OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
These are some of the books I love and recommend for authors. I know there are gazillion more, but these have been the most useful to me on my own writing journey.
Books on Writing and Creativity
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King. Insights about writing that will make you feel better about where you are. Even the uber-mega-stars have a difficult time! Includes timeless advice on ‘butt in chair.'
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott. Includes life-changing opinions on first drafts and how bad they really are meant to be.
The Successful Novelist: A lifetime of lessons about writing and publishing – David Morrell. From the creator of Rambo, this book has some great comments on fame and money, as well as what really matters as a writer and in life. Here's my interview with David Morrell about the book and his writing life.
Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the writer within – Natalie Goldberg. I love Natalie's vulnerability and this book continues to help me when I feel like self-censoring.
STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting – Robert McKee. Incredible for authors as well as screenwriters as the principles of storytelling are universal. I've learned so much from this book, and more from seeing him live. It's also worth getting on audiobook as McKee is an incredible performer.
Story Engineering: Mastering the six core competencies of successful writing – Larry Brooks. This was the book that helped me write my first novel. Once the concept of ‘scene' dropped for me, I was able to structure a story. Here's my interview with Larry Brooks on the topic.
The War of Art: Break through the blocks and win your creative battles – Steven Pressfield. Will make you feel better about the struggles of being an artist and will give you hope that you can make it through to a finished product. Here's my interview with Steven Pressfield.
Turning Pro: Tap your inner power and create your life's work – Steven Pressfield. Probably the book I re-read the most. I have it in ebook, print and audio format and revisit every new year. If you want to be a professional writer, this book will kick your ass!
The Pursuit of Perfection and how it harms writers – Kristine Kathryn Rusch. If you struggle to write, finish a project or with doubt in general, this book will help. Something for every writer.
Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys To Creativity – Hugh McLeod. If you think it's crazy to consider making money from something you love, look at how Hugh has transitioned from cartoons on the back of business cards to a huge online business. But first, you need to tap into your creativity …
Let's Get Digital: How to self-publish and why you should – David Gaughran. The most comprehensive book on self-publishing. David is a campaigner for indie rights, so this book is completely transparent with no hidden agenda.
Write. Publish. Repeat. The No-Luck Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success – Johnny B. Truant & Sean Platt. A comprehensive look at the business model of high-output fiction writers. Includes how to write fast, publish quickly and get your book to customers. They also have a video course on Udemy that goes through the aspects of the book. Here's my interview with Sean Platt and separately with Johnny B Truant.
Choosing a Self Publishing Service – The Alliance of Independent Authors. Written by authors, for authors with no bias towards any service, this goes through how you can evaluate premium self-publishing companies and how to do it yourself.
Self-Publishers Legal Handbook – Helen Sedwick. Contains information on using images as an indie, what to watch out for in contracts with self-publishing services, working with collaborators and much more.
How to Market a Book – Joanna Penn. Yes, this is my book (!) but I wrote it because I couldn't find one single book that offered everything for authors in one. I've been studying marketing for years now and this is everything I have learned along the way. Updated Oct 2014.
Platform: Get noticed in a noisy world. A step-by-step guide for anyone with something to say or sell – Michael Hyatt. This is for any small business and does a great job of going through all the aspects of reaching an audience through a platform.
Let's Get Visible: How to get noticed and sell more books – David Gaughran. Focuses specifically on aspects of book selling online regarding Amazon algorithms, categories and optimizing your sales page.
Discoverability: Help readers find you in today's world of publishing – Kristine Kathryn Rusch. With 30 years of experience in publishing and now a mentor for indie authors, Kris brings immense experience with all kinds of marketing to this book. Insights on what really works online and off.
1001 ways to market your books – John Kremer. A fascinating resource with tons of offline marketing tips as well as online ones to help you get your book noticed.
Business for Authors: How to be an author entrepreneur – Joanna Penn. Yes, it's my book again! But after 13 years as a consultant, I bring my business head to the creative world and share how you can make a living as a writer.
Make Art, Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on fueling your creative career – Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. Jim Henson was a puppeteer and a multi-millionaire and this book explores how he ‘played' with both art and money, becoming incredibly successful in both.
The Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be – Jack Canfield. The book that changed my life and helped me to escape the day job and become an entrepreneur. Lesson 1: Take responsibility for 100% of everything in your life. You are where you are because of your choices. From the day I read that page, I started to make different choices.
The Compound Effect – Darren Hardy. Writing a few hundred words a day doesn't seem like much. Saving a few hundred dollars a month doesn't seem like much. Drinking water instead of soda doesn't seem like much. But all these little things make a huge difference over time. This book will help you see the magic of compounding – and I have seen this in my own life. In 2007, I had no books, no website, no online audience, no podcast, no twitter – just a day job I hated. Little steps every day since then have changed my life.
The Four Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich – Tim Ferriss. Helped me with the inspiration and education to leave my day job for the entrepreneurial life. It was the impetus to start this site and realistically consider a lifestyle change. Tim also has a brilliant podcast with some of the most interesting guests around.
$100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau: Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love and create a new future. A more recent take on lifestyle design, opting out of traditional employment and how you can start an entrepreneurial venture for less than $100 – with LOTS of inspiring examples.
The Icarus Deception – Seth Godin. Art isn't a result. It's a journey. Pick yourself and fly closer to the sun. I want everyone who has self-doubt about the creative process to read this book. It's super inspiring – you can read some of my highlights from the book here.
Choose Yourself – James Altucher. A manifesto to ignore the middlemen and choose yourself in this age of opportunity. The corporate ‘work' world is broken, the education system is a bubble waiting to burst – you need to take control of your life.
Manage your day-to-day. Build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mind. From 99U. Creatives need time to play and dream, but also to knuckle down and sort out a production routine, a workspace and schedule. This has lots of small chapters on all things productivity related.
Just writing this list down has made me want to start reading them all over again!
Great list, Joanna! I’ve read a number of the books but I didn’t realise you’d interviewed so many of the authors – i’ll have to go back into your archives and have a listen!
Joanna Penn says
It’s kinda one of my goals to interview everyone on the list 🙂
Joe Kovacs says
Thanks for this list, Joanna. I’m glad you included Story by Robert McKee, which provides amazing insights into the storytelling process. Even though I write fiction, I have often used certain films to discuss certain elements of story structure. In fact, I’m more likely to use films than other novels when talking about the writing process to others though I can’t quite say why. McKee is a screenwriter though his advice about story structure is so like what writers of fiction need to know and do, that it was an amazing experience reading the book.
The other book I have read is King’s On Writing. Interestingly, he wrote it around the time he had his car accident (read: hit by a car) in the early 2000s. His writing suffered for a while (Dreamcatcher is one of his poorest novels) and he even considered retiring because the pain made it so that he could not sit, write and concentrate for long periods of time. Ultimately, and fortunately, he did get through it and kept going. We wouldn’t have Lisey’s Story if he HAD retired. But On Writing also came out of that period and is incredibly lucid and helpful for writers. As you say, even the experts struggle. I pull this down from time to time from my shelf and check out a tidbit here and there.
I’ll have to check out some of the other items on this list, Joanna, which I am sure will be equally helpful. Okay, off now to link to your post in a Google+ writers’ community. Take care and thanks again! 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Joe – and I agree that King’s dark times enabled him to come back stronger – he has fought addiction and those terrible injuries, and still is my favorite writer 🙂
Seeley James says
That’s a great list. There are a few I’ve read and some I’ll put on my TBR pile.
I lean more toward books on specific writing aspects. My recent faves are Screenwriting Tricks For Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff, and Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (Enders Game). But my all time favorite is an obscure book by a little known writing professor from Oklahoma and written in the early ’60s –but it has specific examples that make sense– called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.
Joanna Penn says
I love Techniques of the Selling Writer – that is a super book – I might have to add that to the list 🙂
Leanne Dyck says
Thank you for this list, Joanna. I have an audio book copy of King’s On Writing. I pop it on when I need an extra kick of inspiration. Something about the combination of his words and his voice works every time.
To add to the list…
The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques by Nancy Lamb
Plot & Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell
Oh, yes, and I’d also highly recommend your book on Public Speaking. I found it information rich.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Leanne 🙂 I didn’t include the speaking book as it is more for the entrepreneurs, like yourself 🙂
Shane mason says
Thanks for these Joanna.
