I read a lot of ebooks these days, because we’re about a bazillion miles from the nearest English-language bookstore. And like always, I love reading… about writing. But I don’t love spending a ton on writing books. It makes writing feel like a self-indulgent hobby, an extravagance. So I’m always on the lookout for cheap, high-quality writing books.
Happily, there are many good books out there for not much money. But how can you sift through them all and decide which ones are worth even the little that they cost? Here, I’ve sifted through the cheapest and best I could find to offer you fifteen good ones and three stinkers.
What do I look for in a writing book?First, here’s what I don’t look for - a few pet peeves I try to avoid, including:
- Generic cover with a typewriter or something writerly that screams, “I’m going to spend all my time turning out a series of a dozen books on writing books… instead of writing books myself.” Shudder.
- Puns that promise you “the write stuff” or any other pun-ishing approach to writing it “write.” Groan.
- Books that start by telling you that “some people” think kids’ books are super-easy to write. We know, we know. Don’t lead with this – it’s not news. Blah.
- Out-of-date books that are re-released for Kindle with no new content. Ugh.
Different genres of writing booksBefore you buy any book, make sure you know what you’re buying. The book’s description should tell you clearly what type of book it is:
- Is it a “basics” book that will give prompts and help you actually write the story?
- Is it an “industry overview” book that explains the business of publishing?
- Is it a “nuts and bolts” book that tells you how to get your book ready for a specific format, like Kindle?
- Is it a “promotion” book that shows you how to market a book you’ve already written?
None of these is the WRONG answer, by the way. You need different books at different points in your life and even different days of the week. If you’re not sure from the description of the book, be very wary. Read reviews to try to find out. Click to see the preview. If you’re still not clear on what you’re going to get out of the book… give up and try the next one on the list.
So without further ado (dontcha hate when they say “without further adieu…”?), I now present… the books. I know I promised cheap Kindle books in the headline. But I’m going to do you an even bigger favour and divide these books up into three price ranges: super-cheap (under $2), way cheap (under $7) and still pretty cheap (under $10). Beyond that, the books here appear in no particular order.
Super-cheap (under $2)
#1… $1.99 How To Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison (Nov 28, 2013). A terrific value even at a few bucks more, you cannot go wrong with this detailed book, that gets into the real nitty gritty of the writing and publishing business. I OWN THIS BOOK.
#2… $0.01 The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author's Tips on Writing Children's Books and Publishing by Aaron Shepard (Mar 25, 2014). As of this writing, it costs only one cent, way less than what I paid (I think $0.99 or $1.00?). Buy it!!! I OWN THIS BOOK.
$0.91 Formatting of Children's Books and Comics for the Kindle, by Charles Spender (November 13, 2012). The Amazon page for this book now directs you to this site (5th book down in the list) to download a free (& totally legit) copy. What a nice surprise! With 35 mostly-positive reviews, and a price tag like this, what are you waiting for? I OWN THIS BOOK (now).
Way cheap (under $7)
#4… $2.83 The Easy Way to Write Picture Books That Sell by Robyn Opie Parnell (Oct 20, 2013). Not my favourite, because I didn’t really click with her writing style and the book was a little basic for me. She’s very enthusiastic, though – if slightly redundant in her advice. This one is high on confidence but low on technical details. A great suggestion if you’re just starting out. I OWN THIS BOOK.
#5… $4.99 The Children's Writer's Guide by Simon Rose (Sep 22, 2013). This one also falls into the category of good books for beginners, dealing with issues like naming your characters, turning ideas into stories, making time to write, dealing with rejection (important!) and more. For under $5, it’s like a writing course in easy portable ebook form.
#6… $4.59 A Self-Publisher's Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish by Joel Friedlander (Mar 24, 2011). The only non-kids’-book specific book you’ll find on this list (and similarly, the only non-kids’-book-related blog on my blogroll, for the same reason). If you ever hope to self-publish, Friedlander won’t steer you wrong. You’ll get an overview of the publishing industry and what has changed with the advent of ebooks, as well as crucial lists of what self-publishers do wrong and how to fix them. True, a lot of the pieces are available free on his blog, but come on - $5? And most have been expertly revised to suit the book form and flow from chapter to chapter. I OWN THIS BOOK.
#7… $2.87 Picture Books: The Write Way by Laura Salas and Lisa Bullard (November 13, 2013). Recommended despite the “write” pun in the title. This book deals with ten BIG problems that writers encounter when their stories meet up with editors for the first time. It assumes you have a story that is already written and goes through this list of ten biggies step by step. I love a book this focused and on-task, and as a result, this book is now ON MY WISH LIST.
#8… $6.28 Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine (August 27, 2013). You don’t get much more cred than Levine, creator of such books as Ella Enchanted. Mainly geared towards teaching middle-schoolers how to write, this book has clearly struck a chord with adult writers as well, judging from its positive reviews. If you consider yourself an expert or advanced writer, this may not be the book for you given its young adult focus.
