Ask a Mermaid: What Needs To Be On My Shelf?

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

Dear Mermaids,

I’m overwhelmed by the number of writing craft books out there. What are some of the must-reads that I need on my shelf?

Book Fish

We hear you Book Fish. The lagoon’s library is stuffed to the gills (pardon the pun) with craft books. Some are highlighted and have notes in the margins. Others have barely been cracked.

There are tons of craft books available, but which ones make the keeper shelf? To find out, we asked five amazing, best selling authors. Here’s what they said: 

Dear Book Fish:

I only read one craft book before I sold my first book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writer by Browne & King. It’s the best, most practical how-to-edit book I’ve read, and helped me clean up my manuscript without losing my voice.

I don’t place much stock in craft books because there is no one right way to write. If a book says you have to do something, I tend to toss it across the room. But over the years, I’ve read a lot of how-tos and have learned bits and pieces from each. My favorites are On Writing by Stephen King and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler (try to find the 2nd edition which I like better than the 3rd edition.) I’ve picked up tidbits from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. But the single best way to become a better writer is to practice. Never let taking “just one more class” or reading “just one more book” stop you from writing forward.

Keep Writing!

Allison Brennan


Easy question, easy answer (for me, anyway).

There are three books that I consider my bibles – these are the books that taught me how to plot a good story. And that was the thing that I struggled with most of all when I was first learning how to write fiction:

1) Goal Motivation and Conflict, by Deb Dixon. I think every writer of fiction should read this book, even if you don’t go so far as to actually make GMC Charts for all of your characters.

2) The Hero’s Journey, by Chris Vogler. This book uses Joseph Campbell’s deconstruction of man’s myths and provides a clear, step-by-step description of the “hero’s journey.” While this might not always be helpful to a romance author, it does provide a wonderful introduction to the three act structure that almost all fiction is based on.

3) Scene Structure, by Jack Birkham. This book taught me one invaluable lesson – “end every scene with a disaster.” Once I figured that out, my plotting took off and my middles never sagged again.

Hope Ramsay


I have five books that are staples on my writing shelves.

Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell

On Writing by Stephen King

Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

The Associated Press Style and Libel Manual (Some prefer Chicago Manual)

And my all-time Favorite that has save my bacon more than a few times:  Getting the Words Right – How to Rewrite, Edit and Revise by Theodore A. Rees Cheney

Hope these help.

Donnell Ann Bell


Here are the books I swear by and own: Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (recommended to me by Mr. A), Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Description by Monica Wood, Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress, Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble and On Writing Romance (how to craft a novel that sells) by Leigh Michaels.

Invaluable, all of them.


Some of the ones I’ve found most helpful:

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!
Nancy Kress’s Beginnings, MIddles, and Ends
Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer
Jack M. Bickham’s Scene and Structure

Pamela Palmer

Ask a Mermaid is a monthly advice column for writers. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them for you. Send in your questions to Ask a Mermaid.

About Avery Flynn

Writer. Smart Ass. Lover of Chocolate. Bringing steamy romance with a twist of mystery to the masses, one hot book at a time.

4 thoughts on “Ask a Mermaid: What Needs To Be On My Shelf?

  1. Wow, those are some great suggestions! Book Fish, hope these help, I’m sure they will. Thank you so much to those wonderful authors who swam by and shared their favorite craft titles with us.

  2. Thanks Book Fish for a great question. I’m also overwhelmed with the idea of craft books and tend to stay far, far away from them unless I’ve been directed to one from a friend. That’s how I found Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT. My friend Erica told me I HAD to have it.
    Several of these suggestions have cropped up in conversation lately, so I’ll probably go get a few.
    Thanks for the great question. I now have a few things to add to my Christmas list for Santa. Hey! He’s coming to my house anyway, so what’s wrong with throwing a couple things in for Mommy? Since the Big Guy stopped by for Guy Day in our pond, I personally think he rather loves the mermaids. Just sayin’. 🙂

  3. Wow — some really great suggestions here. I LOVE craft books. I’m familiar with some of them, but now have several to add to my to-be-read pile. Thank you so much to the amazing authors who helped us and Book Fish out.

    May I also add my personal favorite, Story by Robert McKee, to the list here? I attribute that book with changing my writing life.

  4. Stephen King’s book is great! He throws in ancedotes from his personal life. One stays with me. He received a check for his writing and was able to buy medicine for his daughter. Great book suggestions!

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