For Writers

Writing a novel and finding book publishers isn’t easy. Learn how to write a novel, beat writer’s block, find literary agents and publish a book with these free writing tips.

6 Best How-To Books for Writers

Countless best-selling authors have told me that in their early years, before they were published, they relentlessly studied the craft of writing. Consequently, I’ve had hundreds of writing books recommended to me.

Here are the very best of them all, the books I always keep within arm’s reach of my writing desk.

#1: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

Way back when I worked for a book distributor, Michael Wiese Productions sent me a sample copy of the original Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I devoured that book, and it helped launch my career as a novelist.

The original Save the Cat! book series was aimed at screenwriters. This brand-new version by Jessica Brody seamlessly adapts Blake Snyder’s methods for novelists. It’s one of the best “how to write a novel” books of the decade.

Get it. Read it. Follow it. You’ll be glad you did.

#2: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Whenever you or I write the first draft of the story, our characters tend to exhibit the same cliche body language: nodding, shrugging, grinning. Pretty uninspired stuff, really.

Solution? Crack open this book, which contains more than 150 pages of body language, internal sensations, and mental responses to every imaginable emotion.

Is your character determined? Show him rolling up his sleeves. Is she mortified? Show her covering her face with her hands. Instantly, this book will have your characters winking, swaggering, leaning closer, tapping their feet, tightening their fists — and coming alive on the page.

While you’re getting this book, pick up the rest of the books in this series. Believe me, you’ll use them.

#3: Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge

Michael Hauge is a storytelling genius. He’s not only a best-selling author and inspiring speaker, he’s also one of Hollywood’s top story experts. He’s worked on projects starring Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, and Morgan Freeman. This book is packed solid with practical, nuts-and-bolts techniques you can use to write a better screenplay, novel, short story, or any work of fiction. It’s no exaggeration to say that reading that book forever transformed the way I look at stories.

Plus, Hauge is a super, super nice guy. Every time I talk to him, I come away wiser. So check out his books.

#4: Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham

You really should read all of Jack Bickham’s books on writing, but this one in particular. It is packed with masterful techniques to keep readers hooked throughout a story.

Perhaps the biggest revelation in this book is the way Bickham breaks down cause and effect. Stories are told not just in scenes, but also in something he calls “sequels.” A sequel is a moment (or even a whole chapter) when the lead character emotionally reacts to the previous scene, revisits the big story questions, works through a dilemma, and decides on a new course of action.

If you want to become a successful author, you need to master the scene and sequel technique. This book shows you how.

#5: The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil

Even if you don’t read comic books, you can’t deny their enormous impact on popular books, movies, and TV shows today.

Best-selling novelist and comic book legend Dennis O’Neil breaks down the elements that make comic book stories work.

It’s also a fascinating primer on solid storytelling techniques that can benefit any writer.

#6: The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Carol LeFever, Sue Viders

I happened to pick up this book at the Tattered Cover bookstore nearly 20 years ago, and I have never since found a more practical guide to character relationships.

Aimed at romance writers (but useful to anyone), this book divides male and female characters into eight broad archetypes. Male types include The Chief, the Bad Boy, the Best Friend, etc. Female types include the Nurturer, the Free Spirit, the Librarian, and so on.

This is not in-depth psychology, here. But it works. Take a look at my Dru Jasper urban fantasy series. I have a Librarian named Dru and a Bad Boy named Greyson. They fall in love. By and large, the critics love them.

The genius of this book is that it shows you how the archetypes interact with each other. For example, how do the Bad Boy and the Librarian drive each other crazy? How do they work together as a team? How do they eventually change each other for the better? Read the book and find out.

What are your favorite writing books?

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my shelf. What titles have you found to be especially useful, interesting, or inspiring? Let me know.

By the way, for more free writing tips (and other cool stuff), why not subscribe to my newsletter?

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8 Secrets to Pitching Your Novel Like a Pro

8 Secrets to Pitching Your Novel Like a ProWhen it comes to publishing a novel, the actual writing is only half the battle. In order to get the attention of a publisher, you have to know how to “sell” your book.

I think we can all agree that most writers are not natural-born sales professionals. So it’s easy to understand why the idea of sitting down across the desk from an editor and pitching your novel might make you break out in a cold sweat.

No worries. There are basically eight big pitfalls you have to avoid — all you have to do is navigate around them, and let your story shine through.

I’ve explained how to do it here, on Fiction University.

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Writers: Outline Your Novel the Incredibly Easy Way

Every day, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to write for a living. Seriously. Every single day.

