Monthly Theme: What Makes a Compelling Blurb?

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What is a blurb?

A blurb is a brief description of your story, a text-based advertisement to attract a future reader. It either appears on the back cover or inside the front cover on a printed book, or is the second piece of information you will find on a website (after the cover and the title).

Why is it important?

Because, after the potential reader has admired your cover and clever title, they want to know what the book is about. If your blurb does not entice them, then they’re going to put it back on the shelf, or move on to the next option.

How can I write a compelling blurb?

  • Keep it short, generally between 100-150 characters.
  • Write in third person, present tense (generally, however, exceptions may apply).
  • Be true to your genre and use words that cater to your audience. ie: If you are writing a romance, your blurb shouldn’t make it sound like a thriller.
  • Your first sentence has to hook the reader, most easily done by getting them interested in the character or intrigued by the setting.
  • Once the attention has been gained, it must be maintained. One easy way to do this is by following the basic formula below:

Basic Formula

Introduce:

A. the main character (generally including one defining feature).

Here are some examples randomly selected from my book case.

  • Nine-year old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind.
  • When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice…
  • Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper has a fervent love of stories…

OR: the setting

  • London is on the move again.
  • Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.
  • In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive…

With the character, you are seeking a way to connect with the reader, establishing the main protagonist as someone they wish to learn more about, and with the setting you are establishing a mystery: ie: is London literally moving? (yes, yes it is). You are endeavouring to engage with the reader and hook them in.

Tip: When trying to decide whether to focus on character or setting, ask yourself: which is more interesting? If unsure, write both and ask your friends/writing buddies/random strangers which they prefer.

Follow up with:

B. The problem

What goes wrong?

Tip: This is likely to be connected to the inciting incident of your story: it is the situation that takes your character from their previously predictable and reliable life and plunges them into the plot.

  • Alas, the ship sinks – and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

And connect this with your protagonist and the actions he (or she) will have to take:

  • Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi. Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?

You must end with mystery – don’t spoil the end!

Tip: Although many blurbs do end with a question, if the answer is simply “yes” then your blurb may have more power if, instead, the reader is made aware of the cost to the protagonist should they fail, or the price they will have to pay to succeed.

C. The Mood

Finally, many blurbs choose to conclude with a final paragraph conveying the Mood and indicating the intended genre or audience. Here, if you have not previously, the setting can be mentioned.

  • Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthral readers of all ages.

Tip: Whilst it may seem logical (and is perfectly permissible) to start with the mood, you do run the risk of the reader going “oh, it’s a thriller, I don’t read thrillers” and proceed no further. Also, some readers may read the first sentence and the final paragraph before determining whether to read the middle.

What about Non-fiction?

Non-fiction blurbs are very diverse, depending on the genre.

  • Memoirs and biographies can be written in much the same way as fiction blurbs.
  • Manuals or guides for specialised topics can begin with:
    • the author and their credentials (third person, present tense).
    • with a series of questions (second person).
    • by informing you (the reader) why you might like this book (second person).

Important things to note about writing non-fiction blurbs:

  • Reach out to your intended audience and make your premise clear.
  • Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about (list credentials/give an example).
  • Include testimonials if you have them. Of not, it won’t hurt to get some!

Tip: If you can make an outrageous, but substantiated claim, then that is a great way to attract the reader’s attention. However, never lie or mislead your reader!

I intend to publish traditionally;  do I still need a blurb?

Whilst it is true that, if traditionally published through a reputable publishing house, it is unlikely you will be writing your own blurb, first you have to get that publishing contract! Therefore, you still need a brief and enticing advertisement for your book.

Tip: Read a lot of blurbs before writing your own! Pick some randomly from your bookshelf or the library (or browse Amazon) and look at the structure. Try to determine what makes you pick them up or put them back. Specifically target books written in the same genre as yours: what do they have in common with each other, what are the differences? Are some more compelling than others?

Also, TEST your blurb, write several attempts, share them on a writers’ forum or with your friends, get feedback and make alterations accordingly.

