Six Books I’ve Already Recommended

I have been a literary agent for a whole month now. I’m still waiting for my anniversary letter and gift from the Steve Laube Agency. I’m sure it’s on the way.

I would say it has been a whirlwind so far, but that would be a cliché. And clichés are old hat. But I already feel blessed by the interactions I’ve had with clients, potential clients, editors, fellow agents, and others. And what is more fun than reading, editing, negotiating, and strategizing? I ask you.

In that short time, I have had multiple conversations or email exchanges in which I recommended a book to someone to avoid the necessity of writing a book myself to explain things. Why “reinvent the wheel” when others have already provided detailed instructions?

So here is a list of the books I have recommended (each of them more than once) in my first month as a literary agent. I have urged the reading and rereading of these books in writers’ conferences and coaching relationships for years (with one exception, because it’s brand new), but have done so again in exchanges with others about the writing and publishing world. Here they are:

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt

If you hope to sell a book in today’s competitive market, you need to read and follow the insights and information in this book by the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

I tell conference attendees that Zinsser is indispensable for any writer of nonfiction. It is such a standard in the industry, in fact, that writers and editors call it, simply, “Zinsser.”

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

This slim volume has also become a standard, and is similarly referred to as “Strunk and White.” It has been around for fifty-eight years and is referred to and recommended by every writing instructor I know.

The Chicago Manual of Style

This reference work answers every question an author could have about style (“Do I italicize movie titles?” “Does punctuation always go inside quote marks?” “Do I capitalize ‘of’ and ‘on’ in a book title?” and more). Even if you don’t own a copy of the current edition (I do, even with a new edition due out in September), your local library probably does.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is a master of writing (he’s so good I kind of hate his guts) and this book is my favorite book on plot. If you are writing (or intend to write) popular fiction, you need this book.

Writing Deep Viewpoint: Invite Your Readers into the Story by Kathy Tyers

Writers of fiction must master point-of-view. Period. This new book by a New York Times bestselling novelist covers all the bases and will help a novelist write stories in which readers will become immersed (full disclosure: this is a new release from Christian Writers Institute, scheduled for publication before I became the executive editor of the institute).

There you have it. Just six books. To buy all six today would cost you less than $100. But devouring them as soon as possible would pay rich and lasting dividends.

37 Responses to Six Books I’ve Already Recommended

  1. Avatar
    John de Sousa August 16, 2017 at 5:06 am #

    Most of my book purchases lately have been digital. It sounds like some of those might be better as a hard copy for quick reference searches. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 6:19 am #

      I own all but Kathy Tyers’s book in hard copy (of that I have the ebook), and refer to them often.

  2. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray August 16, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    It almost sounds like an echo in the room, or is it déjà vu all over again?

    These standard works are recommended repeatedly by people I respect, and whom have demonstrated excellence in the literary world. When 15 people tell me, “hey, you have something stuck to your teeth,” it is a good bet that I have something stuck to my teeth. 😉

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 6:20 am #

      Echo? Echo?

      “If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do” (CSN&Y).

  3. Avatar
    Terry Whalin August 16, 2017 at 5:35 am #


    What terrific books you are highlighting in this post. One of my treasured possessions is an autographed copy of Zinsser’s On Writing Well (yes I read it too). For many years I’ve had a personal commitment to read a writing how-to book each month. Currently I’m reading this wonderful new book from bestselling author Ryan Holiday called Perennial Seller which is filled with great insights for every author:

    I would be remiss not to tell your readers about my Book Proposals That Sell which I wrote as a frustrated acquisitions editor and has helped many people with over 130 Five Star Amazon reviews. I have all the remaining copies and the best place to get it is from me: Keep recommending (and reading) how-to books.


  4. Avatar
    Tisha Martin August 16, 2017 at 5:43 am #

    These are excellent books. Thanks for sharing.

    My heart’s happy that you recommended CMoS. As an editor and writer, I believe it’s vital for authors to be familiar with this wonderful style guide. The new one is available for purchase and ships August 31. *Hint, hint, writers.*

    I might add that my personal library holds three of the books you mentioned. Off to grab the other three.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 6:20 am #

      I’m so happy to make your heart happy. I consider CMS indispensable.

  5. Avatar
    David Winters August 16, 2017 at 5:52 am #

    Good stuff! Two of these were news to me. Thank you.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 6:21 am #

      Well, then, David, get thee to a bookstore! Thanks for the comment.

