My Top 3: Writer's Digest Books

During my time as a Writer’s Digest book editor, I had the pleasure of shepherding a tall stack of books into the world, and each taught me valuable lessons about writing (it’s hard not to pick up some cues when you’re neck deep in writing advice night and day), and some were a lot of fun to edit, too. The following books were especially enjoyable, written by talented, fun, whip-smart people who really cared about helping other writers write better (and sometimes just to write). All these books are definitely worth picking up, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t even work there anymore, so you know it’s not some PR smoke and mirrors act. Enjoy!

#3: You’ve Got a Book in You by Elizabeth Sims

This was my first WD book, and thankfully Elizabeth is a great writer so I didn’t have to tackle a monster revision after reading her submitted text. This one is aimed at inspiring writers to get their own book down on paper, or on the laptop screen…you know what I mean. It’s full of helpful tips to keep you focused, inspired, and eager to push through those writing sessions that feel buffeted and hemmed in by stress and self-doubt. It makes the case that writing isn’t some great challenge to overcome. It’s easy, really, and anyone can do it if they have a story to tell. It sounds overly-simplistic, until you find yourself sitting down and typing. And then it’s happening. Before you know it, you just might just have a book on your hands. It’s an honest, earnest, and encouraging book that doesn’t come anywhere near saccharine or corny. Sims is the real deal.    

#2 Writing Monsters by Philip Athans

Yes, this is a book about the monsters and evil beasties that inhabit your favorite fantasy, sci-fi, and horror books (and movies!), analyzing what they mean, how they can enhance your story, and how you can describe them in ways that are unique and true to your tale. It was a hell of a lot of fun to read, much less edit, and being a fan of scary stories and strange tales, this gave me all kind of fodder for my own writing. Athans’ advice definitely rubbed off and helped me add some chills to my stories in What Lies In Wait, my new collection of short fiction. This book will do the same for any writer out there who wants to include some creatures—good or evil (or both!)—in their stories. Highly recommended.

#1 The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

I was a fan of Chuck’s blog at long before this book dropped on my desk, so when it did, I felt like I won the lotto. The book is full of lists, 25 things writers need to know to write better characters, to write better query letters, to build suspense, to use social media better, to earn an audience, to do this, to do that, anything a writer needs to know, Chuck has a list of tips, all written in his hilarious, scathing, no-holds-barred voice. Some lists previously appeared in his blog, some in previous books, and some are brand new. Yes, they were toned down a bit language-wise from previous incarnations so readers in the WD audience didn’t pop a gasket, but I think we did a good job keeping the voice true to Chuck’s crazed-penmonkey online demeanor. It’s such a fun read, and I found so much of the advice helpful and relevant. I keep a copy right next to Stephen King’s On Writing on my bookshelf, and for good reason. It’s a must-own book worth reading more than once.  

Honorable Mention: The Writers Guide to Weapons by Ben Sobieck

This one gets an honorable mention because I only took one pass at the book before I left WD to go deal with some health concerns, but I was really excited about this one because it wasn't just a fun read, but it was incredibly informative, too. I use weapons in a wide variety of my stories, everything from crime, noir, war, horror, and even sometimes in more literary pieces, and this was a very helpful guide to what weapon works best for what kind of character, while also giving a ton of advice on how to accurately describe and use the weapon once you have chosen the right one for the story. I’m hoping to get a copy soon to see how the final edition turned out. If you use weapons in any of your stories, you’ll want to do the same. Ben also has a blog where he answers similar weapon-related writing questions.