Favourite first (or last) sentence in a blurb?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

Monthly Theme: Research

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Why is research important?research.jpg

  • Research adds authenticity:
    • Details are important: Maybe not all of your readers will notice, but someone, somewhere will, and they may be ruthless!
    • To avoid making embarrassing mistakes
  • Research can lead to new ideas, or help your story take flight in an unexpected direction.
  • Research is fun!

When is research important?

Research is extremely important in historic novels, as you do not want to incorporate anachronisms, and if your contemporary novel is set in a real-world location, then you should familiarise yourself with its general layout and major landmarks.

It is especially important to undertake research if you are writing about cultures (ie: ethnicity, religion, social economic, etc) that you are unfamiliar with, for if you make a mistake, it could highly offend someone – and in this day of social media, readers can be ruthless.

In fantasy and (some) science fiction, you have an element of flexibility*, and readers are generally happy to suspend their disbelief a certain amount, but the most convincing stories are those in which the fiction is grounded, at least somewhat, in fact. For example, a common error in fantasy novels, is to use horses like all-purpose vehicles.  In science fiction, especially hard science fiction, a solid grounding in science is required.

In dystopic or post-apocalyptic novels, adding in the remains of well-known landmarks can really add extra impact (ie: the original “Planet of the Apes”)

(* but your setting still needs to follow, and remain consistent to, a set structure of rules.)

How much research should I do?

Research can be a slippery slope. The more you learn, the more interesting it can become and you must figure out how much of it to keep. Libbie Hawker (author of “Take Off Your Pants!”) recommends writing first, then researching to fill in the gaps. This means that you will only be researching that which is relevant to the plot. But what if your topic is so fascinating that you just can’t stop researching it? And you just want to learn more? Well, that’s fine too, however…

How much of what I discover should I include in my story?

The iceberg theory applies here too. The answer is: as much as is necessary to the plot and the characters. No more. Sure, you may have learned a plethora of fascinating facts, but if they’re not advancing or enhancing the story, then you shouldn’t share them with your readers. Sorry. If it’s that fascinating, then add an appendix!

Anything additional that you learn will remain in your subconscious, and may reveal itself later, in another story or idea. So nothing learned is truly wasted.

There is also the risk that you may become so hung-up in your research that it becomes a form of procrastination – there can be a fine line between too much and not enough.

How do I go about researching my novel?

  • Google and Wikipedia are really good for quick authenticity checks and basic details. However, be aware that not everything you read on the internet is true!
  • Google Earth is a great resource for those who set their stories in real world places that they’ve never visited. Need to plot a car chase through Copenhagen? Well, street view will help.
  • Visit the location: Road trip time! Take photographs and notes. Observe using all five senses, what scents do you notice? What sounds do you hear? All such details add to the authenticity of your settings. Just remember not to overdo it!
  • Talk to people: your friends, family – people are generally happy to share their knowledge. This is also useful if you want to find out how it feels to, say, have a dislocated shoulder, if you’ve never done it yourself, you probably know someone who has. If you don’t know anyone personally, you can take it to Facebook or various discussion forums (such as the NaNoWriMo Reference Desk).
    • Be Aware: if you are researching a controversial or opinion-based topic, speaking to just one expert can lead to bias. Seek to research as broadly as possible, then use what you learn to determine how your character thinks/behaves.
  • the library: still relevant.
  • YouTube: planning a fight scene but you’ve never wielded a sword in your life? Well, you can probably find footage of someone who has.
  • Experts: Historians, scientists, educators, cultural leaders, police detectives, the Citizens Advice Bureau. Organise an interview, and write out a list of questions. As above, seeking from multiple sources can reduce bias.
  • Personal Experience: Your character needs to ride a horse? Well, ride a horse! Volunteer your services. Take pottery classes. Try archery. Join the SCA… Not only can physically experiencing the activity yourself truly enhance the story, it could also lead to a new hobby or passion.

Research is important to maintain the authenticity of your tale and keep the reader engaged.

