When I first started writing genre fiction, back in my freshman year of college, I knew very little about it. I had never read mysteries or thrillers, I didn't know anything about plot structure or outlining, and I had no idea about the process of publishing a novel. I was a natural story teller, that's why I went to Columbia College in the first place, the other aspects of writing I learned through classes, conferences, peers, and best of all, books.
There are lots of books about writing; some are better than others. Since not everyone can attend a creative writing program and not everyone lives in an area where there are other writers, books about the craft of writing can be extremely helpful. Here are a few of my favorites:
Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This is a must-have for any writer. It's a slim paperback, but it's full of helpful grammar and style tips. Middle school language arts was a long time ago and this trusty guide will remind you of all that was forgotten.
On Writing by Stephen King. This is a combination of memoir and writing book. It's divided into three sections: One where King talks about his childhood and how he became a writer, another where he talks about the craft of writing, and the last section is a brutally honest telling of his accident and what came after. The second section is extremely helpful and the other two are simply inspiring.
Write Faster, Write Better by David A. Fryxell. Anyone who thinks it will take years to finish a novel, needs this book. Fryxell is has great ways to organize, plan ahead, and overall, write more efficiently. If you think a novel is daunting now, you won't after reading this book.
The Writer's Market. This massive volume is packed with agents, publishers, freelance opportunities, writing groups, conferences and more. Some of the information can be off so make sure to check websites for up-to-date mailing addresses and submission guidelines, but this book will send you on the right path.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I read this just as I was finishing up my first manuscript, and by the time I was done, I felt like I needed to rewrite my entire book. Maass clearly knows the industry and gives great advice to writers wanting to breakout from the midlist. Also check out the workbook companion.
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron. Obviously this mostly applies to mystery writers, but I believe her tips, outlines, and characterization charts can be applied to any type of novel. The book includes extensive worksheets illustrating how to effectively plot your book, create compelling characters, and how to build suspense. I found it very helpful when I was attempting to write my first mystery.
The Successful Novelist by David Morrell. I myself have not picked up this book yet, but many writers I know rave about it, so I felt I should include it. Morrell is the author of First Blood and the creator of Rambo. He is also a professor at the University of Iowa in their creative writing program. He's been writing and teaching a long time and with that experience comes a wealth of knowledge.
Feel free to comment with any books that have been helpful in your writing career!