This tweet speaks from the heart of any author.
Authors are book nerds. If you’re not, you’re in the wrong business.
A book store or library is like a cake buffet (except for actual cake buffets). But your love for reading can become your downfall. Especially with books on writing.
An endless number of them roam the internet. Brilliant books. Excellent books. You can get lost in the Amazon hole of “books on writing” and never stop filling the shopping cart. I’m guilty of it myself. I have more books on story writing on my shelf then I have beauty products.
This became my doom.
I knew the theory, and every time I wanted to finally start writing, another book popped up. You need to read it, my inner voice whispered, what if something’s in there you need to know before you start writing?
So I bought it.
The result? I never put pen to paper.
After having written several books, that’s my verdict: there are only 8 books you need for the several stages of writing and book marketing to get started.
Consider them pillars to build further knowledge on.
Yes, there are countless books out there. Books you need to read to become a better writer because the key is to never stop learning. But the key is also to get your hands dirty and write. Both steps work best when they happen in parallel.
These are the 8 best books on writing you need for the various stages of the journey.
Best book for stage 1: Master the basics
Three Story Method: Foundations of Fiction
by J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon
“This comprehensive book will teach you the foundations of fiction: Plot, Structure, Genre, Theme, Character, and World.”
When it rains, a house without a solid foundation will fall.
That’s what happens to most authors when they stumble upon the wrong books on writing first. The craft you’re trying to master is so deep and facetted it’s easy to get lost. Without a solid foundation, the rain of overwhelm will make you fall.
But a solid foundation is a rock to build upon, and from here nothing can stop you.
Three Story Method is this foundation. Brief, solid, an easy read.
If you’re lost in the depth of characterization, arcs, puns, punch points, and archetypes… stop. And start here.
Build a proper foundation—a good understanding and solid overview of storytelling craft—and move on to deeper grounds from here.
Best book for stage 2: Dive deeper into storytelling craft
The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby
“Anatomy of Story is a practical guide that goes beyond the simplistic 3-act structure and hero’s journey to teach the story techniques necessary to write professionally in all mediums and genres of storytelling.”
Has a book ever changed your writing life?
Anatomy of Story has done this for me.
This is a book that will give your story depth, understanding of human nature and a sense of reality. It dives deeply into the seas of storytelling, but it never leaves you without an anchor. It always explains the reasoning behind the principles and it helps you understand story and characterization in a whole new way.
What is theme? And what do the characters have to do with theme? What does plot have to do with theme? How do all the storytelling parts interact together to create something memorable, something that feels like reality, something that leaves your reader astonished?
It talks about topics like:
- how to create the perfect antagonists for your hero
- why no characters should stand alone
- why premise is indispensable
- why you need more than one antagonist
When I understood the principles of this book, they gave me strength and wisdom to go from beginner to advanced storyteller.
John Truby is critical of the classical three-act structure approach. I take this criticism with a grain of salt because I’m still a genuine believer in the three-act structure. Still, take the arguments he proposes in his book seriously, and try to find a balance between the three-act structure and his seven key steps of story structure.
They don’t have to contradict each other. Instead, they can be combined to create an outstanding story.
Best book for stage 3: Get practical–Hands-on advic
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development & Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K. M. Weiland
“Whether your stories are read by two people or two million, your writing is your legacy to the world. Make it worth sharing.”
K. M. Weiland
K. M. Weiland’s books stand out and because they combine writing craft and practical hands-on tips in a clever way.
Especially if you want to outline your book, read both. Start with Structuring Your Novel, and then move on to Creating Character Arcs.
Using the information from Anatomy of Story combined with Structuring Your Novel, you can create a masterful plot that will leave readers breathless.
In Creating Character Arcs, Weiland explains why character and plot and structure are inseparable and how you can use the three-act structure, intertwining them with the development of your character. A character has to be the driving force of the story—but how you can master it so that everything feels genuine and organic?
This is a craft that she teaches in this book.
By the end of Creating Character Arcs, she includes an FAQ section that answers questions like:
- How can I figure out what my character’s arc should be?
- Can the character arc be a subplot?
- Should all of my minor characters have arcs?
- Do I write a character arc in a series?
From here on, we will move to the process of writing and then the art of marketing.
Best book for stage 4: Master the writing process
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron
“Do you want to write more every day without increasing the time you spend writing or sacrificing quality? I boosted my daily writing from 2000 words to over 10k a day, and this book explains how you can, too.”
If writing feels like pulling teeth, you’re doing it wrong.
This is one of Rachel Aaron’s eye-opening chapters about the process of writing.
She reveals not only secrets of how to write fast, and why quick writing does not equal bad writing. She offers unique hacks about how to master the writing process, and how to rock your writing sessions every single time.
My special favorite is the chapter: Editing for people who hate Editing.
She has amazing techniques and novel tips on how to excel in the editing process from beginning to end. There, she explains why your gut is important in editing and the three things you need to ask yourself to understand if you have written a good scene.
Best book for stage 5: Master the editing process
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King
“Instead of saying “Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust,” describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust for themselves. You don’t want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.”
