A few days ago, my daughter leaned over my shoulder and asked what I was reading on my phone. It was a blog post about writing villains, so I told her it was about how to write a better story. Which led her to say:
“But you already know how to write.”
Yes and no. Yes, I already do know a lot about writing and have even gotten a few publications. No, I don’t know everything there is to know – not by a long shot. I can still learn to be a better writer.
No matter where you are on your journey, you can learn and improve. My favorite way to learn is by reading.
It’d been a couple of years since I last wrote a roundup of writing craft books – time for an update!
I’ve broken the list down into sections:
- inspiration for all writers
- books for fiction writers
- books for nonfiction writers
- books for children’s book writers
- books on the business of being an author
A challenge: we learn a lot by studying our own genre – but I’ve also gained a lot by reading about writing in other genre’s. So consider branching out and reading a book that you normally wouldn’t.
Inspiration for all Writers
Big Magic: Creative Writing Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is my top picks for all writers. Writing is hard – not just because producing good work requires substantial labor, but because our own mind often works against us in the form of internal critics, writers’ block, and lack of motivation. Her perspective will have you re-think your writing in ways that bring more joy and less fear.
Books for Fiction Writers:
Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron – This book is still my favorite for fiction writing. It dives into what makes a story compelling. You can check out Lisa Cron’s Ted Talk to get a flavor of what the book is about. Bonus: my writerly friends assure me that it’s quite understandable even if you’re not a brain nerd like me.
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science To Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) is Lisa Cron’s newest novel-writing book. While Wired for Story goes through the logic of her ideas and method in detail, this one is more practical. It includes many exercises that will help you plan your story to be successful from the beginning. If you like plotting out novels and find writing exercises helpful for finding voice and discovering your character’s motive – this is a good choice.
Save the Cat Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You Will Ever Need by Jessica Brody – The original Save the Cat book was written to help screenwriters, but many novelists found that, with a little adaptation, the method also applied very well to writing books. Now Jessica Brody has written a book just for us novelist – with examples and additional information just for novelists. (Though I think a lot can be applied to shorter forms – like picture books.) The method is heavy on plot development – even if you don’t pre-plot your books, it can be helpful for analyzing a rough draft and making changes to improve pacing and story arc. (I used it this way in revising my first novel.)
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: The Complete Guide to Mystery, Suspense, and Crime by Hallie Ephron – If you’re writing anything in the mystery genre, this is a great book. Even if you don’t write in the mystery genre, consider giving it a shot. After all, nearly all books have a hidden storyline that’s slowly revealed in clues over time – like backstory or important events that happen off-stage.
Books for Nonfiction Writers:
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Willian Zinsser – This book is in its billionth revision and jillionth reprinting for a reason. This primer will help you think about how to write nonfiction books that readers can’t put down.
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind – This book is focused on a specific form of nonfiction writing – creative or narrative nonfiction. It’s nonfiction told in narrative form so the reader can step inside the story.
How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson – When writing nonfiction you often send publishers a proposal rather than a completed manuscript. That can be daunting if you’ve never written a proposal before. This book has everything you need to know to write a proposal. If you have no idea what I’m even talking about, this would be a good place to start. It’s thorough but written to be an easy read and includes lots of helpful samples from real proposals.
The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 hours and Sell Your Book by Ryan G. Van Cleave – If you want a lighter version to get you started on your book proposal, this might be the book for you. The title is misleading, though. That means 48 working hours. Maybe some people work around the clock on the weekend but I, for one, like sleep and food. Misleading title aside, it’s a helpful book and would be a good choice for someone just starting out with writing proposals.
Books for Children’s Book Writers:
Most writing craft books assume you are writing for adults. Principles of good characters, pacing, and plot hold for all books, no matter the age of your audience. But there are also differences between the kids and adult book markets and the needs of these audiences. So if you’re writing for kids, check out these books, too, in addition to the ones above.
Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul – If you write picture books, you need this book. I read the original edition a couple of years ago and learned so much from it. This past year a revised edition came out with updated examples and new information about the market. A friend invited me to an online book study group to go through the new edition. Even though I had read the previous edition, I still learned a ton. It really is that good.
Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grades Readers by Mary Kole – I found this book after reading many of the helpful articles on Mary Kole’s webpage. It’s an introduction to writing middle grade and young adult books. If you don’t know what that means or what the difference is, this is a great place to start.
Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas – This primer covers everything you need to know to get started writing nonfiction for kids. It was a great book for me when I was getting started and it’s still a great book now that I have a few manuscripts under my belt. Note: this book goes in and out of print which means the price can fluctuate a lot. I recommend keeping an eye out for used copies.
Books about the Business of Being an Author
The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman – This is the only book I’m including on the list that I have not, personally, read from cover to cover. (I’m working on it!) I’m including it based on what I have read so far, the numerous recommendations I’ve been given, and my experience of getting so much valuable information off of her blog over the years. There are lots of books that cover one aspect of the writing business (I list some below), but this is the only one I’ve seen that is comprehensive. If you want to have a career in writing – this book will tell you everything you need to know.
The Writers Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas – After you’ve finished your manuscript masterpiece, you’ll have to write a query letter so you can begin to query agents and editors (i.e. try to convince them to take on your book). This one-page document is somehow even harder than writing the manuscript itself. This is an entire book that will help you learn how to craft a one-page document.
Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market or, if you’re writing for adults: Writers Market – Once you’ve gotten your manuscript or proposal squeaky clean and ready to send out, you’ll need to figure out how to get it into the hands of the agent or editor of your dreams. These books are designed exactly for that. They’re updated every year to keep up with changes in the market.
The Book – If you write for children, you should be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). One membership perk is this free book. It’s available on the website as a PDF or you can pay for a print version. Your first year of membership they’ll send you the print version for free.
There you go – 16 of my favorite books about writing. Do you have any I should add?