With so many writing reference and guide books out there, and I mean thousands to choose from, it can be hard to pick the right one for your needs. Maybe you don’t even know your needs as a writer but you feel it’s high time you got some guidance for your craft. I’ve listed 5 books that have helped me along tremendously with my literary journey. Some were required for college, and some I sought out on my own, but each one of these is a goldmine of knowledge for the aspiring writer:
Writer’s Market is simply a must have for anyone that hopes to be published. Period. Not only are there thousands of listings for agents, book publishers, magazines, and trade journals, but each listing describes what each source is looking for and how to get in contact with them. There are also a ton of essays in the beginning of the book that go into detail about how to get published and just about anything else that pertains to getting your work out there. I’ve used this one time and time again, so should you.
With the feel of a bathroom reader and the soul of the absolute best reference guides, Show Your Work! is a quick shot to the brain that will teach you how to build your platform. Eye opening to say the least, consider this your bible on how to build up your media presence and make it stand apart from the pack. I didn’t know how to blog; I didn’t know how to garner a following with social media; I didn’t realize that they were all connected – now I do. If you’re trying to navigate the confusing world of platform building, this is the book for you.
The genre writing book. Everyone should have one. I picked this particular one because I was writing mostly Sci-Fi/Fantasy at the time. These books will get you into the nuts and bolts of whatever genre you are writing in. I’m a big proponent of breaking away from established tropes and clichés in my writing; these people are, too. But to put your original twist on a tried and true format, you really need to know why these forms are so trusted and popular. All the ones I’ve seen have described in detail what makes these established genres so beloved and how you can contribute your own, original piece of the pie into the equation. Get one, read it, and spin the literary world on its head.
Let’s face it, we all do some sort of research when we’re developing our stories. The Craft of Research will show you how it’s done. There’s a lot more to the type of research you need to do as a writer than just Googling your topic and scrolling through a couple of pages. These guys tell you how to do it, step by step, and line by line. We all may dread the research part of the writing we are about to commence, but if you use this guide then things will become much more tolerable. You might even begin to like the whole process – the mark of any truly great reference book.
I know, I know. “It’s a crutch!” and Stephen King is turning over in one of his literary graves right now. But I think differently. Sometimes you simply don’t have the right word for what you are trying to convey. This one will lead you to it (and you can now stop pounding your face off the keyboard because you finally found the word ‘erumpent’ and all is right with the world.) What I love about this thesaurus is, first and foremost, words are listed alphabetically. That makes my life so much easier. It also has some style and usage guides in it, as well as quick little “reflections” on a particular word from established authors that will help illuminate what they should actually be used for (my personal favorite is David Foster Wallace’s reflection on ‘feckless’ which he described, among other things, as a ‘totally great adjective’.) I won’t sit here and lecture you about the correct way to use a thesaurus but if your going to get one, put this at the top of your list.
So that’s it, my fav. 5 so far. You probably noticed I didn’t put any “Art of…” type books on this list, really because I haven’t found one that I liked yet, but I’ve got Kings “On Writing” and Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir” on my list for this year. This is by no means an all-inclusive list either, so chime in and let me know what guides are an absolute must have in your book (no pun intended.)