-packed reference tool on the fundamentals of sentence structures, 20 sentence patterns you can tweak to fit your message, and tips on writing with rhythm and style.
Freelancers, three words: Buy this now. And here’s three more: Thank me later.
As a creative, you’re only as good as your last idea. This book helps you create systems and processes to maintain a steady stream of next-level concepts to keep your juices flowing.
Fashion writing is harder than you think. Try explaining the difference between kick, accordion, and knife pleats without repeating a word (which was taboo when I worked at Lucky!). My saving grace? This detailed volume of illustrations with clear, concise definitions.
13) How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by John C. Maxwell
From cultivating a big-picture mentality and unleashing your creativity to questioning groupthink and the status quo, this book helped me check into my thoughts to see how they affected my actions.
14) How Successful People Lead: Taking Your Influence To The Next Level by John C. Maxwell
Leadership isn’t an abstract whim—it’s an actionable way of being. Here, you’ll find useful advice on how to get things done, earn people’s trust, and develop long-lasting relationships with your team.
15) How Successful People Win: Turn Every Setback into a Step Forward by John C. Maxwell
The difference between the people who are in the game and those sitting on the sidelines is that the latter group decided to give up when the going got tough. When I’m against the wall, I turn to this gem to center myself before going back for another round.
16) Unsubscribe: How To Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, And Get Real Work Done by Jocelyn K. Glei
Before my best friend sent me this book, I was constantly on a race to nowhere—and by “nowhere,” I meant “Inbox Zero.” But as Giei succinctly asserts, “Inbox Zero is an addictive game, not a meaningful goal.” The key to creating harmony between email and the rest of your life? A daily routine, crafting concise and actionable emails, and turning to templates to reply to common inquiries.
17) Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Shoutout to my friend Annie Tomlin who urged me to read this after a series of tweets about how unproductive and overwhelmed I felt. After discovering how to discern the “vital few” from the “trivial many,” my life hasn’t been the same.
18) Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton
An executive once told me if I mastered the art of the “Yes, and” I could negotiate (and get) anything I wanted. This book helped me put her preaching into practice.
19) Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have—Winners, Losers, Misfits, and All by Sean O’Neil and John Kulisek
This was the first book I read when I became a first-time manager, and whew, I’ll tell you: It was the pep talk I needed to motivate my team to reach their highest possibilities.
20) Under The Hood: Fire Up And Fine-Tune Your Employee Culture by Stan Slap
This book had me at the first sentence on the back cover: “You can’t sell it on the outside if you can’t sell it inside.” It’s something that applies to ALL areas of life, but Slap uses the premise as a foundation for this tactic-heavy, highly researched resource for leaders.
I know you probably think this should go in the Writing/Editing section, but the easy A-to-Z dictionary format makes searching for synonyms an efficient endeavor, which increases my productivity in the process.
22) Zag: The Number-One Strategy For High Performance Brands by Marty Neumeier
The premise is simple, but powerful: When your competitor zigs, you zag. You’ll know how to in 90 minutes—the time it took me to digest all this branding deliciousness.
23) The Brand Flip: Why Customers Now Run Companies—And How To Profit From It by Marty Neumeier
Another quick read from Neumeier I’ve suggested to anyone who will listen to me sing its praises. I legit reference Neumeier’s “Brand Commitment Matrix” at least once a week.
Ever wonder how those articles, memes, and videos go viral? The answer is in Berger’s STEPPS acronym, or the “six principles of contagiousness.”
25) Why She Buys: The New Strategy For Reaching The World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan
For too many brands, the decisions on how to market and reach women—who often make the majority of the purchases in their households—are left to old white men with antiquated ideas of what women want. Bridget helps you learn from their mistakes.
26) How To Get People To Do Stuff: Master The Art and Science of Persuasion and Motivation by Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D.
To influence human behavior, you have to get into the mind. Weinschenk uses a mix of psychology and modern strategies to help you tap into your consumer’s psyche and take actions that positively impact your bottom line.
27) Profit With Purpose: A Marketer’s Guide To Delivering Purpose-Driven Campaigns To Multicultural Audiences by Teneshia Jackson Warner
Warner has years of experience connecting brands and their messages to multicultural audiences. In Profit With Purpose, she shares her savvy wisdom so you can do the same.
28) It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done: Motivation For Dreamers & Doers By Kathryn & Ross Petras
I’m always game for a good quote, so this 390-page compact book of encouraging sayings from inspirational Standouts from Oprah and Beyoncé to Ellen DeGeneres and Serena Williams.
Sure, I’m biased. But a 50-plus-page e-book designed to empower you towards the life you want through what you wear, how you work, and the way you live deserves a spot on the list, right? And—drumroll, please—it’s free.