Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Comprehensive Book Guide for Writers

One of the most important things a writer does is reading. It is just as vital to writing as the actual act. Besides gobbling up fiction books, though, a writer also needs to keep abreast of writing craft books.

If writing is your career goal, how else are you going to improve yourself without some sort of studying? Studying and practice, those are what will make for good writing. And while I also advocate the importance of having a business hat, this too requires studying.

In hopes of helping my fellow writers on the prowl for quality writing books, I've created a list of books all writers should read. This list is for staples, and is not specifically geared for a particular genre.

In no particular order, I present to you books on writing and getting published.

1) Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King
Recommended by countless critique groups, authors, and agents (oh so many agents), this book cuts away the crap and gets straight to the chase... literally!

Ok, enough with the schmaltz. There's no good way to talk about an editing book, so I'll be brief. Fiction writing is vastly different from non-fiction. There are more rules, and plenty of ways to break them in the name of creativity. But there's only so much rule breaking you can do. In the end, there's still guidelines to keep your writing good. This is that book. If you can only buy one book on this list, get this one.

2) Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Writers need a fine balance of encouragement and admonishment. Of gentle guidance, and ass-kicking to get into gear. This book is all of that. Anne Lamott talks about how it is to be a writer and to make that commitment in your life. Engaging, thrilling, and permission to write Shitty First Drafts (one of the chapters in the book), it's everything you need to remind you when you're bogged down that it's ok, it's normal, and everyone does it, so you must be on track.

Also, lots of sharp wit in here, and I don't know about you, but sometimes I need a good laugh when I'm ready to boot a chapter in the butt.

3) Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

If you're one of those people troubled by punctuation issues, then this is the book for you. The dry topic is tempered by equally dry humor, and gives some great examples to drive the lessons home.

4) An Unabridged Dictionary
I don't have a specific one to suggest, I think that's up to you, but I highly recommend buying or having a free one linked that's unabridged. Why? Because unabridged dictionaries often have the year that the word was entered, so if you're writing a historical piece, you know you can use a word if it was common during that time - this can be important for some writers.

The same goes for having access to a Thesaurus, but since most people have one on their computer, I won't quibble.

5) On Writing by Stephen King

Love him or hate him, Stephen King is prolific. And like his writing or not, King's chock full of sound, sometimes amusing advice. This book is part biography, part advice.

The thing this offers, besides a personal journey, is simple, direct advice for everyday writing habits that establish a routine. I also think many of his points on how he writes is liberating for folks, and yet another constant reminder that we all have different ways of hammering our words out.

It's engaging, and hey, it's not thick. Give it a shot.

6) Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Writing isn't just about the little stuff - it's the bigger situation that's also important. Breaking through on topics as to what breakout novels have in common, this book is incredibly fascinating because it uses all sorts of examples to prove its points on dynamic situations and the commonality in big-selling novels.

With a focus on explaining the commercial success aspect of breakout novels and why these shot to the best seller lists, Maass explains why great storytelling over great writing sells. There's also a matching workbook, which a lot of people recommend, but I've never tried, so I can't verify it's usefuless for you.

If you want to write for a living, read this book.

7) The Career Novelist by Donald Maass

At the risk of sounding like a Maass fanatic, this is another fantastic read for people seriously considering the writing path as their career. Sometimes people are so caught up in the excitement and joy of writing that they forget the practical realities of writing. This is the book to help you gain your business hat.

Things to consider: where do I get insurance now that I'm an independent businessperson? How do I market? How do I know when my books make enough to live off of? Unfortunately, lovely words don't always pay for shelter and food. And it's hard to write when your stomach is rumbling. It also has a nice basic query letter explanation.

The best part about this book? It's free. The linked title above is a direct link to the PDF download on Maass's site. Or if you're hesitant to click, go to his website and then click on the link.

8) How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman

Noah Lukeman is another esteemed agent who has written prolifically on the writing industry. Many people recommend his books; I honestly haven't read them so I can't in good conscience recommend them (yet). However, he does have this fabulous FREE download on Amazon shorts about query letters. Again, the push here is professionalism and learning to query with a discerning eye.

Please, don't bother to buy anything about how to write a query letter. This 74 page PDF will take care of you. Promise. And if you feel like it didn't... well, hey, it was free.

9) Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Guide Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty

I'm sure you're getting tired of the grammar books, but I couldn't let this last gem slide by unmentioned. Grammar Girl uses some great mind quip (mnemomics, for you word junkies out there) to help people remember those annoying grammar rules you can't seem to keep in your brain. She also runs a Podcast show, and there's a cute interview on Amazon with the author.

10) Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz

Nowadays, it's not just writing that's important. Being marketable is just as important to a publisher. It all comes down to the bottom money line, and if you've got an established base to promote your book to, you look that much better. This book will help you figure out a way to promote your book without sounding like a slavish bathroom scrubber door-to-door salesman.

This is all about building a platform you can always spring from. Building a fan base is one of the most important things you can do for your career.

I might add a few books later - I got a few at home whose titles I can't remember offhand. If you guys enjoy this list, I'm going to do another post about reference books for writers. Seeing as research is so vital, it deserves its own post.


ElanaJ said...

Great list! I've heard of, read or seen almost all of these.

Suzanne Casamento said...

These are all great resources. Thank you!

My favorite is The Writer's Guide to Crafting Children's Stories by Nancy Lamb. Her book solved HUGE plot issues for me and also taught me how to perfect flashbacks.

The Screaming Guppy said...

Awesome list. Thanks for the detailed thoughts about them too!

I read "On Writing" and really enjoyed it. Even though he doesn't spend too much time telling you what to do, he gives some great tips and I found it really interesting to read about the methods to this madness from a very successful author's viewpoint.

I'm currently reading Self Editing for Fiction Writers. Most of it is stuff I knew/thought I knew, but its a great refresher regardless.

Lady Glamis said...

Marisol, this is PERFECT! I've heard of every single one of these, and this is awesome that you've got reviews and have them all in the same spot. I will definitely put all of these on my list. Thank you!

Glynis said...

Marisol, thanks the first one on your list is going on my birthday wish list!
I love grammar girl,such a relaxed way of learning.
I am definately going for the freebie, I need it, thanks for the info.

Glynis said...

Sadly the free book only downloads for the US residents. My friend in the UK and myself cannot get them but thanks for the rest of the list.

M. K. Clarke said...

I've got most of these in my library and Grammar Girl I get on podcasts. Thanks for sharing these fine resources! :)

Stephanie Faris said...

I love the Stephen King one. Another good one is "Goal, Motivation, Conflict" by Debra Dixon. I think it may be out of print...and you may be able to get the same info. online somewhere. But that method of plotting turned my writing around completely.

Heather McF said...

Great list, thank you! "Writing the Breakout Novel" is great. It not only taught me about writing but introduced me to Jennifer Crusie, who's now one of my favorite authors.

My all-time favorite writing book is always going to be "Wild Mind" by Natalie Goldberg. It was the first book I read that made me think "Hey, I could actually do this writing thing."