You’ll probably get on a plane soon, off to see grandma, friends or kids. Why not spend your plane time reading a how-to book?
No, not the ones about making money or dieting! I mean books about writing and publishing. Put your tray table down and furiously underline, fold pages over, add sticky notes, and fill pages with highlighter. The only hard part is adding a beverage without spilling.
It took me years to mark up my non-fiction books. Now I take it as the highest compliment when readers tell me they’ve violated Will Write for Food in the same way.
Although sometimes it sounds a little extreme. One reader told me she tore the book in half so she could read the unread part on a plane!
“My copy of your book is never far from reach. When I read books, my system for flagging specific pages are: 1) Flagged page on top means “great quote.” 2) Flagged page to the right means “action” or “get more info.”
“After I read your book (the first time), my husband made fun of me because almost EVERY page was marked with a flag on top, AND on the right.”
What a huge compliment. And I encourage you to do the same with whatever book you’re juggling on your tray table. How-to books are made for destruction, and we authors don’t mind.
Here are five books to improve your writing and knowledge of the publishing industry, from the classics to the newcomers:
1. Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. I never tire of recommending this book, just as I never tire of re-reading it. And most importantly, Lamott is the one who came up with “shitty first draft.” I never tire of using that term as a writing coach and teacher, either. It always gets a laugh, but mostly because people recognize themselves and their drive for perfection.
2.Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature, by Bill Roorbach. Blogging, particularly, is about personal stories and memories. Learn how to set scenes, develop characters, and do the exercises to blast into memories you hadn’t thought about in years. I’ve even marked up my hardcover edition.
3. On Writing, by Stephen King. I was prepared not to like this book, because I’m not into horror fiction. But hey, the guy has written more than 30 worldwide bestsellers, and surprise — he knows what he’s talking about. What I admired most is his dedication to his craft, and his approachable style. It’s a great read no matter how advanced of a writer you are.
4. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters, by Marilyn Allen and Coleen O’Shea. I always say you have a 5 percent chance of success with a book idea. These two literary agents say it’s only 1 percent! They are hard core. But they also offer tons of practical, expert advice and guidance, with samples of proposals and query letters so you can see exactly what they mean.
5. Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction — And Get it Published, by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato. Having been an editor for most of my career, I love this title. Editors decide what gets published. Here’s a book on understanding what turns them on, why they’d buy your book, and what happens once you get the contract.
And to be completely self-serving, I’d also be thrilled if you would get and mark up a copy of Will Write for Food. Send your photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll publish them in a future blog post.
Happy marking and underlining! And don’t forget to pack a good snack or lunch for the flight.
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.