A List of Writing Craft books to Help make your Word Shine

We’ve written our first book all by ourselves. The words materialized on the page. It’s a best-seller.  So naïve. The publishers squash our dream of mega sales after multiple rejections. How is that possible?  Could it be we know nothing about creative writing beyond what we learned in English class? Time to get educated. Conferences are not always cost effective for newbies putting their toe in the writing river.

However, there are lots of writing craft books out there by well-established authors who took the time to share their best practices in a book.  I asked a few of my writer friends to tell me their favorite craft books and the response made me want to check out new resources. No matter what you struggle with as you create that manuscript there are books to guide you step by step. Most of the authors mentioned here have multiple writing craft books.   

Books that introduce you to the art of writing

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

(Donald Maas is the go-to guy for teaching writing excellence.)

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

(A classic)

On Writing by Stephen King

(another classic)

The Emotional Craft of Writing by Donald Maas

21st Century Writing by Donald Maas

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Books that speak to specific areas

Every writer stumbles with some aspect of writing. One of the suggestions below is sure to help.

How to manage your time to write your book

The Chunky Method by Allie Plieter

The flow and structure of your novel

First Pages of Best Sellers-What Works What Doesn’t and Why By C.S. Larkin

Super Structure the Key to Unleashing the Power of Story by James Scott Bell

First Fifty Pages by Jeff Gerke

Write your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell

Specific areas writers struggle to grasp

Writing Unforgettable Characters by James Scott Bell

Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing By James Scott Bell

Plot vs Character by Jeff Gerke

The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills

Conflict vs Suspense by James Scott Bell

How to Write Dazzling Dialog by James Scott Bell

Writing Deep Viewpoint; Invite Your Readers into the Story by Kathy Tyers

Now you’ve finished your manuscript but do not understand the proper way to edit it. And rewriting is not very appealing after you’ve just sweated over 200,000 words. (please don’t even think about publishing that many words in one tome.)

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King

Revisions and Self-editing for Publication by James Scott Bell

Murder Your Manuscript By Andrea Merrell

What about author blindness?

27 Blunders and How Not to Make Them by James Scott Bell

Writing with Excellence 201 by Joyce K. Ellis

What to do with your craft books

The key to success in learning the craft of writing when you acquire any of these books—READ them,  DO the exercises. Take the advice and apply it. It is better to buy one book and wear it out, rather than every book on this list, and leave them on your bookshelf. (Guilty.)

Then my last encouragement is to read in the genre you want to write. For example, if you want to write a thriller, read many, and study how the authors construct their stories. Read the best-sellers to discover how and why they are so popular. This applies to non-fiction too. Grab them up and observe the structure of the book. Most are available in e-book if that is your preference. There are hundreds of books available on writing craft. So, take the plunge and see if your writing doesn’t improve exponentially.

Add your favorite writing craft book in the comments.

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12 Fave Writing Craft Books from My Bookshelves

Every new writer is told over and over through conference speakers, blogs, articles and seasoned authors that they need to read craft books. Over the years, I bought several. Today I thought I’d share a portion of them with you. Some I’ve read cover to cover, others I’ve read specific chapters. Some have exercises with each chapter to help hands-on learners. Maybe my list will inspire you to grab one.

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into Print by Renni Brown and Dave King

This book explains every area of fiction writing and includes exercises to complete. Doing the work after each chapter helps the reader gain a deeper understanding of writing fiction as they correct and rewrite the samples.

  • Write with Excellence 202: A light-hearted guide to the serious matter of writing well for Christian authors, editors and students by Joyce K. Ellis

I was so excited to hear Joyce was writing this book. I’d been following her grammar column in Christian Communicator for years.  This comprehensive easy to understand guide to grammar, punctuation, usage, style and so much more includes lessons to complete with the answer key in the back. Love it.

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  • Writing Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin

Step-by-step instruction and examples from successful Christian Romance writers. Lots of practical tests to use when analyzing your own work.

  • Writing a Break Out Novel: Inside advice for taking your fiction to the next level by Donald Maass

Maass is a master at digging deep and taking readers with him to gain a better understanding of novel writing. He is the guru of novel writing.

  • How to Write When Everything goes Wrong: A Practical Guide to Writing through tough times by Allie Pleiter

The title says it all. I found it to be a life saver during a difficult time.

  • The Chunky Method Handbook: Your step-by-step plan to Write that book even when life gets in the way by Allie Pleiter

The author developed a series of helpful worksheets. I was able to find out my writing chunk as in how many words I can write in the shortest amount of time. Then I was free to write in the bits of time at odd moments to get my novel finished. Everyone is different. This workbook can get you moving and remove the guilt that you don’t produce huge numbers of words like that other author.

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  • The Dance of Character & Plot by DiAnn Mills

An award-winning author shows you how to balance these two elements in your story. Practical and easy to understand.

  • Revising and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for transforming your first draft into a Novel that sells by James Scott Bell

My hubby has this book tagged with sticky notes.  Anything by James Scott Bell on craft is awesome. The heart of the book is to make the reader a better writer. Turn your good work into great work.

