Blog On Writing

10 Insightful Books About Writing and Publishing

Jaylynn Korrell and Joe Walters of Independent Book Review team up to share "10 Insightful Books About Writing and Publishing," including only small press and self-published titles like How to Make a Living as a Writer and Start Writing Your Book Today.

“10 Insightful Books About Writing and Publishing”

by Jaylynn Korrell and Joe Walters

Original photograph of Independent Book Review blog post 10 Insightful Books About Writing & Publishing.

When you have a question about medicine, you ask a doctor. When you need legal help, you ask a lawyer. And when you need guidance on writing? It’s simple. You ask a writer.

But with so many writers out there and so many books about writing, where do you go?

In true IBR fashion, we’re asking you to look no further than indie press and self-published authors. You probably already know about the giants in the authorship category like Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, but there are way more books about writing and publishing that can provide just what you’re looking for.

Since each writer is coming to this article at a different stage and with different interests, we’ve included books on varying subjects like how to make money as a writer, how to defeat your daily writer obstacles, how to fall in love with the craft again, and much more.

So, sit back and relax. You’ve got some reading to do.

Here’s our list of “10 Insightful Books About Writing and Publishing!”


1. How to Make a Living as a Writer by James Scott Bell

You say you want to be a full-time writer. You want to spend your days crafting characters, slinging quotes, and being adored by your fans. But how do you actually do it?

James Scott Bell’s How to Make a Living as a Writer might just be the key piece in solving that riddle. With his captivating mystery thriller novels, Bell has been making a living off of being a writer for the past two decades. In this book, he shares practical tips on how to write faster and how to form multiple streams of writing income, while also whispering to you his 7 secrets to writing success. If you’re looking for a book that digs into the nitty gritty of making money off of your writing, then this might be a great fit for you.

2. A People’s Guide to Publishing: Build a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful, Book Business from the Ground Up by Joe Biel

If you’re going to get advice about breaking into the book business, having someone with plenty of experience is helpful. Lucky for us, Joel Biel (founder of Microcosm Publishing) has over 20 years of experience in the industry, meaning that you’re going to be getting advice from an absolute pro.  

A People’s Guide to Publishing tackles subjects like developing your books to connect better with your reader, the financial aspects of what it takes to be an author and/or run a small press, and marketing your book specifically to bookstores or libraries. Talk about practicality. For writers who want to understand the business they’re trying to get into, this is an incredibly helpful resource. Check out our book review.

3. Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker

Writing fiction is fun and all, but it’s not easy to churn out novel after novel. You have to spend time developing your characters, perfecting your plots, and polishing your prose, but with Libbie Hawker’s help, you might be able to reach your finish line much faster. Either that, or you’ll learn more about different plotting techniques than you have ever have before.

In Take Off Your Pants, Hawker shares how she finished a 92,000-word first draft of a novel in just three weeks. How did she do it? She gives most of the glory to the way she outlined the story beforehand, and this book shares techniques for how you can outline your novel that way too. With chapters like “Pacing: Expanding the Outline,” “Character Arc: Start with a Flaw,” and “Plot: Inciting Event,” this book offers hands-on advice for how to jumpstart your novel and make sure that your reader gets all the excitement they came for.

4. The Writer’s Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being, and Creativity by Phillip Kenney

If you’re a writer, you’ve likely heard a voice inside your head saying, “You’re not good enough.” “You could be working harder.” “You could be doing more.” Sometimes, this voice cripples us. It keeps us from picking up the pen the next time around, but what if you could stop that? What if you could tell that voice shut up?

In our review last December, IBR’s own R. Read says, “He combines his expertise in psychotherapy with a history of putting words onto paper to help you unlock that elusive key of returning to the blank page.” As a psychotherapist and author, Phillip Kenney is uniquely in-tune with his writer’s psyche, and he shows it here. Chapters include “The Theater of the Mind,” “Novel Ideas,” and “Characters,” to get you to start trusting your writer instincts again and to never lose hold of your dreams and aspirations.

5. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

If you study fiction in academia, there’s a great chance you’re paying most of your attention to literary work and not paying enough to genre fiction. Professors often stray from novels with heart-pumping plots and instead focus on books that study prose, character, and theme only. But who says genre fiction doesn’t have those, too?

