Books for every writer’s need

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I’m away at the Writing for the Soul conference this week. Knowing I won’t be able to respond to comments today, I wracked my brain to find a topic that would foster helpful conversation among you all. I decided on a list of books for writers. Hopefully, as a result of the discussion, you’ll pinpoint a book or two that perfectly meets your current need.

Some books are related to the business side of a writer’s career; some on craft for all writers; and some specifically for fiction writers. Comment on why certain titles have been especially helpful to you, and feel free to ask other writers for their book recommendations on a specific topic you find challenging.

You are welcome to add titles to this list that have contributed to your growth in craft or industry knowledge. As you comment, keep in mind that a book you didn’t find helpful for your needs might be spot-on for another writer.

NOTE: Mentoring organizations like My Book Therapy and others also publish books for writers. But there isn’t space here for an exhaustive list.


  1. Beginning Writer’s Answer Book edited by Jane Friedman
  2. An Introduction to Christian Writing by Ethel Herr
  3. A Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Bob Hudson & Shelley Townsend
  4. Christian Writer’s Market Guide compiled by Christian Writers Guild
  5. Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino
  6. Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer by Moira Allen
  7. You Can Market Your Book by Carmen Leal
  8. The Art of the Book Proposal by Eric Maisel
  9. The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt
  10. Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Susan Harrow
  11. Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval
  12. The Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer


  1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
  2. Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
  3. How to Raise the Stakes in the First 50 Pages of Your Novel by Jeff Gerke
  4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  5. Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Theodore A. Rees Cheney
  6. Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite by June Casagrande
  7. Woe is I by Patricia O’Conner
  8. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
  9. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  10. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein


  1. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  2. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
  3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  4. Writing and Selling the Christian Novel by Penelope J. Stokes
  5. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes: (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham
  6. The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman
  7. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French
  8. Christian Fiction Online Magazine
  9. Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
  10. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell
  11. Revisions & Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell

I hope you come away with the perfect book recommendations that will help you to move to the next level in your writing career.

33 Responses

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  1. Anne Love says:

    Good morning Mary, have fun at your conference!
    I love my Flip Dictionary. I got and still get good guidance from James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Donald Maass is a must!

    Also, I never miss a chance to plug for My Book Therapy. The best thing I did as a newbie was send my first MS to MBT for paid therapy–my session was with Rachel Hauck (thanks Chip for pointing me in that direction, I’m indebted to you.) Not only was my therapy well done and very honest, it pushed me–AND it was Spirit-led. Doing it shot me miles ahead in less time than crit groups would have provided. It gave me a benchmark to gauge crits after that. Granted it left my head and my heart spinning for a few months–but what therapy doesn’t?
    Thanks Rachel H. 🙂

  2. Mary,

    Enjoy the conference, Mary!

    I am reading Michael Hyatt’s Platform – Get Noticed in a Noisy World and Rob Eagar’s Sell Your Book Like Wildfire. I plan to attend Eagar’s Book Marketing Boot Camp at the Write to Publish Conference in June. BTW – Registration opens today 🙂

  3. Lisa says:

    I’ll need to add some of these to my reading list, thank you!

  4. Jeanne T says:

    Mary, I hope your conference has gone well. I always love hearing what writing books people love.

    For me, like Anne mentioned above, I have learned so much from My Book Therapy. I really like Inside…..Out, Deep and Wide, The Book Buddy (which is great in helping a writer prepare for writing a great novel), Idea Sparking, by Michelle Lim.

    I’m reading through Plot and Structure right now, by James Scott Bell, and gleaning tons from him. I’ve read The Art of War for Writers, and loved it.

    I have a hard copy Thesaurus which I use a lot, but I’d love to find a good online thesaurus that doesn’t have a ton of ads.

    I’m looking forward to reading what books other writers have found helpful.

  5. Great list! I’m looking forward to more comments, and I’ll add to my To-Buy list. 🙂

  6. Leah E Good says:

    Thank you for this list. I’m looking forward to looking some of these books up.

    Writing and Selling the Christian Novel by Penelope J. Stokes is one of my favorite writing books.

    Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card is also very good.

    I was privileged to the WftS conference last year. It was fantastic. Hope you enjoy it.

  7. Mary,
    Quite an exhaustive list you’ve left us! Hoping your soul is blessed at the conference.

    I’ve taken note of the books mentioned in the comments too.

    This is one of the best, most interactive writing blogs I’ve come across…I feel like I’m getting to know people I’d love to meet at a conference someday!

    Hope everyone has a tea-riffic weekend.

    • Larry says:

      Why yes, I do know that some folks here go to one or several writing conferences a year: I assumed those who find themselves attending the same conferences must have a delightful time.

      Especially if Jennifer brings chocolates! 🙂

      • Ah, Larry….chocolates always add to the festivities…’cause as we all know, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” (Forest Gump’s Momma)

  8. Michelle Ule says:

    I like anything by Noah Lukeman, particularly The First Five Pages, and also Les Edgerton’s Hooked.

  9. Larry says:

    Have fun at the conference, Mary!

    I don’t necessarily read books on the craft of writing; I just prefer to read really good books, and reflect on what made those books such good books.

