Books, Books, Books

I’m a great believer in reading. Shocking, huh? I believe that you, as a writer, should read lots of books in the genre or category in which you are writing. If you write literary fiction, you should read literary fiction. If you write suspense, you should read suspense. It’s a great way to learn.

I also believe in reading informational, inspirational, and how-to books about writing and publishing. So I’d like to know your favorites. I’ll compile a list for future blog readers.

What’s your favorite book on WRITING?

What’s your favorite book about GETTING PUBLISHED?

Leave them in the comments, and have a great weekend!

Rachelle Gardner, Christian Literary Agent, Colorado

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  6. Liz on June 23, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >Ditto for the Stephen King "On Writing" book. I'll have to come back to this later… Sadly, no time right now! But too much good info not to return.

  7. Debbie Maxwell Allen on June 21, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    >I'm joining the conversation a bit late, but I wanted to add an excellent resource that hasn't been mentioned so far.

    Rachelle talks a lot about platform, and "Get Known Before the Book Deal" by Christina Katz is the best I've seen on the subject.

    Through utterly practical exercises, she helps you discover who your audience is, and what it is you want to write. She leads you through all the ways you can become known for your developing platform as you keep working on it.

    Make sure you purchase your copy, as you'll want to scribble in it and plaster it with sticky notes.

  8. Rebecca LuElla Miller on June 18, 2009 at 2:57 PM

    >Best books on writing? Donald Maass – Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, The Fire in Fiction.

    Others I’d recommend
    Description by Monica Wood
    Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
    Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins
    Stien on Writing by Sol Stien
    How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey
    Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan


  9. Emily Ryan on June 15, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    >I really enjoy Write His Answer by Marlene Bagnull. It is a devotional book for Christian writers, and the only one of its kind that I know of.

  10. Anonymous on June 15, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    >Writing with Style by John Trimble
    On Writing by Stephen King
    Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
    Elements of Style by Strunk and White
    Story by Robert McKee
    Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss
    Chicago Manual of Style

  11. Lenore Buth at on June 14, 2009 at 10:26 PM

    >I like several of the books already mentioned, but there's one book I keep going back to. It's The Writer's Book of Wisdom, by Steven Taylor Goldsberry. He makes every word count.

    Maybe I like it because I write non-fiction and that's my writing style, too.

  12. Camille Cannon Eide on June 14, 2009 at 9:44 PM

    >Melissa – that's one I have not read, and based on your recommendation, I will be sure to get it. I'm a novelist, but am secretly a wannabe screenwriter. I think a novel should be written with the movie in mind, jmo. Thanks!

  13. oneyearbook on June 14, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    >The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, by Stephen Koch, is one of the best ones I've read lately.

  14. Maya / מיה on June 14, 2009 at 8:14 AM

    >I guess I've read more books on writing itself, which is a good thing because I spend way too much time reading agent blogs… and I'm not up to that point yet!

    When I was a teenager, I loved THE WRITING LIFE by Annie Dillard. It's an incredibly inspirational look at pouring your soul out into words. She was my favorite author and actually wrote back to me when I wrote her a fan letter… that humanized authors for me more than anything else.

    My other two favorites:

    Strunk & White's ELEMENTS OF STYLE


    For a way more low-brow look (I've grown less sophisticated as I've grown older), I felt that Janet Evanovitch's book on writing was practical and helpful.

    I want more of the books on this list! It's a bit hard to get my hands on them in Israel. 🙁

  15. Jess on June 13, 2009 at 10:05 PM

    >On writing, I will also say that I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, simply because it beats down my problem: motivation!

    Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is also a lot of fun for a grammar book.

    And as far as publishing goes, I really enjoyed Travel Writing by L. Peat O'Neil (if you're doing travel writing!). And other than that, I read a whole lot of agent/industry blogs!