  • The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers and Set Up Your Novel for Success by Jeff Gerke

Jeff teaches you how to engage readers from word one and why the first fifty pages are the key to not only grabbing publisher’s attention but keeping the reader engaged.

 

  1. Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques that will make you a more successful writer by Thomas B. Sawyer

He teaches novel writing from the prospective a screenwriter. Good stuff.

  1. The Everything Guide to Writing a Book Proposal: Inside advice on how to get your work published by Meg Schneider & Barbara Doyen

This is an older book, but the concepts shared are priceless. I have a few other proposal writing books in my library.  Tip: Always check the submission guidelines of the publisher you wish to submit to, then tailor your proposal accordingly.

  1. Connections Social Media and Networking Techniques for Writers by Edie Melson

It explains things about social media I didn’t know I needed to know. There’s great stuff on building and writing a blog. You do know you need to start marketing before your book comes out? This is a great guide to get started.

Below are some bonus books that I love by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglist.

The Emotional Thesaurus Second Edition. These ladies have put together a comprehensive guide to writing various emotions. There are lots of additional writing tips sprinkled throughout the entries. When you’re stuck trying to figure out how to show an emotion these wonderful lists give you eternal, internal and synonyms of the emotions you are looking for. I also have The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus.

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I love them so much I purchased the Second Edition of The Emotional Thesaurus and will be having a drawing for my copy of the first edition. It’s in fairly good shape. I don’t write in books or bend pages. If you’d like to be in the drawing, post a comment about a favorite craft book. If you’ve never read a craft book, then let me know in the comments and check out some of my suggestions. I’ll be talking about craft books on my shelves I’ve not-yet-read on Thursday and give you another opportunity to enter to win by commenting.  Yes, you can enter twice.

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So, tell me what is your favorite writing craft book?

Why published Authors attend writers’ conferences

I just returned Sunday from Florida Christian Writers Conference—an exciting and helpful five days. I love attending writers’ conferences. Meeting new people is one of my favorite things to do at a conference. I was asked an interest question by a new acquaintance and I’d like to answer it here.

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Her question was: if you’re already published, have an agent and won awards, why do you need to attend a conference anymore? That was one of those pause and let me think questions. For an unpublished author the whole focus of attending a conference can be these three things. We all want to get published. An agent is always on our radar and awards send us singing and dancing as our worth is recognized.

 

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A pic of Lake Hale Conference Center whee FCWC was held.

 

And I too wanted all of those. After achieving them I have come to realize there is so much more. I will never stop learning as an author. Trends change in what is selling and marketing shifts are ever turning to new routes. My favorite part of conferences is meeting people. Not just agents and publishers but other writers—newbies or pros. I always learn from them. And you never know what connections they might have on a professional level.

 

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Carol Kent taught Speak up with Confidence workshop at  FCWC. Writerd can always learn to be better speakers as well

 

I love the classes. Some writers may say after faithfully attending year after year there are no new classes. Maybe, but there are new teachers. Each one has their own teaching style. Although the basics of story structure is the same, how it is shared can make all the difference to the listener.

 

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Liz Curtis Higgs was the keynote speaker at FCWC. She was such an inspiration.

 

Shopping at the conference and having enough paper for note taking are two subjects dear to a conferencees heart. Photo By Charles Huff

Ask any writer what craft books they love. You’ll get a variety of answers. Because each author shares craft in a different way. Each reader is looking for specific help.

A conference event offers the opportunity to gain those ahh-haa moments when the one thing you struggle with, like deep point-of-view or show not tell, suddenly becomes clear.  There’s also that moment you meet a new forever friend who may become an online critique partner or introduce you to the right publisher for your book.

 

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I spent some time with Jennifer Ulharick my ACFW critique partner and fellow novella contributors of an upcoming novella collection The Cowboys at FCWC

 

If you ask any established author how many conferences they attend, it is often two a year. It may be a small local one and a full-length conference. For others, it’s a general conference and a genre conference such as Realm Makers, for example is specifically for Spec Fic writers, or RWA for romance writer and ACFW for fiction writers only.

I’m committed to attending at least one conference a year.  When travel becomes prohibitive there are live week-long writers’ conferences online. So yes, even though I have an agent, am published and have won awards, I will continue to attend writer’s events.

 

 

 

 

How about you?

How important are conferences to you?

Conference Tip #10 Notes, Books and CDs, OH NO!

Shopping at the conference and having enough paper for note taking are two subjects dear to a conferencees heart. Photo By Charles Huff

Shopping at the conference and having enough paper for note taking are two subjects dear to a conferencees heart. Photo By Charles Huff

Here is my last piece of advice for a successful conference. This answers the biggest quandary writers have at conferences.

