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Best Books on Writing Novels to Become a Published Novelist

William Ellis

August 31, 2022

This article covers the best books on the market that help you polish your writing skills to that of a professional novelist. These books have a proven track record in helping writers improve their skills, giving them an edge in a super-saturated market.

In the year 2021, it was reported that there were a little over 49 thousand writers in the United States alone. To say that there are a lot of people out there who wish to be writers is a massive understatement.

Of course, the word “writer” is a blanket term for anybody who writes for a profession and lives the writing life. It can be argued that the kind of writer most aspire to be is a novelist. 

Novelists are the writers who tend to make the big bucks (provided they can get good deals with the right publishing houses) and there is a certain rock star appeal to becoming one.

The tools for writing a novel have always been relatively accessible. So long as you have a pencil and paper you can write. In older times, if you had a typewriter you could write even faster. Today, there is not a single computer sold that does not include a word processing program. Anybody, in theory, can write.

However, there is a cold truth that many budding writers catch up to eventually: It is one thing to write, and it is another to write well. Writing a novel requires patience, skill, and know-how if one is to write a genuinely gripping novel. Every aspiring writer needs at least some help.

What are the best books on writing novels?

Fortunately, the wisdom of other successful writers is out there in print form. The wonderful thing about the tools of writing a good novel is that there are no “trade secrets.” Some would argue that good writing and storytelling tenets are ancient. One merely has to use the right tools.

Here are books about writing novels to help you bring out the novel that has been brewing in your mind.

On Writing by Stephen King

Stephen King has been called numerous things. “Master of Horror” is a title you have probably heard him as having. 

He is also among the most successful novelists of all time, with over forty years of consistently releasing bestsellers. When you want good advice on writing novels, Stephen King is one of the best sources to get it.

On Writing is more than a mere instructional for novel writers. It traces key events in King's life, including a near-fatal car accident that almost ended his career, that formed him as a writer. 

King emphasizes in this book that it is not only the language and stylistic skills that make a writer, but one's life experiences as well. King will teach you to draw from the well of your own life experiences to find what can make you unique as a great fiction or nonfiction writer.

I Should Be Writing by Mur Lafferty

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This book came about from a highly popular podcast by Mur Lafferty in which she interviewed successful writers such as Neil Gaiman, Adam Christopher, and many others. This book is designed to give you all the tools you need to start writing and, more importantly, keep writing.

Many writers give it up or dismiss their calling as just a hobby due to a feeling of impostor syndrome. You will be encouraged to conquer impostor syndrome and keep writing through a series of prompts and exercises.

The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

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If you want a book designed to shatter fear and help with your emotional craft as a writer, then this book by Chuck Wendig is what you need. In this book, you will find 1,001 tips that will have you laughing while teaching you important lessons for not only how to write your novel, but how to try and get a book deal.

You will learn things such as plot and story structure, character development, building suspense, editing your work, improving your writing process, and navigating the publishing process. Best of all, you will laugh the entire time thanks to Wendig's matter-of-fact style and (occasionally) irreverent humor.

Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman

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It is a fairly common cliche that many writers are introverted and neurotic, making them more likely to dwell on negative emotions and self-doubt. This book by Bonnie Friedman uses personal narrative and psychology to help writers overcome the single biggest source of writer's block: self-doubt.

This book is written in a heavily empathetic style, helping the reader to overcome personal hang-ups and negative emotions. The reader can become the writer they have always hoped to be. When you feel lost in the writing process, or that you cannot do it, this book is a veritable lighthouse of helpful writing and therapy.

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster

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This book is one of the older entries on this list, but Forster's novels such as Howard's End, A Room With a View, and A Passage to India speak for themselves. Forster's book includes subjects such as people, plot, and story all laid out in a matter-of-fact nature. The book is composed of lectures that he gave at Trinity College in Cambridge to teach novel writing.

