10 Life-Changing Books for Writers (Hint: They’re Not About Craft)

10 Life-Changing Books for Writers (Hint: They're Not About Craft). Makealivingwriting.com

What happens when freelance writers want to build their careers? Well, since we’re ‘word’ people, we tend to ask our friends, “What good books for writers should I read?”

Lengthy chats erupt on Facebook in response, about the most inspiring and useful books on writing craft. Books such as Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Stephen King’s On Writing are enthusiastically discussed and endorsed.

I’ve read and loved these books, too. But I don’t think they’re the ideal books for writers, especially if your focus is making a reliable living at your craft.

My experience is writers read these books, think, “Aaah, wonderful! Terrific insights.” Then, they go straight back to starving.

Also, most writers I know don’t need to improve their craft. They write just fine.

The books for writers that will make a bigger impact are the ones about how to make a business from writing. How to freelance successfully. How to finally find the confidence to put your writing out there.

Those are the books for writers that can really change your life. The books that show you how to feed your family, on a regular basis, with your craft.

If that’s the sort of help you need, here’s a list of practical books on the business of being a writer that I frequently recommend.

My top 10 best books for writers

They’re listed in alphabetical order (and yes, these certainly contain affiliate links):

1. Breaking the Time Barrier

Nearly every week, I find myself coaching a writer and recommending they grab a copy of this free e-book by Michael McDerment and Donald Cowper. McDerment is a co-founder of Freshbooks, and teamed with content writer Cowper on this story-based tale of how to change your mentality from clerk to expert — and charge way more.

If you’re still charging by the hour or by the word for your writing services, get this book now. It explains how to make the quantum leap to charging premium rates.

2. My So-Called Freelance Life

I’m embarrassed that it took a reminder from a writer friend on my Facebook page that my awesome Seattle gal-pal Michelle Goodman’s book on “How to survive and thrive as a professional creative for hire” deserves a mention here.

Michelle is awesome and a tireless advocate for helping writers grow their careers. She boils down her advice in this book — check it out.

3. Premium

This is the book on my phone right now. It’s subtitled, “How experts like you are charging premium rates for what they know and you can too!” If you think freelance writers aren’t ‘experts’ and this info wouldn’t apply to you, this tome will change your mind.

Rob Cuesta’s book is stuffed with detailed examples of exactly how various consultants and coaches exploded their rates, and marketed themselves differently. If you need to find better clients, and more of them, give this a read. Think of this one as a more in-depth version of Breaking the Time Barrier.

4. Six Figure Freelancing

This second edition of Kelly James-Enger’s “Writer’s guide to making more money” has stood the test of time.

I’ve had the pleasure of having Kelly as a guest on Freelance Writers Den podcasts more than once, and she is the whip-smart real deal. I meet a lot of writers who say, “But I don’t really need to earn six figures…” Yeah. You still need to read this, so you can get into the mentality that you deserve to be well-paid.

5. Start & Run a Copywriting Business

Steve Slaunwhite is the most effective trainer I’ve ever had in the Den, bar none. He has a true gift for imparting information so you really ‘get’ it.

So a book from him on copywriting? Yes. Read it. (Thanks to reader Carole Cudnik for the memory jog on this one.)

6. The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success

Yes, shameless plug — I did co-author this e-book with wonderful Laura Spencer of Writing Thoughts. If you can’t seem to get off the starting blocks, or are trapped in a cycle of writing for pennies on UpWork, a content mill, or with Craigslist clients, this one is for you.

Along with Breaking the Time Barrier, this is the book I send writers to the most. If you’re wandering in the wilderness, unable to figure out your best opportunities, this book will show you how to quickly create a portfolio that impresses prospects (based on your own interests and experience) and start getting well-paid gigs. Comes complete with scripts of exactly what to say when you pitch those first pro-bono clients to get those first great samples.

7. This Business of Books

Are you sitting home, dreaming of landing a book deal with a traditional publisher? You need this book. Subtitled “A complete overview of the industry from concept through sales,” this book will end your magical thinking and tell you exactly how bestsellers are created.

I recently had a chance to host its author, ghostwriting expert Claudia Suzanne, for a Freelance Writers Den bootcamp. I learned a ton, right along with the rest of the Denizens, even though I’ve already done a couple book-ghosting gigs.

8. The War of Art

Are you still spouting excuses about why you can’t write today?

Steven Pressfield’s classic on creative productivity will help you end the procrastination, and show you how to get your butt in the chair regularly to crank out the writing.

9. The Well-Fed Writer

Peter Bowerman’s classic tome of launching a copywriting business is another book that has really stood the test of time. If you’re ready to stop talking about earning a living as a writer and get that sucker off the ground, read this.

This book is about time-tested methods of quickly getting your copywriting business launched. Peter’s system is hard work and not a magic wand, but he lays out proven ways of getting there.

