Over the years I’ve amassed a hefty collection of self-help, how-to books about writing. All of them have been useful in one way or another, but three of these have honoured places on my jam-packed shelves. They are books that, at different points in my writing career, shaped or steered me in significant ways. Without these three, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.
Recently, I discovered a 4th book to add to the honoured list. So here they are, the three plus one books I couldn’t do without:
How to Write a Book Proposal
Michael Larsen (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011)
Back in my days of rookie writing, I had a non-fiction manuscript but no idea of how to market it. After mailing the whole thing out to a publisher and waiting three months only to have the entire package returned rejected, I sought help. Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal showed me the ropes and yielded my first contract.
Reprinted and updated since then, Larsen’s book is still a valuable tool for anyone wanting sound advice on the ins and outs of publishing. Each chapter explores a component of the non-fiction proposal-building process and throughout the book Larsen provides solid examples and hot tips to guide writers, novice to expert, through every stage.
Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers
Gabriele Rico (Tarcher, 2000)
When I first dipped into this book, I had my doubts. The back cover boldly promised that by following its techniques I would “release” my creative potential and “turn the task of writing into the joy of writing” by harnessing the power of the brain’s free flowing right hemisphere. A few chapters into the book, I became a believer.
Filled with quotes, writing samples and inspiring exercises, Rico’s Writing the Natural Way was more than just an instructional guide for me. It was transformational. Even now – years later – the pieces I wrote then rank among my most creative, and when I find myself staring at a blank page, I still practice some of its principles to get the juices flowing.
Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Non-Fiction by a Two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner
Jon Franklin (Plume: Reprint edition, 1994)
A decade ago I took on a new teaching position and inherited an office with a sagging shelf of left-behind books. I found this one among the others. It was dog-eared, a indication that it had been well used. I read the book and soaked up the information, intrigued by a style of writing that we now call narrative non-fiction. Guided by Franklin’s book, I experimented with the form and boosted my storytelling power.
Since then I’ve acquired other books about narrative non-fiction. They’ve all added to my skills and knowledge, but Jon Franklin’s book is still my favourite. In this volume, Franklin covers much. How to sniff out compelling true stories. How to organize information and breathe life into characters. How to add splashes of colour and chart a course that carries the reader over hills and through valleys.
For anyone wanting a primer on narrative non-fiction, Franklin’s book is a great start.
The Plus One…
Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully
Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry (Workman Publishing, 2010)
A thick guide, but oh so complete, savvy and up-to-date – an entire toolkit of practical advice on everything writing-related from pitching to agents and launching blogs to crafting knock-out proposals and using video trailers for marketing. On practically every page, I found something new, exciting and useful. Already, the book is a trusted friend, and since I am lugging it everywhere these days I expect it will soon be as dog-eared as the others.