Back in May, I recommended the craft book Seven Drafts to my workshop. “I just saw another book like that…Something Drafts?” the instructor asked.
“Three Drafts! I like that less. Here’s why…” (Reader, it’s best for pantsers).
The exchange got me thinking about the explosion in writing craft books that parallels the explosion in MFA programs, online writing courses and conferences.
Everywhere, it seems like someone is telling you how to write better/faster/more.
In a crowded marketplace, how do you know which craft book is the one you need?
IMO, it’s the one that is going to solve your particular writing problem.
Read on for a few of my favorite craft books and who I think they’re helpful for.
This post includes affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you purchase via my links, at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links subsidize awesome free content like this, and I only recommend products I’ve used and enjoyed.
1. Byline Bible by Susan Shapiro
Best for: Nonfiction writers building their platforms with clips, all writers with books coming out who need to place “off book” essays.
Byline Bible* is my #1 recommendation for writers who ask me how to start pitching publications. I should probably also mention that I offer consults on this, so if you’re the talk-it-out-with-someone-who’s-been-there type rather than read-a-book-and-figure-it-out, book a consult with me!
Susan Shapiro walks writers through what to do and how to do it with examples that give you all the nuts and bolts.
It bears mention that the book came out in 2018. Given recent media consolidations, some advice is dated to the marketplace.
Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended resource that could benefit from a potential updated version.
2. Seven Drafts by Allison K. Williams
Best for: Writers who want to learn how to edit their book from a professional editor.
Seven Drafts* offers valuable advice tailored to writers at every level, whether you’re a beginner finishing that first ‘vomit draft’ to a writer getting ready for the query trenches.
This book is like having a trusted editor by your side, providing guidance throughout your writing process. Williams pulls back the curtain on the professional editing process. You’ll learn what it would be like to hire an editor – an expense many writers can’t swing – and pick up helpful tips to self-edit your work in every draft.
I like how this book gives you a roadmap. You don’t need to read it in chronological order – just read the edit level you’re at.
The aforementioned Three Drafts is written for panthers, and comes a lot of specific editing techniques you can try to polish almost-there work. Seven Drafts covers the beginning, the end and the messy middle with depth, attention to detail, and positivity, which is why I prefer it.
3. Graywolf’s “The Art of” Series
Best for: When you need to solve a specific craft puzzle, such as point of view, or deepen your knowledge of a craft technique, like physical description or dealing with time.
I can’t speak to all the books in this series. The ones I’ve read, which includes The Art of Perspective* and The Art of Myster feel super approachable (packed with examples) and helpful.
When I attempted a multi-POV literary suspense novel that was way above my pay grade, these little books helped me put together an action plan for revision.
4. Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum
Best for: Fiction writers who want to learn about the industry side of publishing.
Before + After the Book Deal* offers advice and answers the burning questions that aspiring authors have, whether you’re pre-published or agented and on submission.
Maum writes like an older, wiser friend who has been through the process and is willing to share their wisdom.
The author provides valuable insights into the publishing industry, demystifying the book deal process and offering tips on what to expect before and after signing a contract. Interviews with industry professionals and writers in multiple genres give the book lots of voices, which is a plus.
This book is mostly focused on fiction. Selling nonfiction is different. If you primarily write nonfiction and need advice on your platform or book proposal, consider another title – or attending one of Jane Friedman’s webinars on the topic.
5. Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks
Best for: Fiction writers who need plotting help.
Story Engineering* delves into the essential elements that make commercial stories work, utilizing accessible examples across various genres.
Save the Cat is a common fave but I actually prefer this book. STC can be a bit formulaic and overly complicated, with too many narrative beats to hit. This vision is simpler, cleaner, and more flexible for different kinds of stories IMO.
While Story Engineering’s process is simple, it’s a complex read. I had to make cheat sheets summarizing the main points. Still, if you’ve gotten feedback that your plots aren’t working and need to know why–and how to fix them–I highly recommend this title.
6. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
Best for: Fiction writers working on characterization and emotional resonance.
Crafting deep and compelling characters is a crucial aspect of storytelling, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction* is your guide to stronger characterization.
Packed with numerous examples and practical techniques, this book offers valuable insights for literary, upmarket and commercial writers looking to create authentic characters that feel aline on the page.
The book is a dense read. Some readers call it overwhelming, due to the frequent examples. If you approach it with patience and put into practice the tools Maass offers, your character development will strengthen.
Did I leave out one of your favorite craft books? Let me know and I’ll check it out.
Thanks for reading! It means a lot to me.
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