5 Books to Read Before You Write a Book

Writing a book isn’t as easy as most people think. The hard work starts when you’re tasked with turning the workings of your heart and soul into words. But, what makes writing a book even more difficult is then turning those words into something cohesive people will understand, read, and share with their friends.

The bad news is there’s no getting around the first two statements. The good news is you don’t have to do it ALL on your own. Yes, you still have to bleed onto the page and release your book into the world for any person to see and judge. But, you don’t have to figure out how to write a book or live through the agonies and joys of writing alone.

You can learn from other writers and gain from their experience by reading books on writing. It shouldn’t shock you that great writers write about the craft and profession of writing. After all, that is how writers process emotion, isn’t it? 

As you can imagine there are a plethora of good books out there about writing, written by great writers of all different times and genres. You could spend a lifetime learning how to write a book, but then you would never write one. So, we’ve picked five books that cover the essentials, and will help you start writing a book.

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This memoir and writer’s guide written by author and teacher Anne Lamott is the first place any writer should come before they write a book. Lamott is funny and warm. She is serious and stern at times. She is honest, often with less than modest language. But most importantly, she uses her own experiences to tell any writer what they can expect when writing a book. Lamott shows authors, firsthand, how to survive being a writer. She gives dos and don’ts. She offers practical tips. She doesn’t shy away from the nitty gritty. Though much of the book is about the nature of writing and being a writer, she does offer some advice on the actual craft of writing. Through her words you will learn how to deal with jealousy, writer’s block, publication, and crappy first drafts.

2. On Writing by Stephen King

The title of King’s book explains it all. This is a book on writing. All of it. He weaves his lessons in with personal stories of what writing and authorship have been for him. He details how hard it is to make it as a professional writer, but also how rewarding it can be. Building on Bird by Bird, King offers more specifics on what writers need as far as craft is concerned. King says each writer must possess three essential tools: vocabulary, grammar, and the elements of style. He details what these tools entail and why they are important. Throughout the book you will learn how to craft a story, the importance of killing your darlings (favorite phrases, not necessarily characters), and why you should “write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

3. Super Structure by James Scott Bell

Though Bell’s book is geared toward fiction writers, his principles of structure can apply to any writer. Many writers shy away from structure, believing it inhibits creativity and makes for cookie-cutter stories and uninspired writing. Bell’s point is that structure, in fact, allows for creativity to flow freely. He suggests writers break their stories into three acts and then place markers along the way to guide the story. If you know where your story is going, and the main points you want to hit along the way, you are much more free to be creative with it. Bell describes structure as a translation software. Structure allows you as the writer to take the ideas in your head and present them in a way the reader will understand. No writer can wait for inspiration to strike and then write a book flawlessly in one sitting. Writing is work, and your work will turn out better if you structure it.

4. The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

This book is focused mainly on how to build a platform as an author. Which is very important, but you may be wondering what it has to do with writing a book. Luedeke’s first and most important point is that “every book starts with a single genre and audience.” Before you even start writing your book you need to know who your audience is. As Luedeke points out, your audience should be small and specific. As much as you may want it to be, your book is not for everyone. There is a specific group of people you can help and who need to hear your message.

In order to ensure you’re writing a book your audience will want to read and find helpful, you need to know who they are. Luedeke gives great advice on understanding how to identify your target audience and what they want/need to hear. You’ll also gain great information on social media and how to use it when you’re ready to take the next step in your author career and build a platform.

5. A Well-received Book in Your Genre

This is not a cop-out, I promise. Your book has to start off belonging to a specific genre. You need to know what that genre is to be able to guide your writing. But, you need to know more than what the genre is. You need to know what other writers are saying in your genre. You need to know how that genre’s audience is receiving those books.

Though there may not be any new information under the sun, there are new ways of telling information and presenting it to readers. When you write a book, you want to avoid presenting the same information in the same way as another author. So, find a book in your genre that was received well, and read it.

Immerse yourself in good writing in your field so that when you go to write a book you know where to take it and how to present the information.

Start Your Author Career by Reading and Writing

Good writers are good readers. The more you read books by good writers, the more you’ll find your writing is good. The more you read about the writing process and grow your toolbox, the better your writing will be. The more you read books on writing from writers and learn that they went through and go through all the things you do as a writer, the less you’ll feel so alone.

Writing may come naturally, but writing well doesn’t always. If you are serious about a career as a writer, you have to put the work in. These books, and many more, are easily accessible. You don’t need a degree. You don’t have to pay for an expensive class or retreat. You can start your author career by reading and then sit down, apply what you learned, and write a book.