My Favorite Books On Writing

books on writingAs a somewhat well-established novelist, I regularly receive requests for writing and publishing advice from aspiring authors.

In some cases, those questions are from readers who have an idea for a novel, and they want my opinion on their concept. And in other cases, the requests are for writing tips, or for advice on how to publish a novel.

Typically I answer those requests by pointing the person who contacted me to a particular book or resource that will thoroughly answer their questions. That’s not necessarily laziness on my part (although I certainly don’t have time to read random manuscripts), but rather an effort to lead these folks to the help they require.

I will admit, I’ve grown tired of sending the same list of books to every such reader who seeks my advice. That’s why I’ve decided to write this blog post, so I can direct readers here whenever I get inquiries about writing and self-publishing.

Hopefully, these books will serve you as well as they did me. Just remember that having them on your bookshelf is not enough—to derive value from this list, you have to apply each author’s advice in your daily writing practice. 

Without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite books on writing and self-publishing.

Writing Memoirs:

On Writing by Stephen King

This book should be the first one you read before you start writing fiction. There’s just so much useful info here, layered into King’s highly-entertaining and slightly irreverent musings on writing and life.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Should be on every author’s bookshelf… especially the neurotic ones, which includes most of them.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

She’s just flipping hilarious, even when she’s telling the saddest stories. Even if you’re not interested in writing a memoir, you can’t go wrong with this book.

The “Start Here” Basics:

The One-Hour MFA (in fiction) by Michael Kimball

Just the bare-bones basics of writing, style, and prose… the broad strokes. If you are completely new to writing fiction, you should read this (very short) book first.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Reading this book was a turning point for me. When I first started writing fiction, I was great at starting novels but I could never finish a first draft. All that changed after I read this book. Get it, read it, put it to work.

Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver

One of the first books I read on writing fiction, and one of the best in my opinion. Cleaver is an excellent teacher and this book is a great introduction to the craft of writing fiction.

Improving Your Process:

The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt

If you have a novel or two under your belt and you’re looking to hone your craft, start here. Watt’s book dives deep into story and process. It’s an exceptional guidebook, but probably more suitable for journeyman authors.

Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

Want to get better at planning and plotting your novels? Read this book. Brody does an excellent job of breaking down the skill of plotting into an immediately usable process.

Writing Wonder by David Farland

If you write fantasy or sci-fi, you’ll want to snag this book. In it Farland deftly explores what “wonder” is, why you need it in your story, and how to use it to captivate readers. An invaluable tome on writing fantasy fiction.

Understanding What Sells:

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

This is another of the earliest treatises I read on writing commercial fiction, and I was lucky to have stumbled across this manual early on. If you want a perspective on what makes bestselling novels tick from an agent who has sold a ton of bestsellers, then study all of Maass’ works, starting with this book.

The Successful Novelist by David Morrell

Morrell’s book is full of practical advice on the business of writing commercial fiction. Well worth picking up.

Write to Market by Chris Fox

If you want a short book on market research for authors, this is the book to read. In fact, if you plan on making a living from writing fiction, you should probably read this book before all others. But, I placed it near the end of this list because the last thing the indie publishing industry needs is more amateurs cranking out novels before they learn their craft.

Advice on Self-Publishing:

Guerrilla Publishing by Derek Murphy

Derek is one of my favorite self-publishing coaches, mostly because he is very honest in the advice that he gives, and because his advice is sound and free from hyperbole. If you want to know about the business of self-publishing, this is a good place to start.

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki

This book is probably a bit dated as it was published seven years ago, but it’s still full of practical advice on self-publishing. Definitely worth reading though, especially if you’re writing non-fiction.

Going Deep:

Story by Robert McKee

Boring? Yes. Dense? Absolutely. Indispensable? Without a doubt. When you’ve gone through the other books on my list, read this. Or better yet, grab it now and start reading it in small chunks.

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