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A list of recommended books, compiled by Jodie Renner, editor & author. For more great resources for writers, please visit Jodie’s blog, Resources for Writers, and her two group blogs, The Kill Zone and Crime Fiction Collective. The Kill Zone has an excellent resource library, compiled by Jodie, partway down the sidebar.

Click on the titles below to check out the books on Amazon.


Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. Not for dummies at all! An excellent resource.

Story Trumps Structure How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules, by Steven James

The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel, by Hallie Ephron

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey

A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, A concise, practical guide for novelists and short story writers, by Elizabeth Lyon

How NOT to Write a Novel – 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel, by Tom Monteleone

Outlining Your Novel – Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland

Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell


Revision and Self-Editing – Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel, by James Scott Bell. Just excellent!

Manuscript Makeover – Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, by Elizabeth Lyon

Fire up Your Fiction – Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories, by Jodie Renner

Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us – A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected, by Jessica Page Morrell

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – How to edit yourself into print, by Renni Browne and Dave King

38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham

Between the Lines, by Jessica Page Morrell

Rock Your Revisions: A Simple System for Revising Your Novel, by Cathy Yardley


Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

Writing 21st Century Fiction – High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, by  Donald Mass

Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein

On Writing, by Stephen King

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain

The Successful Novelist, by David Morrell

The Fire in Fiction – Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, by Donald Maass


How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, by James N. Frey

Conflict & Suspense, by James Scott Bell

Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, by Jodie Renner

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, by James N. Frey

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron


Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. An excellent resource for finding just the right character response for the situation!

Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict, by Cheryl St. John


On Writing Romance – how to craft a novel that sells, by Leigh Michaels. Also contains lots of great tips for writing any kind of fiction.

The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes

The Busy Writer’s Tips on Writing Romance, by Marg McAlister

The Romance Writer’s Handbook, by Rebecca Vinyard


Writing Great Books for Young Adults – Everything you need to know from crafting the idea to landing a publishing deal, by Regina Brooks. Excellent reading for any fiction writer.

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, by Deborah Halverson

Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, by Mary Kole

Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing for the Young Adult Market, by Victoria Hanley

Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, by Cheryl B. Klein

Writing for Children and Young Adults, by Dr. Marion Crook


Shimmering Images – A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, by Lisa Dale Norton

Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, 2nd Edition , by Judith Barrington




 Twelve Tips for Keeping Your Fiction Manuscript

out of the “Rejects” Pile

–          by Jodie Renner,

Here are twelve ways to avoid those “deal breakers” that will cause an agent, publisher or reader to reject your fiction.