Note Taking Needs

I had a friend email asking me how many notebooks she should take to the writer’s conference. My response—one. Think back to high school. It took a few weeks or longer to fill up a spiral notebook with notes from any given class. Most conferences run from two to four days. Often handouts are given with many of these classes. I’ve been given a three ring binder at conferences with outlines to fill in. One notebook or some loose leaf paper to slide in the binder under the classes you are taking is usually enough. If you’re still afraid you won’t have enough paper, then buy a larger notebook. Some people prefer legal pads or steno pads. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.

I’m seeing more people bring laptops and tablets. I find myself editing my notes as I type so I haven’t taken the leap to technology for note taking. But those who have lightening fingers on the keyboard do well with it. This is especially nice if a website is recommended. Once typed in your notes, it usually creates a direct link.

Paper or tablet is up to you. What you do with those notes after the conference is the key. Do you review them throughout the year? Rewrite them to help you remember. Or shove them in a file folder or on a shelf marked 2015 conference and never look at them again? Hold that thought. Determine to take more thorough notes on the things you really find helpful and fewer notes on things you’ve heard before. Hit the highlights and new revelations. Why? You are more likely to review those notes again.

Buy CDS????

Buying the CDs of the conference are a great way to review your notes. A wonderful thing to listen to in the car and if you get MP3 format you can download them to other devices. But as I said in a previous post, don’t buy them if you know you will never listen to them. I have a few of those on my shelf gathering dust. Although you can get a great deal by buying the whole conference, it’s of no value if you never listen to all of them. Buy the ones you really feel you will benefit from.

Some conferences offer CDs from previous conferences. That’s a great way to get information on subjects not covered in this year’s agenda. And the cost is considerably less. Some speakers offer sets of CDs on the subject covered in their class. Often it covers more than the time they were allotted at the conference. Great chance to really grasp the topic.

Books, Books and more Books

There is always a bookstore at conferences. They contain books on every aspect of writing and marketing. Books by the speakers, teachers and other authors attending the conference. I have acquired a large number of books on writing craft as well as autographed copies of novels, devotionals and other fun books. Writers are readers. Successful writers are avid readers. This is a great place to stock up.

Now that you are salivating over the prospect of purchasing books I’ll add—rein it in. Choose carefully the books you buy. Take time to examine the table of content, read the back cover blurb, and check out examples in chapters. Otherwise you may be spending money on duplicate stuff. There are lots of how to books out there. Many contain the same information just presented differently. If you have a book on writing proposals you love, you probably don’t need a second one unless your first one is outdated, you really enjoyed an instructor and he mentioned a book on a related subject that you feel must be great because he said so. Still check it out. Is his writing style as engaging as his speaking style? Do you think the subject would be helpful to you?

If you are on a budget, decide which books you really want to purchase at the conference. Put others on a list to buy later from the author’s website, online or your local bookstore. Sometimes those books on your list never get purchased. Which might prove you really didn’t need all those books after all. And some may come on sale later. Who doesn’t love a bargain?

Newbie list

Rather than sweat bullets as a novice attendee, here is a short list of must haves. Some are general because there are lots of books on the same subject by wonderful authors. But the first few are must-have titles.

2015-2016 Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Jerry B Jenkins (Tyndale)

Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest)

(These books list lots and lots of markets to submit to.)

The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style edited by Robert Hudson (Zondervan) Similar to the AP and Chicago books of style. A great reference regarding grammar, sentence structure and punctuation and other details in professional writing which change with time and cause confusion. Clarity is at your fingertips.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White (Allyn & Bacon) Some feel this book is outdated, but this small volume still has a lot of useful information about grammar and sentence structure.

The rest of my list has no recommendations. Talk with others at the conference and get their suggestions on which books in the following categories they prefer and why.

  1. A book on how to write proposals and query letters. Preferably one with examples and step by step instructions. (I showed pictures of two books I recommend in a previous conference tip post.)
  2. Fiction writers should have books on POV, character development, plot structure, and other techniques for writing fiction. You may have a favorite author who has published this sort of book.
  3. Non-fiction writers should have at least one book on the nuts and bolts of putting together a well-written book.
  4. A book about self-editing and rewriting.
  5. Marketing book that covers lots of different avenues for selling your work. This area is in constant flux and not everything works for everybody. You might decide on more than one if they come at marketing from different angles.
  6. If you write poetry, screen plays, greeting cards or are looking for help on your speaker’s platform then add a book on those subjects to your list.
  7. Fiction writes should buy at least one novel. Studying the style of another writer always helps improve your own. I never buy only one. (grin)
  8. Non-fiction writers should also buy at least one book for the same reason. Choose a book in a similar topic to the one you are pitching -devotional, Bible Study, parenting for example.
  9. A book on how to research.
  10. Pick up a magazine or two either on craft or ones you would like to submit to in the future to study the content.

Final thoughts

Let me mention to fill your tote with anything offered free. Usually its publisher’s catalogs and writing guidelines, bookmarks and backlog magazines. Take one of each and sort through it later. Sometimes it is autographed copies of books.

Don’t feel obligated to buy a book because the author is standing there when you look through it. Same goes for CDS. Enjoy the sale table and keep your notebook handy to create your buy later list.

What do you like to buy at writer’s conferences?

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