Readers Respond – What’s your favorite writing how-to book?

Happy Friday! It is a gorgeous spring morning and the eve of the Preakness Stakes (you didn’t think I’d let too much time go between blog posts to mention horses, did you?). Of course I’m rooting for Orb. After 35 years, we are way overdue for a Triple Crown winner!


As big a day as tomorrow is, today is even bigger! I am happy to introduce yet another new feature. Welome to our inaugural “Readers Respond”, where Laura and I ask our members questions that glean advice, pointers, hints, magic spells and potions about all things writing and illustrating. This week we wonder:

What is your favorite writing how-to book and why?

Lindsey Falkowski I like THE BUSINESS OF WRITING FOR CHILDRENIt’s clear and concise with good examples!

Vonnie Winslow Crist  THE FIRST FIVE PAGES – A WRITER’S GUIDE TO STAYING OUT OF THE REJECTION PILE by Noah Lukeman. It’s a short, focused book that points out the good, offers solutions for the not-so-good, and has exercises at the end of each chapter that help a writer improve his/her writing. Chapters include: Style, Characterization, Hooks, Setting, Pacing, etc

Lona Queen I haven’t read as many as I should, but I always liked BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. It’s an enjoyable read whether you are writing or not, and it gave me one of the best pieces of advice that has kept me going when I start to feel overwhelmed–just tackle it bird by bird (one piece at a time

Ron Smith I really like  SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Brown. It’s not overwhelming like some technique books. The voice is casual and there are a lot of helpful exercises.


Elizabeth Patera  SCBWI: THE BOOK. Truly an “Essential Guide to Publishing for Children”, as well as a workbook resource for finding publishers/editor’s tastes and acquisition preferences, as well as how to publicize your work — a good combination of how to make your document stay alive and be attractive to publishers and the public — PLUS pages for the reader/writer to record his forays into the business and successes (and failures).

We had two votes for WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul:

Christine Amyot Hurley …great writing exercises to stretch your thinking and make you really think about your work!

Susan Detwiler …gives instruction, exercises and great tips on how to craft a picture book text, and does it in a very fun and inspirational way. Ann Whitford Paul is the first winner of the SCBWI Jane Yolen Mid-list Author Award, in 2012.


Laura Bowers My two favorites are HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL II by James N. Frey and THE COMIC TOOLBOX by John Vorhaus. I read them whenever I need a tune-up!


Here’s my two cents: HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL II  and Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT. King’s advice on writing and the writer’s life is down-to-earth and not at all scary!

Thanks so much to everyone who responded. I definitely will be reading some of your suggestions! Remember to keep an eye out on Facebook and Twitter for future questions.
Before I go – Have you been getting your  May Mid-Grade Madness on? As I reminded you last week, Laura and I will be getting it done (or giving it our very best to!) May 21-23 with a few of our friends at our favorite coffeehouse. Don’t be shy – let us know how you are doing. We’re here to encourage and cheer you on!
Have a great weekend!

About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
This entry was posted in Writing & Drawing Exercises, Writing Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Readers Respond – What’s your favorite writing how-to book?

  1. I recommend this book so often, people get tired of hearing me, but for longer fiction, this is the first step (in my way of thinking). Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham is clear, practical, easy to read, and changes a writer’s life. Many of my authors have sailed on to publication after reading Bickham and following his advice. Basic principles include cause and effect, scene and sequel. Everything linked.

  2. Ron Smith says:

    Lots of great suggestions here!

  3. I’ll add one to the list – Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers.” Very interesting, and helped me think.

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