14 Must-Read Books for Writing a Novel
If you want to be a writer, you need to read…
This is pretty common advice in the writing world, and for good reason. Reading is how we learn to craft better stories, the same way singers learn by listening to music and painters learn by studying the masters. However, you shouldn’t limit your reading time to just fiction—you need a healthy dose of nonfiction too!
Fortunately, there are hundreds of excellent nonfiction books out there, all dedicated to helping writers hone their writing craft, edit their novels, and find their muse. So, whether you’re looking for advice on brainstorming or are ready to hit publish, here are fourteen must-read books for writing a novel!
Learning to Write a Novel
A common problem with any form of creativity—be it sculpture or writing—is that people believe you need some kind of innate, almost magical talent to succeed.
In reality, though, that’s simply not true.
Anyone can write a novel if they set their mind to it, and a good novel too. The key is to take the time to learn, both through practice, but also by absorbing every bit of knowledge you can. Blogs like this one are great for that, along with writing podcasts, “author-tubers,” and more. However, in the world of fiction writing, by far the best resources available are nonfiction books on the writing craft.
Books like these are actually where I started my personal writing journey all the way back in the summer of 2015.
This was when I first decided to take my writing seriously and—looking back on it—I read well over twenty books on writing before that year’s NaNoWriMo. Those books eventually formed the foundation of my fiction writing skills, taking what I already knew subconsciously and helping me put it into a more concrete writing practice.
Fast forward to now and I’ve written a few writing craft books of my own as I’ve continued to grow as a writer. Yet, I can’t help but circle back to those early books that meant so much to my writing journey. They still hold up all these years later, and as a result they’ve earned themselves a permanent place on my bookshelf.
Today, I’d like to share them with you!
No matter where you are in your writing process, there’s something for you here—from outlining to editing and beyond. Of course, because everyone is at a different point in their writing journey, I’ve made sure to organize these books by category. This should make them easier to reference, so feel free to jump to the section that fits you best.
Let’s get started!
My 14 Favorite Books for Writing a Novel
Books for Outlining a Novel:
Structuring Your Novel – K.M. Weiland
First up, we have Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland.
This book is a classic for a reason, as it’s by far one of the best introductions to story structure around. Not only is it a vital book to read before outlining a novel, but it’s also just an excellent tool for developing a better understanding of storytelling as an art form. After all, story structure is a key part of creating a strong novel, meaning having a solid structure from the start will make the whole writing process much easier!
Plot Versus Character – Jeff Gerke
Next up, Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke was actually the very first writing craft book I ever read.
This is a super intuitive book that would be a huge help for anyone struggling to balance both their novel’s plot and characters—as the title suggests! Best of all, Gerke doesn’t stop at explaining this balance in theory. He also shows you how to strengthen whichever side you struggle with, so you can achieve that balance too. Overall, this is a great book to read early in the outlining process.
Take Off Your Pants – Libbie Hawker
Next on our list we have Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker.
Amusing title aside, this book has a unique take on outlining, specifically geared towards getting pantsers to come over to the Dark Side and embrace plotting.
However, that’s actually not my favorite aspect of Hawker’s book. You see, this is one of the few books I’ve found that really gets into the weeds on chapter structure. Personally, I’ve grown to believe that chapters are best handled during the editing phase, but that doesn’t mean Hawker doesn’t have some great wisdom to share on the topic. If you read this book for nothing else, read it for that!
The Ten Day Outline – Lewis Jorstad
Last in the outlining category, we have The Ten Day Outline.
While the other books in this category (other than perhaps Take Off Your Pants) are more focused on the craft behind storytelling, The Ten Day Outline is all about the process of outlining a novel itself. Basically, over the span of ten days, this book will help you take a single idea and turn it into a fully fledged story through a series of prompts, questions, and guides.
By the end, you’ll have everything you need to write your novel with confidence—which is pretty cool, at least in my (biased) opinion! 🙂
Books for Writing a Novel:
The Ten Day Draft – Lewis Jorstad
Moving on to writing a novel, let’s talk about The Ten Day Draft.
Again, this is one of my own books, but that’s for a reason. There simply aren’t a ton of books that guide you through the process of writing a novel itself, because really, you just need to write!
Still, I think this book is worth your time for one key reason—first drafts are difficult. Having someone to guide you can be invaluable, especially if this is your first attempt at writing a novel. From managing your mindset to overcoming common story blocks, The Ten Day Draft is about the act of writing more than anything else. Basically, if you’re looking for a writing coach in book form, then this is the book for you!
The Emotion Thesaurus – Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman
Of course, I can’t leave out The Emotion Thesaurus series!
While there are tons of tips and tricks out there for avoiding writer’s block, sometimes you will get stuck—it’s just part of the writing experience. Fortunately, The Emotion Thesaurus (along with all of Becca and Angela’s books) can be a huge help.
These books are similar to a database of writing information, making them a great thing to reference when you need to come up with different situations, character reactions, emotions, and more. The Emotion Thesaurus is the first book in the series, and my personal favorite—but all of them are definitely worth checking out.
Books for Editing a Novel:
Writing Tools – Roy Peter Clark
Next on our list, Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark is a book I think every aspiring (or published) author should read.
Of course, there is a caveat here—this book is best saved for the editing process. While it’s filled with awesome advice, it also goes in depth on proper punctuation, writing style, grammar, and more. These are all important to master, but they’re easy to feel overwhelmed by if you’re still working on your first draft. However, once you have a solid manuscript under your belt, Writing Tools is definitely a book to pick up.