  1. First, read a lot of published books in your genre, so you know what agents and publishers are accepting. As you’re reading, pay close attention to point of view, characterization and dialogue.
  2.  Make sure you have a clear genre or target readership so it will be marketable to the publishers. Bookstores need to know where to shelve your book. If it’s not mainstream fiction, it needs to fit into a specific genre, not straddle three or four genres. If you’re writing a historical romance mystery western, you’ll need to decide which of these elements you’ll want to play up and then downplay the others, so your story can be easily identified as predominantly one of them.
  3.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by racing prematurely to an agent or publisher. The world of book publishing is extremely competitive these days. Take the time to hone your craft and do the necessary revisions. Don’t depend on family or friends to give you advice on your book – they’ll very likely be afraid to give you any meaningful constructive criticism for fear of hurting your feelings or making you angry. Buy some books on writing fiction (there are lots of great resources out there!), enrol in a local or online writing course, or hire a freelance manuscript editor. Revise, revise, revise!
  4.  Hook your reader in right away with a compelling first paragraph and first page. Don’t start with a description of the scenery, town or room. Start with a threat of some kind or a change that disrupts the status quo and causes anxiety. And use some dialogue and action right away.
  5.  Make sure your plot is compelling, not boring. Your story needs conflict, and lots of it! Your protagonist needs to face and deal with ever-increasing problems, drawing on inner resources to find ways to triumph over adversity. And your interactions among characters need tension, even if it’s just simmering below the surface, or they’ll be boring.
  6.  Don’t lecture or preach to your readers. You may be an expert in a certain field, or have busted your buns doing research, but resist the urge to explain concepts at length to your reader. It’s condescending and disrupts the flow of the story. If the readers want to find out more info on a topic, they’ll Google it. Remember, this is fiction, and the story is the most important thing. The readers want to get carried away with a good story – they don’t care how much you know about any given subject.
  7.  Establish a dominant point of view. Your reader wants to identify with your main character, to bond with him/her.   Don’t dilute this effect by jumping around to various characters’ points of view within one scene – no “head-hopping.”
  8.  Make sure your characters are interesting and unique. No dull, cardboard characters, pious goodie-goodies, or wimps. Your characters, especially the main ones, need to be compelling and memorable. But don’t make them too perfect – they need to have some flaws and maybe an inner demon or a skeleton in the past, to make them interesting. A perfect character is a boring character.
  9.  Your dialogue should be natural and authentic. This is not the place for erudition, long words and perfect grammar; and avoid “info dumps,” where one character is explaining something at length to another character, which is really a poorly disguised and unwelcome author intrusion into the story.  Your dialogue should sound like real people talking, poor grammar and all, but without the boring bits. Skip past the “How are you?” and “I’m fine. You?” stuff and get straight to the interesting bits – cut to the chase!
  10.  Avoid lengthy descriptive passages. Readers are no longer interested in pages or even long paragraphs of straight description. They’re impatient to find out what’s going to happen next. Keep the description of scenery, rooms, gardens, etc. to a minimum and concentrate on moving the plot along with dialogue and action.
  11.  Show, don’t tell! This one is huge! Which would you rather do, go to a great movie in a theatre with a large screen and surround sound, or stay home and let a friend tell you about the movie later? Put your readers right in the action, make them see and smell and hear and feel what your characters are feeling, experience their fear, anger, elation and joy, in “real time.” Don’t tell the reader about important events later. If the event in question happened in the past, use a flashback to depict the action and dialogue in the present.
  12.  Make every scene, every paragraph, every sentence and every word count. Revise and tighten up your writing. If a scene doesn’t further the plot or help to develop the characters, take it out. Same thing with a paragraph or a sentence. Avoid lengthy sentences – edit them down to increase the impact and easy flow of ideas.

 © Jodie Renner, July 2010



Here’s YA Editor (Senior Editor for Simon Pulse) Anica Mrose Rissi’s list of what you can do to increase your book’s chances of making it out of the slush pile and into the spotlight.

  1. Revise, revise, revise! I don’t want to read your first draft, ever. (Tip: Your novel isn’t ready to send me until you can describe it in one sentence.)
  2. Start with conflict and tension to raise questions, arouse curiosity, and (like musical dissonance) create the need for resolution.
  3. Start with the story you’re telling, not with the backstory. Throw the reader directly into a conflict and let her get to know your characters through their actions. (Yes, this is another way of saying, “Show, don’t tell.”)
  4. Give the reader something to wonder about and a sense of where the story is going—of what’s at stake.
  5. Avoid explaining too much too soon. And don’t be obvious. Trust your readers. Trust your characters. Trust your writing. If you find that long chunks of your story need to include long explanations, go back in and write those chunks better, until the story explains itself.
  6. Make sure your story has both a plot arc and an emotional arc. Cross internal conflict with external conflict. Give your characters moral dilemma, and force them to deal with the consequences of their choices.
  7. Read your dialogue out loud. When revising, ask yourself, “What is the point of this dialogue?”
  8. Make every scene, every sentence, and every word count. You should also be asking “What is the point of this sentence?” What is the point of this scene?”
  9. Use adjectives, adverbs and dialogue tags only sparingly.
  10. Make sure your details matter.

  –  From Writer’s Digest magazine, May/June 2010