That’s why I share my tips and techniques to help aspiring writers navigate the pitfalls of the writing craft.

One of my favorites is a method for outlining novels that is super simple, quick, and (dare I say) fun. Here it is.

P.S. Get even more writing tips (plus other cool freebies) when you subscribe to my author newsletter.

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Talking monsters on Beyond the Trope podcast

Just in time for Halloween, Colorado’s best podcast for nerds had me on to talk about the secrets to creating bloodcurdling monsters, and other spooky fun.

Direct Download  |  iTunes  |  Spotify  |  Stitcher

Writers: Get a free copy of my workbook 7 Secrets of Writing Bloodcurdling Monsters when you subscribe to my author newsletter.

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Yours Truly rocks the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcastTrue story: at the RMFW conference this year, I bumped into my good friend Mark Stevens, an award-winning author and host of the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast. Somehow, we got to talking about weird musical instruments.

I’ve just started playing one of the weirdest of all, the theremin. It’s the original electronic instrument, one that you play just by waving your hands at it. It’s been featured in plenty of old black and white science fiction movies.

Mark was like, “Why don’t you play it on our podcast?”

And I was like, “Wow! That’s a terrifying idea! Let’s do it!”

(And also, somewhere in there, we talked about my writing, too.)

Listen to the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast. 

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One Simple Trick to Write Everything Better

One Simple Trick to Write Everything BetterWhat if there was one single trick that could help you write better, faster, and easier than ever before?

What if that trick could help you organize your thoughts, get started sooner, and finish every writing project, from a blog post to a novel?

There is such a trick. And as a full-time writer, I use it every day.

Find out what it is on Fiction University.

P.S. For more helpful writing tips, subscribe to my free author nrewsletter.

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Learn All of My Writing Secrets at Colorado Gold

ALL of my writing secrets?

ALL of my writing secrets? Well, to be honest, probably not ALL of them. But we’ll do that whole “save the cat” thing. (And if that doesn’t ring a bell, you should come to my class.)

Are you going to the RMFW Colorado Gold 2018 conference?

Don’t miss this chance to pick my brain about all things related to urban fantasy, writing action scenes, and creating monsters.

Here’s where you can find me:

Birds of a Feather: Urban Fantasy panel
Saturday 10am | Winter Park

What exactly is urban fantasy? What makes it different from paranormal romance? What are the newest and most exciting urban fantasy trends to watch? Panel hosted by yours truly.

How to Write Kick-Ass Action Scenes
Sunday 10am | Durango

Do you struggle with writing fight scenes or chases? Believe it or not, writing kick-ass action is easy—if you know how. In this workshop, you’ll learn the 6 secrets to writing action scenes that make your readers break out in a sweat. Get the Action Scenes worksheet here.

7 Secrets to Writing Bloodcurdling Monsters
Sunday 11am | Durango

Science fiction, fantasy and horror stories are full of monsters. One of a writer’s toughest jobs is creating creatures that are both gripping and original. In this workshop, you’ll master the seven secrets to writing truly unforgettable monsters. Get the Creating Monsters worksheet here.

Can’t make it to the conference? Get free (and useful) writing tips in my author newsletter. Subscribe now.

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6 Ways to Double Your Writing Speed

how to double your writing speed“How can I find the time to write?” said every aspiring author ever.

But time is only half of the equation.

The other half is speed.

The faster you write, the faster you will finish your story or novel and get it published.

Can you learn how to write twice as fast, without sacrificing quality?

Yes. I’ve done it, and so can you.

Here’s how.

Continue reading

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Writing Advice for Teens

Writing Advice for Teens

Story ideas tend to come when you least expect them. So write them down when you have them.

Recently, I received an email from a teen writer who had decided to write a novel, but she was struggling to find the time.

Between school, homework, music lessons, and other commitments, she didn’t know when she would actually be able to write.

But she was smart to ask for help. She had three specific questions:

1. How can I find enough time for writing?

2. How do I know if my novel idea is any good?

3. If I finish my novel, and nobody wants to read it, what should I do?

Here’s what I told her:

Continue reading

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6 Secrets of Science Fiction and Fantasy World Building

6 Secrets of Science Fiction and Fantasy World Building

How do you, as a writer, build a new world that fascinates your readers, draws them in, and makes them want to come back for more?

If you write fantasy, science fiction, or horror, you need to do your world building the right way.

I’ve revealed the shortcuts and tips you should use — and the pitfalls you must avoid — over at Fiction University.

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