  6. Avatar
    Richard Mabry August 16, 2017 at 5:59 am #

    Bob, one of the first books I purchased when I decided to get into this crazy writing business was James Scott Bell’s PLOT AND STRUCTURE. It’s been even more useful to me than Strunk & White, but I can’t argue with any of the six books you recommend.

  7. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 6:22 am #

    So great to see your comment, Richard! About Jim’s book: I know, right? I think his chapter late in the book on revision is worth the price of the whole book.

  8. Avatar
    Tisha Martin August 16, 2017 at 6:30 am #

    …and as for that anniversary letter and gift, hmm. What are you wishing for in celebration? If it’s been this long, chances are your wish is either too high or not high enough. 😉

      BOB HOSTETLER August 16, 2017 at 6:46 am #

      I’m a man of simple needs. An MG convertible would suffice.

      • Avatar
        Tisha Martin August 16, 2017 at 7:20 am #

        An MG convertible? Such a cool and quirky (in a good way) vehicle. Maybe I will swipe my brother’s bright yellow MG and send it over. If that doesn’t work, how about a photo of it? Unless yellow is just not your color…

        • Bob Hostetler
          Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 7:54 am #

          I’ve always wanted one. Actually shopped a few years back but I’m no mechanic and I was told you have to be one (or be wealthy) to make MG ownership work. But for you, Tisha, I will accept that burden. Please have that bright yellow MG sent to my home. Parking is limited at the office.

  9. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell August 16, 2017 at 6:31 am #

    Plot and Structure is the book I need some time with. Thanks Bob

  10. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 16, 2017 at 6:31 am #

    Good books to have.

    May I recommend another? This is neither a manual nor text, but it serves as an excellent guide for the development of appealing characters. It’s Robert Mrazek’s “A Dawn Like Thunder”, and it’s the story of the US navy’s Torpedo Squadron 8, whose death ride at the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, is the stuff of legend.

    The basics are well-known; the fifteen torpedo bombers of VT-8, led by John Waldron, diverted from the course set by the commander of the USS Hornet’s air group, and took a path that led them to a lonely and agonizingly slow charge against the flower of the Japanese fleet, the four carriers (Pearly Harbour veterans all) of the First Carrier Striking Force, Kido Butai.

    Bereft of fighter cover, the antiquated Douglas Devastators of VT-8 formed into two elements to perform an anvil attack on the nearest carrier, but were soon driven back together by the attacks of Japanese Zero fighters (which had a 200-knot speed advantage).

    And they were slaughtered. Three of the Devastators survived to drop (and missed). None made it away from the Japanese fleet, and only one man, Ensign George Gay, survived crashing in the water to be picked up by a patrolling American aeroplane later.

    But the other twenty-nine members of VT-8 (with the possible exception of their Sioux-born leader, John Waldron) are stock figures, men whose sole narrative purpose is to enter, stage right, and die. They are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and their fellows, of modern military history.

    Until know. Mrazek has rescued them from their glorious obscurity, and set them before us as real people, people we might have liked, and learn to love. His methods are an awakening for any writer.

    For instance, how fortunate we are to know of Grant Teats, sometime lumberjack and descendant of Commodore Bainbridge, who balanced an assignment he knew to be probably deadly with a tumultuous romance with a nurse who missed him almost to the point of pathology…to the very end? (And who took grave exception to anyone, superiors included, who might jokingly mispronounce his name.)

    And what of Langdon Fieberling, who died leading the VT-8 Detachment from Midway itself, a little known story which saw 16 out of 18 fliers die)? Previously he was merely tall and good natured, with an easy command presence, but now we know the man. He was a complex fellow who left his high-school sweetheart to partake of the joys of manhood, and over a decade later found that she was still waiting for him…and on the night flight that would see his aeroplane shipped on board a transport for the onward voyage to Midway, realized that he needed her.

    They had three days together, Langdon and his Laura; and then the road to flame, and the cold Pacific.

    Better than anyone I have ever seen, Mrazek has given new and vibrant flesh to dry and familiar bones. Study him; you won’t be disappointed, and you will meet a group of men for whom you may well shed a tear.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 6:48 am #

      Wow, Andrew, that’s an endorsement any author would love!

  11. Avatar
    Brennan McPherson August 16, 2017 at 6:31 am #

    Picking up James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure next!

    I’ve read quite a few books on plot and structure recently, and the most helpful one I’ve found so far has been “Story Trumps Structure” by Steven James, which isn’t quite what it sounds like, and talks a lot about structure. It has broad application and focuses in on the essentials, rather than spouting “rules” that really aren’t rules (like most books on structure).

