Editor’s Nightstand: Recipes for Success


“An anesthesiologist has to do only one thing well: Put the patient under without killing him. But she has to know about five hundred things to do it successfully. It is the same with the writer.”

—Larry Brooks, Story Physics

A writer only has to do a few things well to woo agents, publishers, or an adoring public but having to know hundreds of things in order to do those few well? That sounds like a lot of work—not just an affair with NaNoWriMo—putting your baby out there and sitting back to watch the acceptance letters and fan mail pour in.

As romantic as we want the writing life to look, the reality is that, like most careers, it requires an investment of time and effort to be really successful. While you can’t control everything in the process of “making it,” you can make a sizeable impact on the likelihood of your success and cut the learning curve considerably by simply studying what makes a good book tick—tuning in when the real pros share what they’ve learned.

We call this series “Editor’s Nightstand” because it provides a list of the resources on our nightstands—books that editors found brilliant in terms of helping writers up their game. And we raided the nightstands of writers we admire. So while the books we list don’t represent every great book on writing or publishing, they are must-reads for producing compelling prose, plot, or message (and selling it)! Some of these how-to gems reveal “recipes” that most bestsellers riff on, and others help you take a recipe and make it your very own—fresh and intriguing.

This done-for-you research (it’s even organized by genre/category) is ready to devour, so stop banging your head against the wall and feast on a couple titles below—we hope you’ll gain some instant insight. (And if you’re paralyzed by large menus, we’ve got our chef’s picks here as an appetizer.) Lastly, see our list of writing conferences, relevant to all the lists below.

Bon appétit!

Prose Execution, Nonfiction or Fiction

Writing Fiction

Big Picture—Insights on What Makes a Novel Sell

General Fiction Craft


Young Adult

Speculative (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Paranormal, etc.)

Reference Books to Spark Your Creativity and World-Building Ideas



Historical Fiction

Western Fiction

Writing Nonfiction

Nonfiction Craft, Market, and Industry


  • Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing  edited by Michelle Ruberg (this covers everything from coming up with ideas to crafting the perfect query letter to researching and writing your article)
  • 2014 Writer’s Market  edited by Robert Lee Brewer (There’s a new iteration each year. Every writer needs a copy of this book! For those wanting to break into magazines, you’ll find more magazines listed than you ever knew existed, as well as information about how to contact them and how to break into them.)

Personal Experience/Memoir


For Beginners
For the More Advanced

The Business End of Writing: Securing Agents, Contracts, Promoting, Etc.

The Writing Life: Inspirational (overcoming fear and writer’s block, habits of successful writers, finding time, etc.)

If you got through this whole list, congrats! Now pick one and devour! Did we leave anything out? Share the best book you’ve ever read on becoming a successful writer!

Please note that we have an affiliate association with Amazon, and some of the links on our site may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn a small commission if you buy from affiliate links. 

Awesome resources are at your fingertips.


  1. Rich Rogers

    All of these books appear to be good for teaching the skills of writing, with one exception, Orson Scott Card’s “A Storyteller in Zion.” Rather than a book on how to become a Mormon storyteller, it is a collection of essays by Card on various aspects of LDS culture. There is very little in there about how to better your skills as an author. Also, I believe the book is out of print these days.

    • angela

      Thanks for the tip, Rich. In this book, Card does have several essays on the art of storytelling, morality in fiction, science fiction’s relationship with Mormon culture. Still, while it definitely has food for thought, it isn’t the only focus of the collection (other essays have nothing to do with writing) as you point out.
      Some writers and editors, especially those focusing on the local LDS writing community, found some of those essays relevant, so we included it, even though it isn’t a hundred percent about writing per se. It’s good to know it might be harder to get. I’m sure hard-core Card enthusiasts will find a way to find it if so.


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