The editing process differentiates between mediocre fiction and outstanding storytelling.
How many drafts do you need? As many as necessary to make the reader forget that they’re reading a book.
In this book that has to be part of every writer’s library, renowned editors Renni Brown and Dave King provide common mistakes new authors make when writing their manuscript, and techniques to avoid them.
The first chapter already drops a bomb: Show and Tell. This is something every writer needs to master and understand, but only a few do. With practical approaches and examples, the authors provide an insight into how you can use those techniques to make your books more professional.
There is so much more inside—characterization, point of view, dialogue, monologue, beats, voice. Every chapter was an eye-opener for me and all I wanted to do was go back to my writing and rewrite again and again.
My advice: read this book and study it before you even do your first editing round. It will take it to the next level by providing an understanding of the intricate dynamics of storytelling in language, description and all the things that are not about the big picture of storytelling, but about the small mechanics of how you tell a story and why.
Best book for stage 6: Be prepared for battle
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
“The War of Art gives a word and a name — ‘Resistance’ — to the invisible, insidious, indefatigable force of self-sabotage that has, forever, been stopping writers and artists from doing their work. Naming Resistance and calling it out is the first step to overcoming it.”
We all feel it.
The invisible force that tries to block us every time we sit down to write.
But it also isolates us: How do the others do it? Why can’t I seem to get things done? Maybe I’m not meant to be a writer.
Steven Pressfield’s book has revolutionized the way artists approach their process. It helps you name the beast that tries to prevent you from the artistic endeavor.
The struggle that kicks in is – Resistance.
It always hits us when we try to do anything risky, open ourselves up to something out of the ordinary. Because we leave our safety zone, it sets into motion the fear of failure, self-doubt, and procrastination. All of those things come into play when Resistance hits.
But that’s not all the book does. It helps you beat the resistance and get things done. Steven Pressfield provides techniques on how to run towards the fear and stay persistent in the face of Resistance. He helps you understand why some stages of the artistic process are harder than others, and how to be prepared.
He helps you appreciate Resistance because “it shows you the way you need to run towards.”
Best book for stage 7: Book marketing: a comprehensive overview
How To Market A Book by Joanna Penn
“Book marketing is a reality of the author life, regardless of how you choose to publish. Many writers want to know the best way to market, but it depends on your book, your readers, your personality, and so much more. This book gives ideas for short-term spike marketing, as well as long-term brand building, and everything you need to build your author platform for a successful career.”
Start with mindset.
This is where Joanna Penn starts.
Mindset in marketing is the key to becoming a successful author. She helps you to stop the eye rolls when you hear the word marketing and instead embrace this word for what it is: “sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it.”
This book is a solid, comprehensive overview of everything and anything you can do with book marketing.
Starting with the fundamentals like description, categories and cover, the pros and cons of exclusivity, box sets and series, it moves on two short-term marketing strategies and long-term marketing strategies on the author platform. It even mentions book launches and how you can launch strategically or relaunch old books.
This is a book every author—whether self-published or traditionally published—should have in their library. We all need to market our books. This book will ignite your passion for marketing and help you understand how much is out there and how many possibilities you have, and how you can tailor them to your book in order for it to get out into the world.
Learn about all the possibilities to help the people who want to hear about it, discover it, read it, love it.
Best book for stage 8: Book marketing: a strategical approach
Strangers To Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Reader Journey by David Gaughran
“Strangers to Superfans flips marketing on its head – instead of producing a book and then trying to find readers, it takes you on the journey your Ideal Reader undergoes when finding books, identifying obstacles, and teaching you how to remove them.”
Marketing is about empathy.
In this story, the hero is not you or your book. It’s the reader.
Dave is not only a great guy whose newsletter you definitely should sign up for. His writing has a unique tone to it that helps you feel at ease and discover the fun in marketing.
In Strangers to Superfans, he pulls you into the reader’s head and helps you understand the journey that he or she is making from hearing for the first time of your book. to buying it and becoming your superfan. We want not only readers, we want fans who will buy every single book we publish.
This is what this book is all about.
It helps you spot the pitfalls you can fall into when marketing. In this unique approach, you will learn to understand the process from the reader’s perspective. It’s eye-opening in many ways. It brings you closer to your reader and helps you understand what strategy you can use for your special book and how to choose this strategy because now the hero of your marketing story is the reader. You can optimize his journey to becoming a superfan.
These best books on writing are always in my arsenal.
Not only do I love them, but I have them on my desk for every part of the process to look up things and remind myself of the important foundational principles.
Every book is like a treasure I found over the years—like a miner who searches for gold in a laborious process. And I’m sharing this treasure with you because I don’t want you to waste years until you find these books. They’re invaluable to set build a solid career foundation as a writer.
Whatever stage you’re in on your author journey: pick the according book, study it, and do the work.
Because these books equip you to face the blank page (or more likely blank screen) and the artistic risks, get your hands into the mud and tell your story.
What are your favourite books on writing? Is there anything missing in the list? Let me know in the comments!