  16. Emily on June 13, 2009 at 9:43 PM

    >Everyone's already named all the books I would recommend, except these:

    Jordan Rosenfeld's Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time


    Karen Wiesner's First Draft in 30 Days

    I don't actually think I could write my first draft in a month, but the book is pretty good at teaching you how to outline 🙂

  17. Melissa on June 13, 2009 at 6:24 PM

    >I have read and enjoyed many, if not most, of the books recommended here, but I'm surprised my only cannot-live-without choice hasn't been mentioned:

    STORY, by Robert McKee

    It's geared toward screenwriters, but it's about STORY. I've read it over and over and over, and every single time I learn so much I feel like I'm reading it for the first time.

    If I could have just one book on writing, STORY would be it. With no regrets.

  18. Lindsay on June 13, 2009 at 11:59 AM

    >Some ones not mentioned thus far:

    "The Craft of Revision" by Donald Murray

    "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg

  19. Lori Benton on June 13, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    >Right now it's Donald Maass' THE FIRE IN FICTION. I'll give that title as answer to both questions.

  20. Paula Wiseman on June 13, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    >I'll add HOOKED by Les Edgerton.

  21. shaylen on June 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    >Definitely "The First 5 Pages" by Noah Lukeman; a close second was Ron Carlson's "Ron Carlson Writes a Story". And maybe a third "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers"… Okay, it's too hard to choose! 🙂

  22. Yamile on June 12, 2009 at 11:53 PM

    >Gail Carson Levine's "Writing Magic". It's written for kids, but I find the advise really can be applied by anyone.

    I'm working on a YA fantasy, and like someone else mentioned, I went back to my Juliet Marillier books. The only problem is that I forget I'm reading to learn about the craft, and get totally immersed in the story. She's a master storyteller!

  23. Heather on June 12, 2009 at 10:24 PM

    >I don't have a favorite book about getting published, but my favorite book on writing is "Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors" by Brandilyn Collins. It's an amazing book about creating believable characters!

  24. Bill Giovannetti on June 12, 2009 at 9:29 PM

    >I don't think anyone mentioned the very fun, excellent, practical, inspiring, and hilarious:

    "How I Write"

    by Janet Evanovich.

  25. Angelina C. Hansen on June 12, 2009 at 7:06 PM

    >All of my favorite books on writing have already been mentioned, but my favorite about getting published is:

    78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published, 14 Reasons Why It Just Might (Pat Walsh)

  26. Miss Mabel on June 12, 2009 at 4:49 PM

    >Writing: The Fiction Editor… by Thomas McCormack. I learned some new perspectives both on my writing and self-editing.

    Publishing: I've learned more from agent/editor blogs than from any one book. But I liked Janet Evanovich's How I Write.

  27. christa on June 12, 2009 at 4:24 PM

    >Someone-don't ask; I don't remember-recommended THE ART AND CRAFT OF STORYTELLING by Nancy Lamb. I just started it, and I'd recommend it.

    My fav about getting published? BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, which is also one of my favs on writing. Also reading REVISION & SELF-EDITING by James Scott Bell. A must-buy.

  28. evilphilip on June 12, 2009 at 4:15 PM

    >How to Write Western Novels by Matt Braun.

    It is the only writing book I will ever need. 🙂


  29. Shen on June 12, 2009 at 4:09 PM

    >Stephen King's 'On Writing" is the best one I've found so far. Of course, I've read just about everything he's written.

  30. sally apokedak on June 12, 2009 at 3:09 PM

    >Maass' Breakout Novel and Zinsser's On Writing Well tie for my vote on craft books.

    On publishing I loved It's a Bunny Eat Bunny World by Olga Litowinsky. (It's for children's book writers.)

  31. Sara Cox Landolt on June 12, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    >Stephen King's On Writing – Pow!
    William Zinsser On Writing Well

  32. Pam Halter on June 12, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >My fav book on writing is "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein. It's in-your-face and gives lots of examples, which I need.

    On getting published I like Terry Brooks' "Sometimes The Magic Works." He's my favorite fantasy author and I enjoyed reading the behind the scenes of his first few books.

  33. Samantha Clark on June 12, 2009 at 11:40 AM

    >Stephen King's On Writing is still my favorite, but Robert McKee's Story (technical) and Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird (writing life) are good too. I reviewed the DVD of Anne Lamott on my blog, and it's a great companion to her book.

