Recommended reads & Online resources
Practical advice for editing and revising your own work. You can link below, or find them all on my page at Bookshop.org, where 10 percent of all proceeds directly go to independent bookstores.
Donald Maass: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
Maass’s book by the same name is a helpful resource for authors, but the workbook is filled with hands-on, practical exercises to help you hone areas like character motivation, plot, tension, etc.
Michael Hauge: Writing Screenplays That Sell
I recommend this book frequently to authors–its concepts are as applicable to fiction and narrative nonfiction as to screenwriting. Concise, insightful information about storytelling that includes Hauge’s wonderful Six-stage Plot Structure, a great device for stories where you feel “stuck” to help you map your way out.
Every author should know how to properly use his or her tools tools, and prime among those is grammar. This industry-standard reference book is well laid out and presents clear, practical explanations for correct language use in everything from basic grammar rules to what to capitalize, what to italicize, what to hyphenate, and thousands of other minute points that the professional writer needs to know. The exhaustive index allows you to quickly find exactly what you’re looking for.
More of My Favorite Books on Writing:
Jane Friedman: For the business side of the business, there are few folks more knowledgeable than Jane. With more than 20 years in the industry, she offers the touted Hot Sheet newsletter about industry news, as well as her own business books for writers; offers top-notch affordable online webinars and courses; and her award-winning blog and her wonderful Sunday Business Sermons offer excellent advice on everything from business strategy to craft to the writer’s life. She’s on the cutting edge of how digital advances are driving the publishing industry, and any author serious about success in publishing would benefit from her experience and knowledge.
Writer Unboxed: Populated by a variety of industry professionals–authors, agents, editors, etc.–and covering a wide array of topics relevant to authors (including editor Ray Rhamey’s delightful “Flog a Pro” series where he analyzes the first page of bestsellers and weighs in on whether he’d read further, and why or why not), this is one of my favorite writing blogs (full disclosure: I’ve also contributed).
Writers in the Storm: Great advice from experienced authors and editors (I’m a contributor) on craft, creativity, business, and more, including editor Margie Lawson‘s fascinating, enlightening posts on effective prose with her “psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques.”
Writer’s Digest is the longtime industry standard for articles about everything related to writing in every genre at every level and in nearly any aspect of the craft, business, and life of writers.
The Creative Penn: Voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer’s Digest, this blog is by Joanna Penn, a NYT and USA Today bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction and highly successful indie author who shares advice, experience, and inspiration about every aspect of the craft and business of writing. (Check out her podcast too.)
Well-Storied: Author Kristin Kieffer shares useful, practical, inspirational information on the craft and business of writing as well as the creative process in her newsletter, podcast, and book Build Your Best Writing Life.
Helping Writers Become Authors: Author K. M. Weiland’s blog posts and craft books are always insightful, useful, and practical, particularly for structure and character. Check out her podcast as well.
Live, Write, Thrive: This is author, editor, and book coach C. S. Lakin’s site, and she posts weekly about various elements of craft and the writer’s life, as well as offering an array of books on various writing-related topics.
We Grow Media: Dan Blank is an author and marketing specialist who works with creative people to help them connect with their audience and share their work. His weekly newsletter blog posts are a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration for creative people, and his book Be the Gateway is a refreshing way of looking at the process of finding and making meaningful connections with your intended audience–not just peddling product. In his inspiring podcasts, he talks with creative people about how they made the leap from talking about their creative goals to achieving them.
Women Writers, Women’s Books: A trove of great articles and interviews by and with top authors, editors, and agents. Great for craft and the business of the business.
Grammar Girl: Where to go for pithy, easy-to-absorb answers to vexing issues of grammar.
The Oatmeal: Not all of the Oatmeal’s hilarious comics relate to grammar, but the ones that do are a really fun way to remember bugaboos like i.e. versus e.g., or how to use a semicolon. (And if you get sidetracked into Matthew Inman’s other entertaining comics, quizzes, or blogs you won’t be sorry.)