What are some of the weirdest things you’ve ever researched?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

Monthly theme: Procrastination

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For our Guild Monthly gatherings (held the second Monday of each month), we now have a set discussion topic to begin the evening with. March’s topic was a blight experienced by many writers: procrastination.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but my creative productivity has been at an all time low over the last year, and my writing even more-so. So what is it that is holding me back? What is preventing me from writing?

There are many things that can lead to procrastination, here are just a few that we came up with:

  • Self doubt
  • High stress (either caused by the activity we’re procrastinating doing, or other life events)
  • Intensity of the effort ahead (particularly experienced after the first draft is completed)
  • Striving for perfection
  • Too many distractions
  • General emotional burn-out

Sometimes, when you overthink situations, and try and overwork your piece, the thing you love the most becomes the thing you hate. This, I believe, is where my problem arises, and one that I have found pretty much across the board: you’ve finished the first (or second or even third) draft. You know the story’s not perfect. You’ve read over it numerous times, you’ve people interested in reading it, you love the characters and you want to do them justice, but the self-doubt monster has reared its ugly head and you’ve listened to too many podcasts and read too many books telling you what you should be doing, that you’ve almost lost the will to do it. You know it’s broken, but you’re overwhelmed by the amount of effort required to fix it.

So what can you do?

How does one recover from procrastinating?

Easiest answer is, of course, just write. But if something is hard to write, then it’s also likely to be hard to read. You don’t want your story to feel forced. The trick is to get yourself back into the writing mindset.
Here are some solutions we came up with:

  • Set deadlines: If re-writing the entire piece is overwhelming, break it down into manageable chunks: ie: “this week I’m going to rewrite chapter one”.
  • Timetable: If you are procrastinating by engaging in other activities, set them to a schedule. For example, “I will only spend 20 minutes on Facebook tonight, then I shall write”. Set a timer, and stick to it.
  • Take regular breaks: If you are trying to write, and the words aren’t coming, don’t feel obliged to force them. Take a walk, play with the cat, etc. You may find that your brain becomes more alive the moment you step away from the computer, and suddenly you’re rushing to get back to it. Try not to take the breaks too often though, else they’re just another form of procrastination!
  • Free write: Sometimes the computer can be inhibiting. Try writing on paper: stream of consciousness or a scene you’ve been looking forward to, or putting your character in a difficult situation and seeing how she wriggles her way out of it. If it’s on paper, it’s more ephemeral, and if it’s good, you can then commit it to type. I wrote about this in my own blog last year.
  • Write that scene you’ve been hanging out for: I write my stories sequentially and sometimes I know where a story is going but not how to get there. If you’re having issues writing and there’s a scene you’re excited to be writing, write it! You can always re-work it later to better fit the build-up!
  • Seek a critique: Not sure where the story is going? Ask someone that you trust to be honest to read your story. Be careful choosing people to close to you emotionally (ie: spouses), as if they are a little too honest, it can marr your relationship! I suggest finding a writing buddy, as you can read each other’s work (and writers understand other writers). For help in taking critiques well, we have made a post in the past.
  • Distract the cat: We adopted a kitten last year, and she always seems to want to be involved in what I’m doing. This can vary from sleeping on or beside me, to chewing on my arm and climbing on the keyboard. If your feline (or puppy, or child) is proving distracting, you can either shut them out of the room or set up another activity to keep them occupied (I recommend “Cats Meow” for kittens). If you have children, schedule your writing time when they are sleeping, or when there is someone else to either watch them or field their attentions.
  • Start something new: If you’ve written your story so well in your head that you lack the motivation to put it to paper, take a fresh approach. Either consider the story from a different character’s perspective, or start something else entirely. Take your characters, and write a short story, change the setting, heck, you could even write fanfiction!
  • Set a time to write: Set yourself a time to write every day – say between 9 and 11 at night. Sit in front of your keyboard (disable your internet if need be) and don’t permit yourself to move until that time is over. Pretty soon you’ll get sick of staring at that blinking cursor and will put your fingers to the keyboard and, maybe, magic will happen.

What can I do if I can’t break the procrastination blight?