The Ten Day Edit – Lewis Jorstad
Rounding out the editing category, we have The Ten Day Edit.
Much like the rest of the series, The Ten Day Edit is all about process. This book is designed to take the often confusing, jumbled mess that is editing, and turn it into a structured, painless experience. It’ll guide you as you take stock of your current draft, help you formulate fixes through targeted prompts, and finally motivate you to put your new plan into action.
Even though I published this book less than a year ago, I still find myself reaching for it whenever I turn my attention to editing, which I guess makes sense—all the prompts and techniques in this book are ones I use myself. 🙂
Books for Publishing a Novel:
Successful Self-Publishing – Joanna Penn
It’s finally time to talk about publishing, starting with Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn.
Self-publishing is one of those topics that can be incredibly intimidating and confusing your first time around—which is why I so frequently recommend this book. Not only is this is a great introduction to the basics of self-publishing, but Joanna’s writing style is also approachable and easy-going. Really, this is the perfect book to pick up if you’re just getting started. Plus, it’s free on Amazon Kindle too!
The Business of Being a Writer – Jane Friedman
Of course, eventually you’ll need to level up your publishing game, which is where The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman comes in.
This book is essentially the big-brother to Successful Self-Publishing, and goes way more in depth on the business behind being a writer. As a result, this is definitely a book for more advanced authors—likely those who already have a book or two under their belt. Still, if you genuinely want to make writing your career, Friedman is an absolute wealth of knowledge. I highly recommend this one!
The Ten Day Author – Lewis Jorstad
Last in the self-publishing category, we have an odd entry, because this book isn’t actually published yet…
As you might be able to guess, The Ten Day Author is the fourth and final book (at least currently) in my Ten Day Novelist series. Just like its predecessors, it’ll walk you through every stage of self-publishing a novel, from writing your blurb to eventually hitting “publish.”
Unfortunately, the book won’t be out until Spring 2021, but this roundup seemed like the perfect place to drop an early hint. I hope you’re as excited about it as I am!
The Ten Day Author has officially gone live! You can check it out on Amazon here. 🙂
Books for Inspiration:
The Emotional Craft of Fiction – Donald Maass
Moving on to the final section of this post, let’s talk about The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass.
At first glance, this may seem like an odd book to put in the Inspiration category. However, this is actually one of my favorite books to read whenever I’m suffering from writer’s block.
You see, writer’s block is frequently the result of hitting a dead end in your story—and often the best remedy is shaking things up in the lives of your characters. So, while this may be an unconventional choice for this category, I recommend giving it try—you might be surprised just how much it changes your perspective on your story!
The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
Next up we have The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
This is a book I’ve talked about a lot on this blog, and with good reason—if I had to choose only one book on writing to read for the rest of my life, this would be the one.
Basically, if you haven’t read any of my posts on the Hero’s Journey, Vogler’s writing is all about the innate cycles we all go through in life—as well as how those translate to our storytelling. Overall, this book just makes me excited to be a writer, while also reminding me of a lot of important aspects of the writing craft as I go!
The Writer’s Process – Anne Janzer
Finally, we’ve reached the very last book on this list—The Writer’s Process by Anne Janzer.
It seemed fitting to wrap up this post with a book all about crafting your unique writing process. After all, good habits and a positive mindset are two of the most important tools you can have as a writer—more so than any amount of talent or luck.
Fortunately, whether you need help capturing your muse or structuring your writing routine, Janzer has a lot of great advice to share. Ultimately, while you’ll certainly develop your writing process in your own personal way, this book is a great place to start.
The Best Books for Writing a Novel!
While creating this roundup, I couldn’t help but look back on my own writing journey. Funnily enough, I can distinctly remember a time where I was reading almost exclusively nonfiction, and nearly all of those were books on writing. As much as I missed having some dedicated “fiction time,” I can’t say I regret this phase in the slightest—these books created the foundation of my skills as a writer.
Of course, you don’t need to be nearly as extreme as I was!
Whether you just read one book from this list or all fourteen, I’m confident they’ll all serve you well. After all, the idea that you learn to write by reading is 100% true—and that includes nonfiction just as much as fiction.
In the end, there are a lot of authors out there excited to share their wisdom with you, and I hope this list introduced you to a few that might eventually become your favorite. 🙂
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Steven King
Thoughts on 14 Must-Read Books for Writing a Novel
Hey Lewis 🙂
You already know my must-reads including all four of your published writing books as well as Katie’s books on Structure, Character Arc, and Outlining. In my travels through the world of books on writing books I have yet to find any that are pacing specific. What would you say your favorite, must have book, on pacing is?
Hi Lysa! 😁
That’s a great question, and to be honest, I can’t think of any writing craft books I’ve read that are specifically focused on pacing. There is Fiction Pacing by Rayne Hall, which I’ve heard good things about, but I haven’t checked out myself. Maybe that would be a decent starting place?
If you do end up checking out Rayne’s book, definitely let me know what you think!
Hi Lewis, I totally agree that one’s ability to write is not wholly determined by innate talent. I’m a big proponent of deliberate practice, which is why I’m excited to go through your list. Also, I love the premise for your 10-day series!
I’m glad to hear that Mason! Let me know which book from this list is your favorite. 🙂