  34. Béatrice Mousli on June 12, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    >I have one more question:
    a good book about editing process?
    thanks for all the suggestions!

  35. Eric von Mizener on June 12, 2009 at 11:10 AM

    >To me the best books on writing are the books I most enjoy reading. A good book is a master class unto itself.

    As for texts about writing, I'm a fan of Michael Seidman's two books: Fiction: The Art and Craft of Writing and Getting Published and The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction. Syd Field's classic Screenplay is also essential to writers in any medium. Aristotle's "Poetics" (part of Writing 101) is good. And someone mentioned Steve Martin's Pure Drivel. That is a brilliant work. I can't believe I got it for a buck as a remainder at a dollar store. (What does that say about this business?)

    There are many more to add, but one I haven't seen is Writer's Digest's collection entitled Legends of Literature. As they used to say in the westerns: there's gold in them thar hills.

  36. Cecelia Dowdy on June 12, 2009 at 10:59 AM

    >Stephen King's book On Writing. Also Self-Editing For Fiction Writers.

  37. Robert Young on June 12, 2009 at 10:47 AM

    >Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. It's hilarious and endearing, and she offers some of the best advice I've seen anywhere.

  38. Anonymous on June 12, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    >My favorites are:

    The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier (this is about writing movie scripts but it has great advice for how to write tightly woven plots and how to diagnose problems.)

    Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham

    The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes: (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack Bickham

    Just for my curiosity's sake— why is it important to read in the genre we write? I almost never do. The genres I love to read I could not write well. And the genre I write has very few books out there that I can finish. I'd be interested in hearing a discussion of this idea. (I think I have read a quote from a famous writer– perhaps Arthur C. Clarke–that said a writer should never read the genre they write. And since I agreed with him, it made perfect sense to me 🙂


  39. Patricia Raybon on June 12, 2009 at 9:07 AM

    >My craft books are treasures. But I'm inspired most by these gems:
    The One-Year Bible
    At His Feet One-Year Devotional
    Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card
    Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
    Making a Good Writer Great by Linda Seger
    Writing for the Soul by Jerry B. Jenkins
    The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogel
    Stealing Fire from the Gods by James Bonnet
    Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle
    Wallace Stegner's classic, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West

    Wow, I thank God for such empowering, equipping resources!

  40. JStantonChandler on June 12, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >There are so many good books about writing out there. Perhaps my favorites are:

    Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by David Gerrold

    and Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

    The first book is about the craft of writing in those two genres. It also better explains the differences between the two and what fans of each genre are looking for in "believable" sci-fi and fantasy writing.

    I would list Walking on Water as one of my all time favorite books. It's not just about writing, but about art and life as well. Beautifully written by the author who inspired me to write. It forces you to think, to rediscover the world through a child's eyes, to take risks and step out into the impossible.

  41. Matilda McCloud on June 12, 2009 at 8:41 AM

    >I've got a lot of favorites that I go back to over and over again. By the way, as a former librarian, I encourage you to take advantage of interlibrary loan!

    Essential (read these two before you send out your ms)

    SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Brown and Dave King

    When you're feeling down about writing:

    THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron

    BIRD BY BIRD by Ann Lamott

    ON WRITING by Steven King

    Other good books:
    YOUR FIRST NOVEL by Laura Whitcomb


    IT'S A BUNNY EAT BUNNY WORLD by Olga Litowinsky (children's books)





    MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER by Elizabeth Lyon

    Happy reading (and writing)!

  42. Angie Ledbetter on June 12, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    >Another Lamott fan here. For publishing, or readying the ms for querying, Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel (book & workbook).

  43. Carrie on June 12, 2009 at 8:37 AM

    Stephen King's On Writing
    Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! (especially for NaNoWriMo participants)

    Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life
    Mur Lafferty's podcast I Should Be Writing

    Agent blogs
    Cathy Yardley's Will Write For Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel (specifically, this helped me write my synopsis)
    Blythe Camenson's Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract : The Complete Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses and Proposals for Agents and Editors (no longer in print, was recommended by

    Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel

    Oh, and I kind of liked Eats, Shoots & Leaves because I'm such a grammar nerd that I find apostrophe humor hilarious, but there's a GRAMMAR ERROR IN THE TITLE!!! What the heck were they thinking?!?