    I have also found the writings of literary critics to be helpful. Not only are the best critiques themselves literary works of art, but even should one disagree with what the critique states, one can see how others approached the story / poem / book / etc., which can be helpful in showing one new ways to approach their own writing, or reflecting on other books.

    Here is an excerpt of a critque that, while one I disagree with (it is on the nature of how original sin is portrayed in “Paradise Lost” and how the reader is to view Adams’ choice to willingly follow Eve out of Eden in the poem out of love for her), provided some interesting thought:

    “The poem asks from us, at one and the same time, two incompatible responses. It requires us, not tentatively, not half-heartedly (for there can be no place really for half-heartedness hear) but with full weight of our minds to believe Adam did right, and simultaneously to believe that he did wrong.”

    —– A.J. Waldock

    Now while I won’t go into why I disagree with Mr. Waldocks’ statement, I will say it certainly is a conversation starter when discussing Miltons’ work!

    Now, regarding critics who themselves are able to make literary works of out out of their critiques, Lionel Trilling is a fine example of the heights from which contemporary literary criticism has fallen from.

    • Larry says:


      Lionel Trilling isn’t an example of bad literary criticism, but of the best to be found: thus one can view his work, and see the “fall” of literary criticism (since I was addressing “Paradise Lost” after all! 🙂 )

  10. Jill Kemerer says:

    With over thirty writing books in my library, I was shocked to see how many of these I’ve never read! Thanks, Mary, for such a thorough list. I’m adding several to my wish list!

  11. Hope you are being blessed at your conference today, Mary. Thanks for this helpful list. I am copying and pasting it into Word now, so I don’t forget them.

    I’ve read or at least own several of these. Part of the downside to reviewing books for others is that you don’t always make room in your schedule for these types of books. That’s part of why I’ve slowed down my schedule for the rest of 2013. Yes, it’s only February, but I’m sick and tired of being behind.

    One book I found especially helpful was The Big Ten of Grammar by William Bradshaw, PhD. It identifies the ten most frequent grammatical errors–some of which I’ve made–and shows you how to correct them.

  12. Thanks for the great list, Mary. Save travels!

  13. Jan Thompson says:

    Great lists! I second a number of the books, some I’ve checked out from the library several times, and eventually bought to keep in my own library.

    Bickham’s book on 38 mistakes is especially good. I try to read before every MS rewrite/edit.

    I also second Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. It’s my go-to book when the MSS need to be resuscitated. Like my Bickham book, my copy of Plot & Structure is heavily marked-up, highlighted, rolled over, and is too worn and shabby to ever be loaned out to anybody LOL.

    Over the years I have to caution myself about the amount of time I spent reading “how to” books versus sitting down to write my MSS. That was when I decided to pack up 90% of my Writer’s Digest books, and ship them to the basement. Suddenly, I had time to sit down and write.

    So I keep a few reference books — Bell’s, Bickham’s, Lukeman’s, Strunk/White, Chicago Manual of Style, a good dictionary. The rest, I’ll check them out of the library if I need them.

  14. Can I plug my own “A Step in the Write Direction.” It not only has chapters on various genres of writing, it has Microsoft Shortcuts, Using Scripture in Your Writing, Other ways to make money for writers and even has a chapter on income taxes for writers (I did taxes for 18 years).

  15. I read really slow so it will take me a while to get through all these great resources.

    Note: I read really slow mainly for comprehension. I didn’t want you to get the idea that us canines are slow readers as a result of a poor reading curriculum in grade school.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      Well, as long as you don’t dog-ear the books. Antiquarians don’t like that, I’m told.

      It’s good to paWse every now and then to hunt for the meaning of the words in the books you read. As long as you’re not chasing rabbit trails, you’re probably pointing in the right direction.


  16. Elaine Faber says:

    Thumper, the cat in my novel, Black Cat’s Legacy, generally reads only my MS wherein he is the main character. With only “Friskies” and “cat-nip mice” to use for currency, he has not found an author with a book on improving one’s writing skills, willing to barter for one of their books. On occasion, he finds me pawing through the Emotion Thesaurus, which I’ve found helpful to ‘show rather than tell’ the character’s purr-fect response to a situation. We’ll check out some of the other suggested reading. Thanks for the tips.

  17. I just finished The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke. Can’t wait to meet him at Mount Hermon next month.

    Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins was very helpful to me. Also Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland.

  18. When writing for kids I’ve found The Children’s Writer’s Word Book helpful.

  19. Peter DeHaan says:

    I have a lot of books about writing and am surprised at how few of them are on your list.

    I’d like to buy a few of your suggestions…but alas, I already have a few in my possession that are awaiting my reading eyes, so I’ll need to save your list for later. Thanks

  20. Thank you, Mary, for this great list of tools!

  21. I didn’t read all the comments, so I apologize if this is a repeat. My current favorite writing book if The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. He focuses on not killing your creativity by trying to force the outline and plot to form too soon. Meets me right at my frustration!

  22. By the way, I hope you’re having a great time at the conference!

  23. Ginny Jaques says:

    One book, in the Craft category, that’s on my top ten list is probably out of print, but I love The Lively Art of Writing, by Lucile Vaughan Payne. A few minutes read anywhere in the book will automatically make your writing better.