For those who love books about writing, the equation is both simple and problematic: Too many writing books are published each year (several thousands, actually), and there’s too little time to read them all. The New Year brings another treasure trove of writing books. The following 13 titles will be published in the first three months of the year (subject, of course, to change by the publishers). There’s something here for everyone: nonfiction writers producing essays and memoirs, as well as fiction writers crafting short stories and novels. There are books of fascinating interviews filled with writerly wisdom from best-selling authors about why and how they do what they do. Lovers of grammar and style will find book recommendations, too, as will those seeking to learn the nuts-and-bolts of the publishing process.The New year offers the opportunity for a renewed commitment to – and great success with – all your writing endeavors. It’s never easy, but these books may help you along the tough road ahead.
Good Prose: the Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd Random House, 240 pages Hardcover $26 On sale: Jan. 15
Tracy Kidder, author of the bestselling Mountains Beyond Mountains and The Soul of a New Machine, is widely recognized as one of the great nonfiction authors of the last half-century. Here, the Pulitzer Prize winner teams up with his longtime editor Richard Todd to describe how great nonfiction prose gets put together. Kidder uses his own exemplary writing and his personal experiences to illustrate his points about “finding nonfiction stories” and bringing them to life, but he also pulls in great examples from other nonfiction masters. Kidder and Todd winningly explore narrative strategies, the ethical difficulties of nonfiction, and the even greater challenges of making a living as a writer. A must-read for nonfiction writers.
To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction by Phillip Lopate Free Press, 240 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: Feb. 12
Like Tracy Kidder, Phillip Lopate is a giant in the genre of nonfiction. As editor of The Art of the Personal Essay, he presented would-be nonfiction writers with classic examples of the art. Now he offers nonfiction writers an under-the-hood examination of great nonfiction, describing the nuts-and-bolts of crafting great essays and memoirs.
The author of more than a dozen books, Lopate directs the Nonfiction Program at Columbia University. If you want to improve as an essayist, Lopate will show you how to develop a unique literary voice, how to paint specific details to fuel a story, how to begin and end an essay or memoir, and how to identify and emphasize story themes through action and description.
Make Money From Freelance Writing: A Teach Yourself Creative Writing Guide by Claire Gillman McGraw-Hill, 288 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: Feb. 15
Veteran writer and editor Claire Gillman shows freelancers how to tap into lucrative markets such as how-to features, travel writing, writing for business, online writing, ghostwriting and more.
Each chapter is filled with practical suggestions on identifying well-paying markets, targeting specific publications, pitching to editors, negotiating assignments, doing the work (research and writing) and expanding your freelance opportunities. Gillman includes writing exercises, as well as handy summaries at the end of each chapter. Her goal is to help freelancers open the door to more work and more income. At $16, this useful manual will likely pay for itself quickly in more freelance income down the road.
The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV by David Corbett
Penguin, 416 pages Paperback original $17 On sale: Jan. 29
A former private investigator, David Corbett is a renowned best-selling mystery writer who has been lauded by readers and book critics alike for his ability to create fully realized fictional characters. As a Chicago Tribune book critic once put it, “Corbett does people beautifully.”
Corbett shares his secrets for making characters come to life on the page, from presenting their back stories and motivations to crafting memorable dialogue and great scenes that flesh out characters and move the plot forward at a compelling, tension-fueled pace. Corbett, a writing teacher at UCLA, has a clear and elegant style that’s easy for would-be writers to absorb.
Write a Bestselling Thriller: A Teach Yourself Creative Writing Guide by Matthew Branton McGraw-Hill, 288 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: Feb. 15
The author of four internationally acclaimed thrillers, Matthew Branton knows a thing or two about the mechanics of plotting and writing a thriller that will keep readers turning the pages into the darkest night.
Feeding off the mega-success of thrillmasters such as Steig Larsson and Michael Connelly, the genre is exploding in popularity. Branton spells out how to create a hero readers will identify with, develop a believable villain, map a suspense-filled plot, raise the stakes, craft convincing dialogue, write great scenes and much more. The second half of the book explains the business side of the industry, guiding writers in their pursuit of agents, publishers and book buyers.
The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook by Brian Shawver University Press of New England, 264 pages Paperback original $19.95 On sale: Jan. 8
While many fiction writing books focus on developing plots and characters as well as getting published, novelist and writing instructor Brian Shawyer explores just the process of crafting fictional prose that pulls readers in with beauty, rhythm and lyricism.
An alumnus of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Shawyer reviews the basic rules of grammar, punctuation and usage, asking fiction writers to meticulously examine the smallest bricks that make up all fictional structures, from short stories to long novels. Reading Shawyer will help any author focus more on enhancing the music of his or her prose.
The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing by Martha Alderson
Adams Media, 224 pages Paperback original $14.95 On sale: Jan. 18
Martha Alderson, a.k.a “The Plot Whisperer,” has been a nationally recognized plot consultant for 15 years, helping best-selling authors and Hollywood scriptwriters get out of the mud and move smoothly in their narrative structures and story plotting.
Here she offers loads of exercises to help writers think clearly about plot and activate a story’s momentum. As Alderson says, “All of us face antagonisms and hurdles, hopes and joys, and by meeting these challenges we can transform our lives.” This book’s practical exercises will show writers how to bring these “moments of transformation” into their own stories.
Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran Plume, 288 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: Jan. 29
Ask six writers why they write and you’ll likely get six answers. For some, it’s for money. For others, it’s for attention. Others have no answer except an inability to do anything else.
Or, as George Orwell once put it in his essay Why I Write, “I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with feelings of being isolated and undervalued.” In this collection, we hear from 20 of today’s best writers including Jodi Picoult, Rick Moody, Ann Patchett and Michael Lewis about how and why they write.
Always Apprentices: The Believer Magazine Presents Twenty-Two Conversations Between Writers edited by Sheila Heti, Ross Simonini and Vendela Vida McSweeney’s, 352 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: March 12
This single volume collects over five years of intimate, highly instructive conversations from the pages of The Believer magazine with great contemporary authors who discuss their craft.
All the interviewers, and of course the interviewees, are renowned authors. Legendary novelist Don DeLillo, for example, talks fiction with cult-hero/novelist Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero). Another legend, Joan Didion, discusses craft with one of today’s great young novelists, Vendela Vida (The Lovers). The pairings are often quirky and surprisingly fun, as when Irish novelist Colum McCann begins his conversation with award-winning novelist Aleksandar Hemon by asking, “What are we doing here? Why aren’t we in a pub?” A sure-fire hit for lovers of author interviews.
Great Writing Books
The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life and Language by Natalie Goldberg Free Press, 256 pages Hardcover $25 On sale: March 19
Author of the classic Writing Down the Bones (which has sold over 1.5 million copies), Natalie Goldberg’s latest offers the secrets she has learned from a lifetime of teaching writing.
After 35 years of helping writers enhance creativity, Goldberg simply asks writers to reflect with an open mind on what stories they really want to tell. She also shows writers how to stifle the internal critic, the doubting voice that says you can’t (or shouldn’t) be writing about yourself or others – or that your writing is unworthy and you’d be better off doing something (anything) else. As always, Goldberg understands how to empower the creative spirit within each writer. A bracing refuge for those needing a dose of inspiration.
How To Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them by Ben Yagoda Penguin, 272 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: Feb. 5
Ben Yagoda, a best-selling guru on writing and an English professor at the University of Delaware, blends erudition and humor to show would-be writers how to construct solid sentences, powerful paragraphs and well-structured compositions.
Yagoda points out the many landmines of grammar and usage – such as misuse of commas and semi-colons, clunky transitions and inelegant sentence cadences – showing his readers how to avoid them and write on safer ground. If his previous books on writing (including When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It and The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing) are any indication, this writing manual will be a sure and highly entertaining winner.
Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method by Stuart Horwitz Perigree, 256 pages Paperback original $16 On sale: Jan. 29
Stuart Horwitz is an award-winning poet and essayist who also teaches writing. In addition, he’s the founder of Book Architecture, a Boston-based editing firm that has helped numerous best-selling authors revise and improve their work, getting it ready for successful publication.
In Blueprint Your Bestseller, Horwitz presents his step-by-step method of revising any manuscript, fiction or nonfiction. “The basic premise of The Book Architecture method is this,” writes Horwitz, “Your book has 99 scenes. If you find your scenes and put them in the right order, you will be all set.” His manual on the revision process shows you exactly how to get that done.
The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success by Eric Kampmann and Margot Atwell Beaufort Books, 160 pages Paperback original $12.95 On sale: Jan. 14
Eric Kampmann has been inside the book publishing industry since 1970, and has taught book publishing courses at Harvard, Columbia and NYU. Margot Atwell is a veteran book editor and author. Each offers an insider’s view of a business that only seems to be getting more complicated.
The co-authors ask and answer questions such as these: Should writers self-publish or find a traditional publishing house? How can writers increase publicity for books? How can writers create a digital/online platform to enhance sales of books? They also explain how authors should approach agents, prepare attention-getting book proposals, negotiate fair book contracts, work with editors and much more.