Use your procrastination for being productive in other fashions, here are a few things you can do if you really, really can’t bring yourself to write:

  • Housework: I’ve cleaned out my pantry, tidied up my closet and unpacked the last two boxes of books. Pretty soon I’m going to move onto gardening.
  • Research: Watch documentaries related to your topic or read articles. Maybe they will re-spark the motivation to write.
  • Read: Time spent reading is rarely wasted. Read in your genre – you can always label it as “research”. Read other genres, as a fresh perspective is always worthwhile. Something might inspire you.
  • Take up a new hobby: Cooking, drawing, painting, sculpting etc. Then at least your creativity will have an outlet.

Have you any more tips to break the procrastination blight?

Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!

We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

Book Release: Spectra

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spectra-frontcoversmlA monstrous child is born from the ground where a building fell. And the child is hungry…
A gladiator must make the ultimate choice, between freedom or friendship…
Deep in the heart of Brazil’s desert forest, the world’s rarest parrot is kidnapped by smugglers…

The Christchurch Writers’ Guild are pleased to announce the release of their second anthology, entitled Spectra: with all the different stories in the world begging to be told and all the genres and styles available for telling them, any community of writers is going to produce a spectra of stories. There is something for everyone in this collection of short fiction and poetry showcasing the interests and talents of members of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild.

Authors include: Shelley Chappell, Beaulah Pragg, J.L. O’Rourke, Kevin Berry, Ami Hart, Matty Angel, Jean Flannery, Jonathan Kingston-Smith, Mia Andrews, Philippa Drayton, Chris Visagee, Sille Mannion, and Angela Oliver.

Spectra is available on Amazon, in both ebook and paperback format. We will be creating a bulk order from Amazon in early February; if you are interested in purchasing a copy/copies, please drop us a line.

Special thanks to Kura Carpenter for designing the cover, and also to Philippa Drayton, Jenner Lichtwark and Shelley Chappell, for helping with the editing. Formatting was done by Angela Oliver.

luci-spectra
Lucifer Seraphina gives Spectra her purr of approval.

NaNo Interview: Jill Winfield

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Lately come to Christchurch from Melbourne, Jill Winfield is looking forward to saying, ‘in my second novel…’

Can you tell us a little about your NaNoWriMo 2016 project?

I find it really hard to talk about what I’m writing because I can’t bring myself to spoil the surprise, I know you need to be able to do this for pitching purposes, but I still struggle. For NaNoWriMo, I’ve picked up a story idea I’ve had kicking around for several years but never figured out the way into.

Just to explain the photographs: My novel passes through a lot of share houses, featuring those kinds of surfaces and textures.

How many times have you participated in NaNoWriMo?

Although I’ve signed up before, this is the first time I’ve actually got going.

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1.Chapter 1, House 1, First Floor Ceiling

How have you adjusted your regular routine for the month of November?

I haven’t made changes as such, it’s more that I’ve ratcheted up my commitment by setting very specific (but achievable) goals. I set a goal of writing 2000 words per day with 1 day off per week, just in case. I figured out that on weekdays, if I got up fifteen minutes earlier, I could get an earlier bus and have an hour of focused writing at a cafe before work, instead of half an hour of maybe writing in my journal about – whatever. Before work, I usually manage between 600-800 words. Sometimes I get in another 200 or so at lunchtime, trying to get food in my mouth rather than on my keyboard. After work, usually after dinner, I write until I’ve met my target and finished what I wanted to write about. On the weekends, I cram writing in whenever I can. It is incredible how much you can achieve when you sit down and plug away at it every day.

What made you decide to take the NaNoWriMo challenge?

I’ve been working on the second draft of my first novel for what feels like a very long time – 18 months thereabouts – without feeling like I’m getting anywhere. I started to wonder how I would ever get to work on all those other novels I have floating around in the back of computer/brain/journals if I couldn’t get through this *swearword* second draft. NaNoWriMo was a good opportunity to put down the hard slog of editing/re-writing and pick up an idea I’ve wanted to play with for a long time – like a working holiday. A fun one.