Benjamin Percy is a bestselling author of both literary and genre fiction, and he doesn’t believe the two are mutually exclusive. In Thrill Me, Percy not only defends the juicy plot but also shares different techniques for how you can do it too. You’ll be sure to find what you need in laser-specific chapters like, “Set Pieces: Setting the Iconic Scene,” “There Will be Blood: Writing Violence,” and “Move Mountains: Activating Setting.”

6. Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison

The world is filled with stories, so why are writers told only to follow one structure? We are told about the dramatic narrative arc: “situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides.” Jane Alison has been at the front-end of Googling “story structure” and scrolling through image after image of that popular arc shape. But does every story really have to follow the same path?

In this book, Jane Alison asks you to pay attention to stories that don’t necessarily climax, but ones that meander, spiral, then explode. She offers unique and specific insight about the way readers perceive narrative and how writers are designers, constantly creating images in readers’ brains that they’ll remember as patterns and essential parts of the journey. Jane Alison channels her inner John Gardner with this writing guide mixed with literary theory, ripe with inspiration and guidance to get you thinking differently.

7. Start Writing Your Book Today: A step-by-step plan to write your nonfiction book, from first draft to finished manuscript by Morgan Gist MacDonald

There are always excuses for not sitting down and writing. Whether you feel like you’re not writerly enough or you feel like you don’t know how to start, you’ll find solace in a book as inspiring and practical as Morgan Gist MacDonald’s Start Writing Your Book Today.

An experienced writing coach turned publisher, MacDonald knows how to get you to start writing your nonfiction book and which direction you should take it in. Since this book is paired with a workbook, you’ll have all of the tools you’ll need to stop putting off your book and start telling your story. Chapters include “Preventing self-sabotage,” “Good writing habits,” and “Finished Manuscript” to mimic your writing process and get you feeling like you know that you can do it.

8. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes

If you’re writing a romance novel, you should probably understand the genre. These “kissing books” have tropes and plot points all to their own, unique from other genres; their readers have expectations that you should be aware of. In conversational prose, Gwen Hayes shares Romancing the Beat, a book full of techniques and tips for how to tell a good romantic story.

Even if you’re not writing a romance, this book has unique insight into how to make the romance narrative in your genre or literary fiction pop. Romance writers know how to evoke certain responses in their readers, and it sure wouldn’t hurt your writing craft if you learned them too. Study up on topics like the “Meet Cute” and “Inkling of Doubt” to sprinkle in the best love story you can. You won’t be disappointed.

9. Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook by David Galef

Flash fiction comes to you in a hurry. Images shoot through readers’ brains, characters pass through scenes, and change occurs—all in under 1,000 words. As writers, less words doesn’t necessarily mean less hassle. Flash fiction is one difficult task to tackle, but with David Galef’s Brevity, it might get just a little bit easier.

In this book, you can come to understand different tips and techniques for keeping your stories brief and getting the most out of your words. Even if you’re not writing flash, Brevity helps writers grapple with the necessities of what you have to share with your reader in order for the right feeling to be evoked. Galef separates his chapters into different flash fiction forms like vignettes, prose poems, twist stories, fables, and more. And it doesn’t hurt there are some killer samples in here either.

10. The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House edited by Christopher Beha

Tin House knows good writing. As a stellar indie publisher who facilitates one of the best writing workshops in the country, Tin House should be at the top of the list for writers and readers to go for quality content. And back in 2009 and 2012, they shared some of their insight on the writing craft with us.

The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House is the second anthology of Tin House authors and workshop faculty members discussing the craft of writing in all different genres. It’s one of those beautiful books that you can pick up whenever you’d like to procrastinate and get inspired all over again. When you’re reading words about craft from authors like Maggie Nelson and Karen Russell, you’re sure to develop new insight and recognize how you can make a difference with your writing.


And that’s all you’re getting–for now! Keep an eye out for more writer-friendly listicles sliding your way soon, or head on over to our resources for writers page to find different ways IBR can help.

Writers! Which small press or self-published books about writing did we miss? Help us out in the comments!


About the Authors

Jaylynn Korrell is a nomadic writer currently based in Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JaylynnKorrell.

Joe Walters is the editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review. When he’s not doing editorial or reviewing work at IBR, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process.


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