There are so many wonderful podcasts out there for authors, and more all the time; it’s impossible to present an exhaustive list, but here are some I especially enjoy.
How Do You Write: Author Rachael Herron interviews working writers about their processes, and offers “tips to get in the chair, tricks to stay there, and inspiration to get your own words flowing.” Rachael has great resources on her website too.
The Rebel Author: Prose-obsessed author and editor Sacha Black offers “interviews, industry news, tips, tricks and tools to help you take your creative business to the next level.”
Storeytime: Author Stephanie Storey, who writes gorgeously wrought art historical fiction (Oil and Marble, Raphael), is also a credentialed Hollywood producer of top talk shows like the Emmy-winning The Writers’ Room, and she brings that expertise to her revealing and expansive online interviews with authors and publishing experts, as well as other creatives: musicians, art experts, historians, screenwriters, and more.
The #AmWriting podcast with hosts KJ Dell’Antonia, Jess Lahey, and Sarina Bowen offers craft, productivity, and creativity advice and insight through wide-ranging interviews with writers across a spectrum of genres and fields, as well as fun “myth busting” episodes and discussions of topics proposed by listeners.
The Marginally podcast is hosted by Olivia Allison and Meghan Miller Brawley, writers and, respectively, a corporate consultant and librarian, and takes a healthy, balanced approach to the writing life, billing their show as “for writers and creatives with day jobs they enjoy. Marginally is about supporting and encouraging people for whom writing–and all forms of creative pursuit–is part of a full life, not the only life.” Their warm, personal conversations with authors lead to in-depth, interesting interviews.
The Shit No One Tells You About Writing: Not only does host Bianca Marais conduct wide-ranging and unique interviews with top authors and industry professionals, but cohosts Carly Watters and Cecilia Lyra offer in-depth feedback and constructive critique of actual query letters and first pages authors submit to the show in the regular “Books with Hooks” feature–a hands-on way to learn from two experienced literary agents skills to set you apart from the slush pile.
The Story Blender: Master storyteller Steven James interviews other master storytellers on the secrets to great storytelling. Previous guests include Sue Grafton, Orson Scott Card, Meg Gardiner, Jeffery Deaver, and Robert Dugoni, along with comedians, actors, Emmy Award-winning screenwriters, and more.
Indie Author Lifestyle: Authors Angela J. Ford and Stephanie BwaBwa offer interviews with experts in writing, publishing, and marketing to help writers reach readers–while holding on to their sanity in what can be a demanding pursuit. The hosts’ blog by the same name also features useful craft and business advice.
The Indy Author Podcast: Host Matty Dalrymple is terrific at attracting top-notch guests from all corners of the publishing industry, and conducting in-depth interviews that offer solid, practical advice on writing craft and business.
How Writers Write: Host Brian Murphy talks to authors in depth about the nuts and bolts of their creative process. Warm, accessible, and inspiring, these shows are an enlightening glimpse into how different writers write differently.
The Downtown Writers’ Jam: I’m obsessed with former Wired editor Brad King’s laid-back, conversational, deep and broad hour-long discussions with writers: “We don’t talk about themes or the writing process. Instead, we have the kind of discussions writers have when are readers aren’t around. We talk about the events that shaped us growing up, current affairs, and why we write about what we do.” Some of my favorite interviews on the web.
88 Cups of Tea: This popular podcast is hosted by the charming Yin Chang, who brings her effervescence and warmth to enlightening, in-depth interviews with authors, editors, and other industry professionals. “We explore and unpack conversations that touch on topics like overcoming rejections and challenges, querying tips and crafting advice, lifestyle habits that support the heart and the soul, what it means to be human while navigating a creative path, and more. We pride ourselves in nurturing a supportive environment that aims to encourage, inspire, and entertain.” They succeed.
DIY MFA: Author, speaker, and self-professed word nerd Gabriela Pereira’s exhaustive array of writing tools and exercises help authors dig down to the core of their craft and build from there; her excellent podcast features top authors and industry pros talking about the craft and business of writing.
