18 of the Best Books on Writing (Updated for 2023)
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The need for writers isn’t going away. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of writers and authors will continue to grow by 4% from 2021 to 2031. And it’s projected that there will be an average of 15,000 job openings for writers and authors each year.
While there’s a huge need for writers, it’s also projected future writers will invest anywhere from $7000 to $40,000 to learn the craft. Gasp!
But there’s good news. You don’t necessarily need to invest $40K into a degree to learn how to write. There are countless books that will help you become the writer you’ve always dreamed of becoming and will help you earn money straight out of the gate.
Here’s a list of the top eighteen books that will prepare you for your writing career.
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” — William Faulkner
Best books on writing for business and marketing
Marketing is so important the U.S. spent more than $17 billion in 2021 on marketing data. A large part of marketing is knowing how to write marketing materials that engage audiences. Marketing is also one of the most lucrative freelance writing niches.
When marketing and selling anything, the words you choose to represent your products and brand are critical—these books will help you find the right ones.
1. Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin
Best for: Entrepreneurs and marketers in the SaaS space
In his book Lost and Founder, Fishkin walks readers through the process of creating a startup. He’s very transparent and doesn’t leave anything out—the roses and the warts are on full display. Lost and Founder is a wealth of first-hand experience that any new startup can learn from.
Most of this book is about all the steps involved in creating a startup, but he also goes through how to write pitches and marketing strategies that worked for him.
Furthermore, if you want to write for startups, it’s important to understand everything that goes into creating a startup. This will help you meet the writing needs of a startup, regardless of what stage it may be in.
2. Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi & Robert Rose
Best for: Modern marketing strategies/techniques
Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose are founders and partners who love content marketing. In their book Killing Marketing, they say content isn’t just marketing; it’s an essential business strategy.
This book focuses mostly on modern digital marketing techniques. It addresses how marketing has gone from creating ‘sale’ posters to being an essential part of adding value to a brand or company. Pulizzi and Rose use anecdotes and data from their own experiences to illustrate content writing and marketing techniques.
3. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Best for: Experienced marketers looking to fine-tune writing/strategies
Predictably Irrational isn’t so much a book about writing as a book that can help writers understand what motivates us humans—which is essential for any great writer to understand.
Dan Ariely is an expert in behavioral economics, which studies how people behave when they perform any sort of action (e.g.,. shop, get married, apply for jobs, etc.).
Ariely and his team used experiments to see how suggestion, context, and even subliminal messaging can affect people’s behavior. To illustrate this point, Ariely uses an example where his team created a test that was easy to cheat on.
Then, his team had respondents take the test again, but reminded them of any sort of moral code (like the ten commandments or even a fake ‘honor code’) right before taking the test to see if people cheated less after the reminder. You’ll have to read to find out the results, but I bet you can guess what happened.
This book is most beneficial for experienced writers and marketers looking to understand their audience on a deeper level.
Best books for copywriting
The biggest issue for copywriting (especially digital copywriting) is people don’t really read things all the way through anymore.
According to a 20+ year study done by the Nielsen Norman Group, eye tracking research confirms that most internet users only skim and skip around a webpage for relevant info. That means copywriters must understand how to capture the attention of these skimmers and skippers. Here are books that will teach you the ins and outs of successful copywriting.
4. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
Best for: Learning the fundamentals of advertising
Ogilvy on Advertising is admittedly an older book that was first published in 1983. But it’s still considered one of the foremost texts for beginner copywriters and even marketers. It goes over all the fundamentals of advertising and how to write compelling copy.
If you’re new to copywriting and marketing in general, this book uses real life examples to illustrate advertising concepts. And although some of the advice about getting jobs and how to market in foreign markets may be out of date, Ogilvy’s lessons on things like research and brand image are still relevant today.
5. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan
Best for: Creating visual stories
Luke Sullivan has been a successful advertiser for over 30 years. He’s worked at elite agencies, taught, consulted and trained. His book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, uses real life examples like Charmin’s advertising campaign of the 1960s and 1970’s (the namesake of the book) to illustrate all aspects of advertising.
Sullivan goes through everything from how to protect your work to how to write for social media. The book is snarky and witty and gives you a glimpse of what it feels like to work in the creative department at an ad agency.
6. Finding the Right Message by Jennifer Havice
Best for: How to research your audience
Finding the Right Message is all about delving deeper into understanding what makes your customers tick. It offers step-by-step guides on things like:
- How to craft customer-centric messages
- The types of questions to ask when conducting interviews and surveys
- How to research your customers and the market
Havice offers insight into how to study your audience. She then goes through how you can create messages that will pique your audience’s interest. Using her expertise as a messaging strategist and copywriter, she goes over all the things a copywriter needs to reach their audience.
Best books for longform writing
The average time spent on any webpage is 54 seconds. So, it’s important for longform articles to really engage readers in order to keep them reading for more than 54 seconds. Learning how to write engaging longform articles and books may not come naturally, but here are some books to lead you in the right direction.
7. Writing Feature Stories by Matthew Ricketson & Caroline Graham
Best for: Comprehensive writing fundamentals
Matthew Ricketson and Caroline Graham go over the fundamentals of writing engaging and informative longform writing in their book, Writing Feature Stories. They help both journalists and blog writers go beyond the basic who, why, what, where, and when.
This book will help you generate new ideas, teach you how to do research for your stories, how to edit your work, and how to find the best platform for your work. Using all the information Ricketson and Graham provide, it’ll also help you get over any fear of longform writing.
8. Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein
Best for: Novelists
Sol Stein is a well known editor and teacher that uses practical and his own real-world experiences to help writers write better. Stein on Writing gives writers practical ways to improve their writing instead of relying on theory.
A lot of this book is focused on helping novelists with creating more interesting characters, more realistic dialogue, and structure. But it also goes over things like how to trim the fat away from your writing and more efficient ways to edit and revise your drafts.
9. How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia
Best for: Motivation and practical strategies
The title says it all. Paul Silvia uses his book, How to Write a Lot to help you become a more efficient and effective longform writer. He uses practical strategies that even go through how to make a schedule, how to get over writer’s block, and ultimately how to write like a professional.
Best books for essay writing and academic writing
Whether you’re trying to write OpEds for the New Yorker or just finishing your term paper, you can use these books to learn how to write effective essays for the world of academia.
10. A Professor’s Guide to Writing Essays: The No-Nonsense Plan for Better Writing by Dr. Jacob Newman
Best for: Straightforward and practical writing
If you feel intimidated by academic writing, A Professor’s Guide to Writing Essays is a great book to help you overcome that. Dr. Jacob Newman has been a professor for a long time and uses his experiences to help writers navigate the world of academia.
Giving useful tips and real world examples, Dr. Newman helps to dispel the idea that academic writing is any different from other kinds of writing. His book is straightforward and practical and focuses on helping students, professors, and anyone else looking to conquer writing academic papers.
11. Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword
Best for: Analysis of real articles and essays
Helen Sword believes that data deserves to be presented in an elegant way. Her book Stylish Academic Writing, presents her analyses of over a thousand peer-reviewed articles (on all subjects) that show how important it is for academic writers to know how to write well.
She shows readers the skills they can learn through the examples in her book. Sword will make you a believer that compelling data should be presented with compelling writing. Slapping data onto a page just isn’t good enough anymore.
12. Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers by Jacques Barzun
Best for: Exercises that help readers learn concepts
Jacques Barzun was a noted teacher, historian and author. His book Simple & Direct, is just that. He uses a no-nonsense style to help writers improve their technique.
Simple & Direct may have been published in the 70s, but the writing exercises, model passages, and examples provided in the book are a treasure trove for any writer looking to better their craft.
Books that relate to writing in 2022
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Mad Men, you know that advertising must change with the times. Not only does the medium change (e.g., newspapers, radio, TV, internet, etc.) but so does your audience.
For example, Baby Boomers were concerned with security, Gen Xers were concerned with buying things, millennials cared about buying experiences, and Gen Zers care about supporting companies that have the same beliefs as them.
So while you can keep the same foundational concepts, there are things writers must learn as they write for the 21st century.
13. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
Best for: Relating to all types of writing
Steven Pinker is a Harvard psychology professor who has used his own research and experience to write, The Sense of Style. In this book, writers will learn writing techniques to create compelling prose and Pinker gives real-world examples to help illustrate his points.
If you’re looking to infuse more style into your writing and interested in making your writing stand out in today’s day and age, then this is the book for you.
14. You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins
Best for: Bloggers, content creators, indie authors
“Dress for the job you want” and “fake it ‘till you make it.” The idea that you should start acting like the writer you want to be is exactly what Jeff Goins addresses in his book, You are a Writer.
This book is a guide that will help writers in their craft, work ethic, and in marketing their material. It’s perfect for bloggers, content creators, and anyone who has been waiting to fulfill their dream of becoming a full-time writer.
15. The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI by Carlos Gil
Best for: focus on engagement
Carlos Gil breaks down the science of modern marketing in his book The End of Marketing. He breaks down essential topics like:
- What modern audiences want
- How to get attention on social media and how to use social media as feedback
- How to be genuine
- How to find your customers
The End of Marketing unravels the mysteries of influencers, social media algorithms, and staying on trend. It’s a must read for any writer today.
Books on writing for social media
There are over 4.7 billion active social media users worldwide. In a global survey done by Statista in 2022, 61% of marketers said they would increase their usage of Instagram and 37% said they’re increasing usage of TikTok advertising. Social media isn’t going away, and it always needs content, which means, it needs good writers.
16. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
Best for: Bloggers and content creators
Everybody Writes teaches readers not only how to write, but also how to engage audiences with truthful storytelling. She offers practical how-tos for writing technique, publishing, and even how to find content ideas.
Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is one of the most highly rated overall writing books, and is especially helpful for those looking to write for social media. She also recently released an updated version with new examples.
17. Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story by: Miri Rodriguez
Best for: Step-by-step guide on how to build a brand story
Miri Rodriguez is an award winning storyteller and creative journalist at Microsoft. In her book Brand Storytelling she shows readers the importance of creating an emotional connection with your audience.
She uses case studies and interviews to show readers how, in this world of digital screens and AI, human connection will always win out.
18. Faster, Smarter, Louder: Master Attention in a Noisy Digital Market by Aaron Agius and Gián Clancey
Best for: How to grow business from start to multimillion global company
Aaron Agius and Gián Clancey are the founders of the successful global marketing firm Louder.online. But they weren’t always successful, they actually first went into business together in 2008, but that business didn’t work out and forced them to move back home to Australia. But their experiences made them write Faster, Smarter, [and] Louder.
This book gives writers technical and practical tips on how to gain credibility, increase online traffic, and engage with audiences.
Read to become a better writer!
This list is just a start. If you want to be a writer, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, all you need is a library card or a connection to the internet.
In fact, even if you don't have time to learn how to write, that’s no longer an obstacle either. There are several AI and editing tools that will write content for you and help you fine-tune your sentences to stand out from other writers. There are also blogs that will give you all the resources and info you need to become a stellar writer.
So stop sitting around thinking “one day” you’ll be a writer. As Stephen King said in On Writing, “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”