10. The Wealthy Freelancer

I recently moved and gave away most of my books — but this book made the trip.

We’re talking Pete Savage, Ed Gandia, and Steve Slaunwhite here, teamed up to share their ’12 Secrets to a great income and an enviable lifestyle.’ Recommended for struggling freelancers of all stripes.

Remember — read, do, read

I’ve mentioned a lot of books for writers here — so just a warning not to get caught in the perpetual learning trap.

Don’t forget to read a bit, implement the ideas you learn, and then read some more. All reading and no doing means you continue to make no progress toward your freelance goals.

What books have helped you earn more as a writer? Feel free to add to my list in the comments.

Do you suck at getting freelance writing jobs?

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19 comments on “10 Life-Changing Books for Writers (Hint: They’re Not About Craft)
  1. Hey Carol,

    Thanks so much for the shout-out about our book. 🙂 I loved working with you on that project.

    I have a couple of the other books too and plan to add a few of those I haven’t read to my reading list.

    One thing I’d say is to go back every few years and re-read these books. As you get more experience, you’ll find you take away new insights.
    Laura Spencer recently posted…How to Get Your First Writing ExperienceMy Profile

  2. Damien says:

    Embarrassed to say I have not read a single one of these books! I’ve just grabbed Breaking the Time Barrier – looks great. Thanks Carol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hey, I think a ton of writers just don’t think along these lines — they just read about writing craft.

      I think EVERY freelance writer should read Breaking the Time Barrier — obviously, it was created to promote Freshbooks, but I just think it’s a terrific, story-driven approach to helping writers understand how they’re selling themselves short, and how to shift your mindset to earn well.

  3. Ed Gandia says:

    Thanks for including The Wealthy Freelancer, Carol! Great list!

  4. Crissie says:

    Great List, Carol! Keep it up, as click from here to Amazon.com open in adjacent left tab 😉

  5. Carla says:

    “Aaah, wonderful! Terrific insights.” Then, they go straight back to starving.” So true!

    Over the years I’ve read a lot of books on the craft of writing (I was also an English teacher for 10 years) but the books that have made the biggest impact on me, as I’ve returned to the *business* of writing, have been those that are practical and offer a step-by-step approach.

    I have a couple by Steve Slaunwhite, including ‘Start and Run a Copywriting Business’ and I refer back to them constantly. And Peter Bowerman’s ‘Well-Fed Writer’, it too is good value for the practical advice he provides for new writers.

    I’ve also found Bob Bly’s ‘The Copywriter’s Handbook’ very good – it’s another standard I keep on the Kindle.

    But, there’s a few here I haven’t come across – thank you. Going to check them out now!

  6. Lindy says:

    Tim Leffel’s “Travel Writing 2.0 – Earning money from your travels in the new media landscape” is great too – it really cuts through the myths around earning money from travel writing and has lots of quotes from people earning a good living travel writing.

  7. Eliza says:

    “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. I’m only half way through and I was loathe to use the term ‘life changing’ and then I realised it’s in the title of this post. So I’m going to say it – it’s life changing.

    The book isn’t about writing or business, the premise is that with the right mindset, human potential can be stretched far beyond what we imagine and success in any field isn’t reliant on talent. The growth mindset changes the way you view failure, criticism and how you approach problems. Instead of these being negatives that demonstrate a lack of ability, they are learning opportunities that provide the motivation to keep working to improve in your chosen area.

    As I said, I’m only half way through but already it’s changed the way I’m approaching my writing business. I wish I had read this book a decade ago…actually make that 2 decades.
    Eliza recently posted…Why curiosity may be the secret to a rich lifeMy Profile

  8. Evan Jensen says:

    Hi Carol,

    Great reminder at the end of your post. “Read, do, read.”

    A lot of people jump from book to book, course to course, program to program, hoping to find the “secret” to freelancing success. But never get around to implementing.

    It’s craziness. I’ve fallen into the trap myself at times.

    A theme you’ll find in every one of these books (I’ve read 4 of 10 on the list) is to take action, get better by doing, learn as you go, instead of waiting for the perfect day (that will never come) to get started, move up, and earn more.

  9. Nicki Lee says:

    I would add Freelance Business Bootcamp by Carol and Neil Tortorella.

  10. Thanks for this list. I already own and have read 4 of the 10 (and the 3 mentioned by Tom in his comment), and look forward to digging into the others!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds like you’re reading the right sorts of books, Sharon. 😉

      I meet too many writers who’re just reading about how to refine their writing craft…and meanwhile, nothing ever happens with their career.

  11. Tom McCauley says:

    Hi Carol:

    I would add two by Bob Bly, “The Copywriter’s Handbook,” and “Secrets of a Freelance writer”

    And

    William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well – The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction”