Editor’s Nightstand: Recipes for Success

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“An anesthesiologist has to do only one thing well: Put the patient under without killing him. But she has to know about five hundred things to do it successfully. It is the same with the writer.”

—Larry Brooks, Story Physics

A writer only has to do a few things well to woo agents, publishers, or an adoring public but having to know hundreds of things in order to do those few well? That sounds like a lot of work—not just an affair with NaNoWriMo—putting your baby out there and sitting back to watch the acceptance letters and fan mail pour in.

As romantic as we want the writing life to look, the reality is that, like most careers, it requires an investment of time and effort to be really successful. While you can’t control everything in the process of “making it,” you can make a sizeable impact on the likelihood of your success and cut the learning curve considerably by simply studying what makes a good book tick—tuning in when the real pros share what they’ve learned.

We call this series “Editor’s Nightstand” because it provides a list of the resources on our nightstands—books that editors found brilliant in terms of helping writers up their game. And we raided the nightstands of writers we admire. So while the books we list don’t represent every great book on writing or publishing, they are must-reads for producing compelling prose, plot, or message (and selling it)! Some of these how-to gems reveal “recipes” that most bestsellers riff on, and others help you take a recipe and make it your very own—fresh and intriguing.

This done-for-you research (it’s even organized by genre/category) is ready to devour, so stop banging your head against the wall and feast on a couple titles below—we hope you’ll gain some instant insight. (And if you’re paralyzed by large menus, we’ve got our chef’s picks here as an appetizer.) Lastly, see our list of writing conferences, relevant to all the lists below.

Bon appétit!

Prose Execution, Nonfiction or Fiction

Writing Fiction

Big Picture—Insights on What Makes a Novel Sell

General Fiction Craft

Children’s

Young Adult

Speculative (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Paranormal, etc.)

Reference Books to Spark Your Creativity and World-Building Ideas

Thriller/Mystery

Romance

Historical Fiction

Western Fiction

Writing Nonfiction

Nonfiction Craft, Market, and Industry

Magazines

  • Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing  edited by Michelle Ruberg (this covers everything from coming up with ideas to crafting the perfect query letter to researching and writing your article)
  • 2014 Writer’s Market  edited by Robert Lee Brewer (There’s a new iteration each year. Every writer needs a copy of this book! For those wanting to break into magazines, you’ll find more magazines listed than you ever knew existed, as well as information about how to contact them and how to break into them.)

Personal Experience/Memoir

Poetry

For Beginners
For the More Advanced

The Business End of Writing: Securing Agents, Contracts, Promoting, Etc.

The Writing Life: Inspirational (overcoming fear and writer’s block, habits of successful writers, finding time, etc.)

If you got through this whole list, congrats! Now pick one and devour! Did we leave anything out? Share the best book you’ve ever read on becoming a successful writer!

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