Write Minded: This podcast, created by She Writes founder Brooke Warner and NaNoWriMo founder Grant Faulkner, offers wonderful inspiration and advice through interviews with authors and industry professionals out of a “shared spirit of community, collaboration, and a deeply held belief that everyone is a writer, and everyone’s story matters.”
Reading and Writing: Host Jeff Rutherford offers insightful glimpses into both writers’ books as well as their writing processes in his interviews with the industry’s top authors and professionals.
Creative Writing: A Master Class offers free podcasts of more than 40 authors–like Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Gore Vidal, and many more–talking about the craft of writing.
Researching agents, publishers,
self-publishing services, etc.
When considering hiring any professional to help you create, publish, or market your manuscript, make sure you check out the services you’re considering. For a free guide with tips for what to look for in an editor, where to look, what to ask, etc., just sign up for my newsletter here. Don’t worry–I’ll never sell your info, and I won’t inundate your in-box, just share occasional offers and information.
This post on ZenBusiness offers an excellent big-picture overview of publishing as a career, with links to helpful articles about everything from polishing your skills to career options to tips for seeking an agent and editor. (Thanks to Barbara and Amelia with the SLCCN.org youth writing group for bringing this resource to my attention!)
SFWA Writer Beware A helpful resource that serves as a guide to publishers and publishing professionals—with warnings for those with verifiable track records of unethical behavior.
Absolute Write Water Cooler This forum lets you see feedback and evaluations from people who have had experiences with a wide variety of industry professionals. Lots of existing threads here on hundreds of companies and people, so make sure you do a search before you start a new one.
Publisher’s Marketplace Some good info to be found here about member agents, editors, publishers, etc.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has wonderful advice and guidance about selecting agents to query.
Now you know who to query; the next question is how.
There is loads of advice about this online, much of it by agents and publishers and experienced authors. Here are a few to get you started:
Nathan Bransford, formerly an agent and now an author, also offers great advice.
Agent Query offers a list of agents, along with what they represent, how they prefer to be contacted, and other info about them, and features some tools for tracking your queries. There is also a good article on this site about getting started in the process.
Query Tracker is a similar site.
Here’s a page that features successful query letters–the ones that got their authors their agents.
If you want hands-on, one-on-one query help, I recommend author MM Finck’s service the Query Quill. As an interviewer for the Agents’ Corner segment for Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine and community, frequent moderator of agent panels at writers’ conferences, and award-winning author of the article “Successful Querying: It’s Not All About the Letter,” Finck has the experience to help authors know how to catch an agent’s eye.
Great advice for authors:
Michael Hauge’s series of posts about defining what your protagonist wants is a good, clear explanation of one of the key elements that drives good story.
Opening lines at The Atlantic.
Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coates’s list of 22 “rules” for storytelling is a classic now–but I reread it often for a concise refresh on what makes good story.
I love author Jacqueline Woodson’s heartfelt, heart-filled advice for writers.
Maryville University compiled this list of writing basics that’s surprisingly helpful, from good advice on how to approach the craft to helpful tools available for authors.
Writers Helping Writers also offers helpful downloadable questionnaires, checklists, and other tools.
Jane Friedman offers a listing of professionals she trusts in everything from editing to web design to marketing and more.
Depending on your genre and interests, there are a number of well-respected writers’ organizations and alliances that can help you connect with other authors and offer helpful resources like webinars and classes, query and pitch resources and connections, peer critiques, and much more. Here are a few I especially like:
- The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA)
- Sisters in Crime (SinC)
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
- Mystery Writers of America (MWA)
- Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
Don’t forget about chapters of these groups–or other independent writers-group chapters—that may be based in your area. Many of these (in non-pandemic times) offer in-person meetings, workshops, and crit groups.
And speaking of conferences, these can be some of the most useful and enjoyable opportunities to connect with other authors, learn from many of the best in the business, and have the chance to meet and speak with the industry’s top professionals. There are many national and regional conferences—make sure you research what they offer, their reputation, the presenters they feature, etc., to make sure the investment is one that will help you in your writing and publishing career.