Craft and How-To Books

Reading: Time Riders by Alex Scarrow
Listening to:  Angry Birds (weeee!!! squark, squark.  OINK!)
Watching:  Winners and Losers

So, leading up to our 20th anniversary RWA conference, discussion on our loops turn to all the wonderful craft and how-to books available for writers.

When I first started writing, I craved genre-specific how-to books.  Sure, there were heaps of ‘creative writing’ books out there, but none that suited my particular needs.  For example, I really hate “let’s do a writing exercise!” books, and ones that reference literary fiction or authors I have no interest in reading.  I wanted practical stuff!  “If only there was a book on effective editing/writing love scenes/conflict/how to structure a story, etc.” was my familiar lament.   I went through a bunch (mainly from the library) that, although okay, didn’t give me any greater insight.

Then I picked up The Secrets of Successful Romance Writing by Emma Darcy and The Art of Romance Writing by Valerie Parv.  FINALLY!  Information specific to my genre! Sure, at the time I was writing sweeping historical sagas not category romance, but still, much of the information contained in those two small volumes hit home.   And slowly, more and more authors began to publish craft books.  And then I discovered Writers Digest.

It was a bit of an obsession, this burning desire to acquire how-tos, and for a few years I was blissfully caught up in the excitement of buying a book and absorbing every detail.  Then came my first sale, and looking at my shelves, I realized I’d moved on from the basics – writing a gripping first chapter, effective dialogue, what is tension/pace  – and needed something different to satisfy my thirst for information, like procrastination, juggling life and writing, better ways of plotting.

So below are a list of recommended books I’ve actually READ 😀

Craft Books

  • Writing Romance – Vanessa Grant (Self-Counsel Press) – a good overall book to start, which gives some great advice as well as practical ways to structure a synopsis
  • Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies – Leslie Wainger  (Hungry Minds Inc US) written by an Executive Editor of Harlequin Books, this book is an easy-to-follow guide to writing, pitching and selling your romance novel
  • Story – Robert McKee (Methuen Publishing) I started reading this book after I was fortunate enough to attend McKee’s Story seminar.  Sure, it’s aimed at screenwriting, but the wealth of information this legendary guy brings is totally worth it, from structure, writing compelling scenes, dialogue and turning points
  • Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass (Writers Digest)  Love The Donald (one of New York’s leading agents) and love this book.  It gives you practical ways of improving your story, from layering in tension, to increasing the stakes for your characters.  Use in conjunction with his workbook.
  • The Writer’s Journey – Chris Vogler (Michael Wiese Productions) Vogler contends that “all stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies” and his book details and expands on those elements.  A great book for both plotters (as a plotting tool) and pantsers (as an editing tool)
  • Writing the Fiction Synopsis – Pam McCutcheon (Gryphon Books for Writers) – if you’ve ever wrestled with a synopsis (okay, all of you??) this book breaks it down into easily understood pieces
  • Book In A Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days  – Victoria Lynn Schmidt (Writers Digest) – love the layout of this book: spiral bound with easily flippable pages.  It’s also a great way to plan out your first draft.


  • The Writer’s Handbook for Editing and Revision – Rick Wilber (NTC)
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King (HarperCollins)

Two fabulous editing books that give you practical examples on how to strengthen your writing.


  • Goal, Motivation, Conflict – Debra Dixon (Gryphon Books for Writers) – one of my writing staples.  If your characters don’t have GMC then your story will suck and you’ll lose reader interest.  Trust me.
  • The Sociopath Next Door – Martha Stout (Three Rivers Press) – fascinating study into sociopathic personality types
  • The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: 16 Master Archetypes – Tami Cowden, Carol LeFever, Sue Viders – brilliant for creating believable characters.


  • The Productive Writer: Tips and Tools to Help You Writer More, Stress Less and Create Success – Sage Cohan (Writers Digest)
  • Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within –  by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (Mariner Books)
  • The Procrastinator’s Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing it Now – Rita Emmett (Walker & Company)

And of course, I have stacks of books on my TBR pile that look awesome but I’ve yet to delve into:

  • The Artful Edit: On The Practice of Editing Yourself  – Susan Bell (WW Norton)
  • Lights, Camera, Fiction!  A Movie Lover’s Guide to Writing Fiction – Alfie Thompson (Running Press)
  • Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – Blake Snyder (Michael Wiese Productions)
  • What Would Your Character Do?Personality Quizzes for Analyzing your Characters – Eric Maisel (Writers Digest)
  • The Hero Within: Six Archetypes we Live By – Carol Pearson (HarperOne)

Do you have any favorite writing books?  I’d love to hear about them because you can never have too many books 😀


The return of Loveswept

Reading: The Taste of Night by Vicki Pettersson
Watching: Teen Wolf
Listening to: With a Spirit by 009 Sound System

So the hot news sweeping through the author community is that Random House are bringing back their Loveswept romances.  For those unfamiliar with these category books, they were published by Bantam in the 80s and 90s and launched the careers of such luminaries as Suzanne Brockmann, Kay Hooper, Iris Johansen and Tess Gerritsen.  Jenny Crusie also wrote two before the line became defunct.

So they will be in e-format only, and reprints of favorites to start.  Then eventually, new titles will be published.  This is great for readers who love category books (More diversity!  More books to read!  More authors to discover!) and fabulous news for category authors too (More places to sell their work!  More readers!  More diversity!).  The Publishers Weekly announcement is here, and the new website for Random House Loveswept here.