#9… $3.67 The Busy Writer's Tips on Writing for Children by Marg McAlister (November 22, 2012). Another one I’d never heard of. Amazon says the writer, Marg McAlister, has written more than 60 books for children – which may be, but not a single one is listed on Amazon; all they have is her books on writing for writers. But she’s in Australia, which may explain this, and her own website, writing course, etc., look legit.
Still pretty cheap (under $10)
#10… $7.62 How to Write a Children's Picture Book and Get it Published by Andrea Shavick (July 29, 2011). I admit, I hadn’t heard of Shavick or her book, but it looks well written enough, and her personal website is professionally done, which tells me that some effort has probably gone into the book as well. If that sounds like it’s setting the bar pretty low, you should see some of the so-called writing books out there.
#11… $9.38 Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole (Nov 6, 2012). I love it when bloggers write books! You can check out their writing and the quality of their advice for free ahead of time. Mary Kole is a pro in both areas, and this book is ON MY WISHLIST.
#12… $9.17 You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey E. Dils (Sep 10, 2009). Another one that was new to me, but what an encouraging title. Lots of great reviews, too, showing that this is a beginner’s guide that may be worth the (under $10) investment just to have on the (virtual) bookshelf. While I haven’t read this book specifically, the Kindle edition is an update of an earlier book published by Writer’s Digest, so I expect that it is well-produced, slick and upbeat, like most of their other books… a format that was very, very encouraging to me when I was just starting out.
#13… $9.18 The Everything Guide To Writing Children's Books by Lesley Bolton (Dec 1, 2002). Looks like a solid overview from this company, that publishes “For Dummies” style intro books, and offers a glimpse of the process of creating kids’ books. Most of the focus is on traditional publishing, with only a brief, discouraging (and perhaps slightly outdated) nod towards self-publishing.
#14… $9.17 The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books by Linda Ashman (September 25, 2013). With a ton of published kids’ books under her belt, Linda Ashman feels like a writer you can trust. Plus, blogger Julie Hedlund says it’s full of “juicy goodness”… how can we resist?
#15… Okay, at $10.15, How to Promote Your Children's Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller, by Katie Davis (March 22, 2014), is slightly over the promised price point (but then I gave you one free, so go easy on me). This is one I haven’t read, but it’s on my wish list now for sure. With 151 positive reviews (in just over a month?!), this book about a much-overlooked area is what I’d call an Important Read. How about this positive review from Laura Purdie Salas, co-author of Picture Books: The Write Way (see above): “I blog, Facebook, and do a lot of promotional stuff, including an online book launch, online teacher extension materials, etc. But Katie's book still offered me tons more ideas for things I want to check out”? Come on… it’s only $0.15 over! ON MY WISH LIST.
…And 3 to skip unless they’re free
(and even then, probably skip them)
Why avoid these books? Even a cheap book isn’t free if you think about the time you have to put in reading it. Why throw your money away on a book that offers you cheap information that you can find either on the writer’s blog or, worse, on someone else’s – because they’ve just ripped it off and/or spun it to create their book.
#1… $4.71 Publish Children's Books - How to Self Publish and Market Your Kids Books by Caterina Christakos (Sep 1, 2013). See that image of money bags on the cover??? Yeah, that’s you, raking in the dough over your little rhyming nursery story – NOT. What a weird cover. At only 18 pages, this is way too short to call a book. A pamphlet, maybe? Just from the preview, I can tell that the writer has no clue how to use a comma, and she uses every opportunity to hype her own book, How to Write a Children’s Book in 30 Days or Less! – which, by the way, has many bad reviews and is apparently full of typos. Her only children’s book visible on Amazon begins with the sentence, “In every baby’s life, their comes the time when they get to meet their very own guardian Angel.” Groan…
#2…$1.00 Writing Guide: RIGHT FOR KIDS: 333 One Sentence Tips and Tricks on the Art and Business of Writing Picture Books for Children by Tom Skinner (June 29, 2012). This book is chock full of three hundred and thirty-three one-liners like, “The industry is very competitive and full of talented professionals,” “You can do it! (With a few tips + bit of study + practice),” and “A picture book is simple. And simply irresistible.” Guess whose book I’m resisting very easily right now? Pretty easy to avoid given that he has a chapter called “COZ HE WOZ.”
#3… $2.88 Writing Books for Children and Youth (Boot Camp for Christian Writers) by Carolyn Tomlin (Dec 19, 2013). It’s not the religious aspect of this book that turned me off. It’s the near-illiteracy of its sweeping generalizations (“There are some writers who look at trends – including what topics are being discussed in the media?” “Writers for children’s books would be wise to know the breakdown of the publisher you wish to submit your work”), and the lack of writing cred of the author. Despite this lack, she offers copious examples – including a full-text excerpt – from her own single children’s book (“Matthew smiled when he thought about all of his different friends. They all looked different from him. Some had dark skin, others light.” Can you tell yet that the book is about multiculturalism?? In case you missed it, how about, “On the next block lived Matthew’s African American friend, Lakesia.”?). And in case you’re looking for a Christian perspective, I couldn’t find any in this book except in the aforementioned excerpt.
*All prices are as of this writing. Amazon pricing can fluctuate randomly from day to day and even from minute to minute.
Did I forget to include your favourite book? Let me know in the comments!