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 7:55 am #

      I haven’t yet read Steven’s book. But please don’t tell him. We’re friends, and I would buy all of his books…but there are just so many!

  12. Avatar
    Sharon Cowen August 16, 2017 at 6:33 am #

    Thank you, Bob. Yes, I’m one of those people you encountered who needs all the help she can get if I’m going to see this thing through. I keep looking for burning bushes. Thank you for providing more lights along the way. I printed your post so I can get started.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 7:56 am #

      “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!” (Judges 6:12).

  13. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris August 16, 2017 at 6:37 am #

    This is why I recommend this blog to so many people. It’s rich! Thanks so much, Mr. Hostetler.

    I just tried leaving a link to an Amazon page, a free edition of The Elements of Style for anyone interested, but I’m afraid your spam folder plunked it into oblivion. If anyone wants to find it, I’m leaving a link to a blog post I wrote about it in the website field, so if you click on my name above you can find it.

    This free version is not the updated edition, so this copy is missing all E.B. White’s delightful commentary, but it’s the bare bones Strunk masterpiece, invaluable for all those pesky writer quandaries.

    God bless, and thanks for this great post!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 7:56 am #

      Thanks for your comment, Rebekah! And shame on that spam filter. Shame, I say.

  14. Avatar
    Judith Robl August 16, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    I have four of the six on my shelf as we speak. I’ve not purchased Platform or Writing Deep Viewpoint yet. They’re on my wish list.

    Thank you for validating my prior choices.

    (I just love James Scott Bell. He was so kind to me at Glorieta a decade and a half ago. Such a greenhorn I was that I didn’t know who he was. But he was so gracious about it that I’ve never forgotten his kindness.)

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 7:57 am #

      Don’t worry, Judith. Jim doesn’t always know who he is, either.

  15. Avatar
    Kristi Woods August 16, 2017 at 7:04 am #

    I love lists. Thanks for sharing yours, Bob. Hey, and happy 1 month anniversary! #5 and #6 on the list are new to me, so rest assured I’ll be trekking off to the library to nab a copy of each. Soaking and learning, soaking and learning.

  16. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    It is a wise writer who listens and heeds wise advice.

  17. Avatar
    Katy Lee August 16, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    When my kids entered high school they each got a copy of The Elements of Style.

    And don’t worry, Steve’s gift will come. 🙂

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 11:21 am #

      Thank you, Katy. I hope so. I truly hope so. 🙂

  18. Avatar
    Carol Ashby August 16, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    I’d like to add two more:

    Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. Its authors are two professional editors, and they tell in detail what a professional editor would do to prepare a book for market. From the book’s description: “Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.” I’ve found nothing in the market that is more concise and more helpful because of how they dissect what works, what doesn’t, and why.

    A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers
    A handy spiral bound that my daughter got for her honors senior English and used in college. It’s mine now. The index is extremely user friendly for looking up points of grammar, punctuation, writing style, research techniques, and more. It’s chock full of examples of how to do it right and how people do it wrong. It has MLA, APA, and Chicago formats for references, even those that are weird sources. If you have any questions about proper use of commas, this is THE book to have at your fingertips. It’s all summed up in two pages with examples.

  19. Avatar
    Karen Saari August 16, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    Great list of books. I have Strunk and Zinsser, and my CMoS is online. As I read your list, I looked at my shelves and pulled off the ones I have. It certainly is time for a re-read I believe. And to make a withdrawal from the book fund (formally known as the electricity bill fund) to purchase one of the missing books.

    Thank you for the list!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 11:22 am #

      Karen, who needs electricity, anyway? Just open the curtains and read by daylight like our ancestors did.

  20. Avatar
    Mark Olsen August 16, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    Great list. As a multi-published, bestselling author and a university creative-writing teacher, could I also recommend a few essential choices? First, by a country mile is, John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction.” Its Ch. 6 on “Common Errors,” is the most power-packed and important writing collection of writing tips ever assembled. Period. He’s a little grumpy and stuffy, but the book is not only worth it, but essential. For something that’s more fun to read, and equally essential on the psychology of writing, the emotional side of it (which is at least as important as writing craft), you must read Annie Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” Strong also-rans are Donald Maas’ “Writing the Breakout Novel” and Stephen King’s “On Writing.” These books will repay the expense and the time a million-fold, if you’ll let them.

  21. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler August 16, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    Gardner: YES! LaMott: YES! Maas: YES! King: YES!

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