It should be said that some may find this book rather standard or old-fashioned. Some find Forster's assessment of novels as being “any fictitious prose work over 50,000 words” as being a bit rigid. Others have even said the book will only teach you to write a novel in Forster's style. However, it is still an indispensable book that offers much insight for the budding writer, even though it is almost 100 years old.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block

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Neil Gaiman once said that being a novelist is nothing more complicated than making things up and writing them down. Lawrence Block takes that further and posits that writing is essentially telling lies. Block is pretty good at it, too. When you consider that he sold his first novel to Fawcett as a teenager, he'd have to be.

In his book, he will not only give you the tools for writing a novel, but he will also tell you how to develop your self-discipline, teach you to study the market that you are entering into, and even how to “creatively procrastinate” as part of the writing process. 

There are countless nuggets of writing wisdom that will demystify the process, particularly the stance that, so long as you write one page a day, you can have a full novel within a year. Coming from a guy who's published over fifty books, that should be reliable advice.

Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins

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Character work is arguably the most important writing craft for a novelist to master. Plenty of books with so-so plots get by on strongly written characters. 

With this book by Brandilyn Collins, you will learn some of the same techniques that actors use to get into character, and then you will learn how to apply those techniques to create

 characters that will enrich your novel's world.

By doing this, you will be able to create dialogue that feels more natural to the characters. You will find ways to weave characters and their traits into stories. By knowing your characters inside and out, you can write their reactions to the plot you set in motion for them to participate in. After all, they don't say that acting is reacting for no reason.

Hooked by Les Edgerton

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One of the hardest things for any writer is to hook readers and grab their attention from the very first chapter. Mastering that skill is the key to getting a readership that will continue returning to your writing for more. Hooked will help give you the ability to write gripping opening pages that will captivate readers and publishers.

Not only will you create great opening pages, but you will also learn to create genuinely captivating inciting incidents. You will find out how to make compelling characters for the reader, and how to master having a great opening line. With the skills offered to you in this book, you will be able to craft books that people cannot put down, and publishers cannot reject.

Still Writing by Dani Shapiro

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Sometimes the hardest thing for a writer to do is to keep writing. Writer's block is not the only problem that keeps a writer from creative writing. Drawing from over twenty years of experience as a writer and a teacher, Dani Shapiro takes a heartfelt but practical look at the joys and difficulties of being a writer.

Above all, this book is there to help you overcome feelings of doubt, outside distractions, and anything else that will keep you from writing your novel. Dani Shapiro is an author who wants to help you succeed at writing your book, and she offers up some autobiographical segments to encourage you. This book will help you overcome any problems you may have so that you can still write and become a story genius.

On Moral Fiction by John Gardner

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This book by John Gardner is interesting because it is not entirely concerned with teaching the author how to write so much as it is about trying to teach the writer to be highly selective about the things they do write. 

Gardner believes a writer's duty must be to promote some form of morality through fiction writing. Gardner states his belief that “true art, by its nature, is moral.”

While one may not agree with everything he says about art, it cannot be denied that this book causes one to pause and consider the meaning of their work. If you have never truly considered whether or not you have any message or morality in your work, this book will be a real eye-opener. You may find that your book can be a way to place messages and meaning that you find to be important in your work and push it beyond mere entertainment.

Of course, some disagree with Gardner's stance. They believe that a book should be entertaining above all, and that trying to present any kind of morality is an intrusion upon the reader. However, it is often true that a book (and any piece of information) that does its job well can be entertaining and informative.

Conclusion on books about writing novels

Writing any style of book can be fraught with difficulty, but writing novels especially showcase that while the genre may seem easy, it isn't.

Many aspiring writers have given up the writing life on the seemingly impossible task of working out a novel idea into a full-fledged book. From writer's block to thorough character development, it can be hard to weave through all the land mines. 

Getting a novel in front of a publisher becomes much easier when you realize that you have a wealth of knowledge to lean on in the form of helpful guides from authors you trust.

Remember that at one point, a novelist you admired needed help and guidance like the kind you seek in these books on writing novels. There is a good chance that one of those authors has read one of these books.

These books cannot turn you into a writer, only sitting down and writing will do that. However, they are tools that will strengthen your style and sensibilities and perhaps even encourage you when you feel discouraged.

Related Reading:

How to write a movie review

How to write a screenplay

How to ask for letters of recommendation

How to write great blog posts 

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