I have a copy of Robert McKee’s book – it was one of the books that finally galvanised me into writing.
I meet Martin Clunes on a set some years back and all I had for him to sign was the book – so he wrote in the “It’s all lies – Martin.”
Having said that it is one of my main goto books. I have taken the diagrams out of it and blown then up large as a constant reminder of how to move a story forward.
Donna White Glaser says
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki. Love the both!
Hi Joanna! What a wonderful list of books! I have read Steven King and Anne Lamott, but that’s as far as I have gone. Right now, I have book ideas and am hoping to get them outlined to pitch at a Writers Conference. But I know that’s probably not going to happen, so self-publishing will be the next step.
Thank you for listing these, I’m so glad I followed over from Twitter!
This is a super list! I’ve read the more popular ones but lots to add to my ‘to read’ list.
Kristi Helvig says
I recommend On Writing to everyone, and I also have to echo Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I think Save the Cat is part of the reason I got my publishing deal, and I’ve probably read every blog post on story structure written by Alexandra Sokoloff. I can’t wait to read some of these others that you recommended–thanks!
Andy Emery says
I’d like to mention a really good book I’ve just read: “Stop Talking, Start Doing: A Kick in the Pants in Six Parts” by Wasmund & Newton. Excellent advice for anybody, not just a beginning writer, who wants to get over the inertia and get on with it.
Also, James Scott Bell’s two most recent books: “Write Your Novel from the Middle” and “Super Structure”. The former focuses importantly on the centre of the book, the middle of the “middle build”, and argues that not only should you make this an important staging post, but your whole story can develop from this “mirror moment”. The latter suggests developing structure using 14 key scenes, a looser, perhaps friendlier approach than for example Story Engineering. I love JSB’s style anyway, and devour all his writers’ non-fiction.
Finally, and staying with structure, one book I’m really looking forward to, following your recent interview, is Shawn Coyne’s “The Story Grid”. If it’s anything like his developing blog of the same name, it will be fantastic. Essentially it riffs on the themes from McKee’s “Story”, exploring them in different ways and providing several practical tools for the author / screenwriter structure their novel / film according to the timeless principles.
Rebecca Cantrell says
For creativity and taking the leap to start writing, I’d recommend “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Inspiration, and it makes you do the work to take yourself seriously as an artist.
Bill Perry says
2 books I highly recommend to anyone serious about business in any form is “80/20 Sales and Marketing” by Perry Marshall as well as “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch
What a great list! Some of these, like the 4 Hour Workweek, are on my bookshelf but I just haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. I just discovered your blog – I’m glad I did!
Prasenjeet Kumar says
Love your long list of mouth watering (that should be for recipes but I am using for books) books on self-publishing. 🙂 I’ve read your Market and Business for Authors book, Compound Effect, Write, Publish, Repeat, Let’s Get Digital and Visible and Principles of Success. Recently I read Rusch’s Pursuit of Perfection. What a lovely short book on the dark side of creative writing workshops! Thanks for introducing me to Rusch’s work. I have even subscribed to her blog.
Ninie Hammon says
My son is a film maker and wanted me to take the first pass at writing the screenplay for my novel, Five Days in May. When I pointed out the obvious–I’ve never written a screenplay–he sent me a copy of several books on the subject. One was my hands-down favorite and it has affected all my fiction writing — Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. (It’s also affected how I watch movies, by the way, which is not particularly the good news. Five minutes into a movie now and I’m analyzing which category the plot fits. Hmmm…is this a Buddy Movie? No, I think it’s more a …)
Madeleine D'Este says
Thanks for the tips. My “Want to Read” list just exploded.
I thoroughly recommend ‘On Writing’, especially as I’m not really a King fan but I absolutely respect him and his advice.
Interestingly, I’ve also found the need to revisit these books as I grow as a writer. Years ago I bought ‘War on Art’ after hearing all the recommendations but on the first read, it didn’t speak to me. I wasn’t ready for it yet.
I picked it up and dusted it off again last week and ding dong, it started to resonate big time!