    It should be "The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" and that critical hyphen is MISSING in the book. Unbelieveable, given the nature of the book.

  44. Lisa Katzenberger on June 12, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    >Bird by Bird is probably my fave, but I also love Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. One of the first "how-to" writing books I read and loved is Jerry Cleaver's Immediate Fiction — easy, accessible, quick read.

  45. Carrie Turansky on June 12, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    >I like From the Inside Out – discover, create, and publish the novel in you by Susan Warren and Rachel Hauck. I also regularly reread Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.

  46. David Russell Mosley on June 12, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    >Having not read any books on publishing, I will simply put the books on grammar/writing I have found imperative to my own writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Pure Drivel by Steve Martin (hilarious), Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins by Theodore Bernstein, Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

    I think all writers should give each of them a look. Only three are about book writing, but the others are just as helpful and delights to read.

  47. Terri Tiffany on June 12, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >Sel-Editing for Fiction Writers.
    Loving it!! I also love Jodi Pecoult books, Nicholas Sparks and new authors!

  48. Sharon A. Lavy on June 12, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >I put Jeff Gerke's ebooks "How To Find Your Story" and "Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist." on my kindle before this last trip. Now I am eager to re-read them while filling in the chart.
    I came home to find "The Fire In Fiction" by Donald Maass had arrived from Amazon so I am reading it first.

    Highly recommend all these.

  49. writer jim on June 12, 2009 at 8:00 AM

    >Thinking like your Editor: How to write serious nonfiction–and get it published; by S. Rabiner/A. Fortunato seems to be an excellentbook to me. writer jim

  50. Myra on June 12, 2009 at 7:56 AM

    >James Scott Bell – PLOT AND STRUCTURE. Hands down THE best.

    BIRD BY BIRD by Ann Lamott is excellent for the days when you're discouraged.

  51. Dayle James Arceneaux on June 12, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >Dean Koontz's How to Write Bestselling Fiction.

    David Morrell's The Successful Novelist.

    Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit.

    Jerry Jenkin's Writing for the Soul.

  52. Mrs. White on June 12, 2009 at 7:02 AM

    >When I was writing a couple of children's books (middle grade readers), I read Judy Blume, Lois Lowry and Beverly Cleary. It really helps you understand how to set the story up and the tone the writing needs to have.
    Mrs. White

  53. Alicha Marie on June 12, 2009 at 6:45 AM

    >I can’t decide. So, as I think any of these would be helpful, I’m listing them all.

    I found "How to Grow a Novel" and "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein motivating. They helped define my strengths (the things I was naturally doing as a writer) and my weaknesses (because I’m human-lol!) and gave me my first glimpse into the publishing world.

    When I completed my manuscript, I read Steven King’s "On Writing". Not a bad read. It was my first King book. I found it direct, relevant, and helped to humanizes King in my mind.(Concerning 'world-view' and writing content~think Nathaniel Hawthorne of modern times.)

    Now, I’m reading Noah Lukeman's "First Five Pages". For those of you who’ve read it…I had four question marks in my first 5 pages! OMW (I just have to shake my head, read a bit of "Rants & Ramblings" for encouragement and…get back to editing.)

  54. Richard Mabry on June 12, 2009 at 6:33 AM

    >I have a full shelf of books on writing, but the one I enjoy the most and that speaks to me when I need it is Lawrence Block's TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT.

    As for the best book on getting published, I don't really have one. I guess if there were one that guaranteed publication, it would be out of stock anyway.

  55. Emily M. Akin, writer-editor on June 12, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    >Favorite book on getting published:

    Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams by Terry Whalin

    Favorite book on writing craft:

    Just Write! by Susan Titus Osborne

    Both are reviewed on my book review blog for Christian writers:

  56. angie mizzell on June 12, 2009 at 6:22 AM

    >I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She is funny and offers many useful tips and tools to navigate the writing life. I also enjoy books by Julia Cameron… The Artist's Way and The Right to Write are good ones.

  57. Ruth on June 12, 2009 at 6:03 AM

    >Hmm, I'm glad to hear you say that. It occurred to me a couple months ago that while my current ms is YA fantasy, I don't read a LOT of YA fantasy myself at the moment. Hence, I'm planning to try and read a lot more YA fantasy – I'm ordering books like "A demon's lexicon" and "Silver phoenix" and re-reading my Juliet Marillier books to try and get a feel for how these authors write the genre.

    So thanks for confirming my thoughts!

    I look forward to see what other people list as their favourite books on writing – I haven't found any great ones myself (the most useful to date being Eats, Shoots and Leaves – not particularly related to creative writing).

  58. Katie on June 12, 2009 at 5:49 AM

    >Oh wow, I have TOO many favorites!! But I'll share them here anyway.

    Must-Read books on craft:
    Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon

    Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

    Self-Editing and Revision by James Scott Bell

    Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins

    Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

    There are so many others – but those are my favs!

    Fiction authors that I could read all day: Karen Kingsbury, Nicole Baart, Susan Meisner, Francine Rivers, Susan May Warren are all super good!

  59. Adam Heine on June 12, 2009 at 5:48 AM

    >I've got three:

    1. Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
    2. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress
    3. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

    The latter has a little information on getting published in the SF/F world, but otherwise they're all thick with good info on writing well.

  60. Leigh Lyons on June 12, 2009 at 4:07 AM

    >I love Paranormal Mystery and that has been my fav thing to write since high school. My favorite book about getting published is How NOT to Write a Novel. Hi-larious and informative.

  61. Gwen on June 12, 2009 at 3:35 AM

    >Favorite book on writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I consumed it in a day, and laughed and cried in recognition.

    Favorite books on craft: Writing the Breakout Novel workbook and book by Donald Maass, and the James Scott Bell books. There are other wonderful books on craft, but these two authors' advice is most helpful to me.

  62. Caroline on June 12, 2009 at 1:51 AM

    >Jane Wenham-Jones – Wannabe a Writer? is good, but Stephen King – On Writing still tops my list.

    For getting published in the UK, Carole Blake – From Pitch to Publication is superb.

  63. Camille Cannon Eide on June 12, 2009 at 1:43 AM

    >You'll list many excellent books on craft. Two books on editing that are actually beneficial before you write are The First Five Pages (Lukeman) and Self-Editing For Fiction Writers (Browne & King).

    You have Maass, Swain, Stein, Bell, Gardner (John or Rachelle, take your pick) King, Lamott…all belong on the list. So I'll toss in a couple to add: Jeff Gerke [] has an ebook called "How To Find Your Story" for character first writers who struggle with an eye-popping good plot. The plot-first types who find their characters too shallow can get "Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist." His newest book, "The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction," is out now but I have not read it yet.

    And just so I can say I called it first, Randy Ingermanson is co-writing the book "Writing Fiction For Dummies" which should make all our lives complete. Can't say when that one will be released, but it will no doubt belong on the must-have list.

  64. Eric J. Krause on June 12, 2009 at 1:17 AM

    >My Favorite book on writing is Stephen King's On Writing. He is one of my favorite authors, so not only does this book give great tips on writing and spark inspiration, but in my opinion, it is simply a great read.

  65. The Procrastinating Perfectionist on June 12, 2009 at 1:15 AM

    >I'm not a published writer but the best book I've read so far is "The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers" by Betsy Lerner. It's a true inspiration that invites writers into the editor's mind and also lifts the curtain on the publishing industry in general.

  66. Anne L.B. on June 12, 2009 at 1:12 AM

    >Favorite book on writing: Writing Fiction, Gotham Writers' Workshop.

    Favorite book on getting published: Rants & Ramblings (and I don't care that it's not a published book it's still the best info on getting published out there).