I also thought that the daily habit of writing those 50,000 words would improve my writing. There was an American photographer, Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) who worked for forty years as a nanny and took photographs after hours and sometimes during her working hours. 17,500 negatives, 2,000 prints and 30 home movies were found after she died and they (well, probably not all of them) are extraordinary. I believe that good art is made through doing and doing and doing. Doing NaNoWriMo is establishing a good habit of writing and writing and writing. 

P.S. I do like my first novel. When I finish it, it’s going to be great.

P.P.S. Google Vivian Maier, I don’t imagine you’ll sorry, there’s a story in every photograph.

What do you like the most about NaNoWriMo?

I’ve found the more I write, the more I want to write and the faster my ideas come. Doing NaNoWriMo has reminded me (because I had forgotten) of the FUN of writing. I love making stuff up and I love playing with words and if can make up a great story using a compelling arrangement of words then that’s a worthy way to spend my time.

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2. Chapter 5, House 5, Kitchen Table

How has the establishment of NaNoWriMo influenced your writing habits?

Doing NaNoWriMo has brought home how much you can achieve through discipline. It has also made me question my preconceptions of what writing work I can do where. When I first started writing I had a lot of false starts, I kept changing and editing and stopping and starting. It was easy (for me) to get nowhere writing on a computer. I didn’t really get going until I began writing by hand, in a journal, because you can only go forward. The overriding directive of NaNoWriMo: keep writing! Don’t edit, just keep going! has helped me learn to keep going on a computer. That will save a lot of time 🙂

After NaNoWriMo, I think I will continue my hour-long session of writing before work. I often get far more done in that hour than I might in four hours on a weekend.


Do you have any tips for NaNo newbies?

I find when I get stuck that if I just start writing, something will come to me. It might be something like:

Oh no! I don’t know what to write. Whatever will I write? I’m hungry. I wonder if my character is hungry. I wonder what they like to eat.

I bet they like chips. I bet they eat chips all the time, especially when they shouldn’t…

Using Scrivener really helps with getting stuck too – you just start a new scene and keep going and all those bits and bobs are still there waiting for you in one neat location when you find out you really do need them.

Also, don’t forget to stretch your wrists around and get up every now and then.


Do you reward yourself for achieving your daily/weekly goals? If so, how?

My plan is to reward myself with a new book for each week I meet my target. Last week I went to Scorpio Books aiming for a nice fat fantasy or SF novel and came home with a collection of Walt Whitman poems. His writing soothed my brain. 

NaNoWriMo 2016 Interview: Angela Oliver

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Angela Oliver is an author and illustrator, with a wide cast of colourful and unusual characters, very few of them human.

Can you tell us a little about your NaNoWrimo 2016 project?

Initially I intended to rework – for the third or possibly fourth time -the second book in my Lemur Saga, Tail of Two Scions. However, I quickly realised that I was not in the right frame of mind for re-writing a previous draft, and that something fun and frivolous was more likely to help me achieve my goals. Therefore, I switched to a novel entitled Love in Tirra-Inle. This is the first in my Furritasia trilogy (I’ve almost finished the third and abandoned the second halfway through, but that’s by-the-by) and is my first attempt at what is intended, vaguely, to be a romance novel. Albeit a fairly unorthodox kind. With giant cockroaches.

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My unlikely couple, Daniel and Kataryna, illustrated by Arquel back in 2004.

How many times have you participated in NaNoWriMo?

NaNowrimo began in 1999 and I have participated in it on and off since it’s inception. I cannot recall exactly how many times I’ve accepted the challenge – but I believe my success/completion rate to be around 50%. In early years, I actually I finished the novel before attaining the word count goal.

How have you adjusted your regular routine for the month of November?

I have shifted my focus back onto writing, which is a good start. Previous years I have used techniques such as getting up earlier (5am) and attempting “1,000 words before breakfast” but as I get older, I seem to require more sleep. Fortunately this year my husband has a few other commitments which mean that I do not feel so much like I am neglecting him.

What do you like the most about NaNoWriMo?

Probably the social aspect and the fact that it re-establishes in me the habit of writing. Although I do not attend a great deal of write-ins, and actually write better at home, the mere knowledge that out there hundreds, thousands, of other people are undergoing the same process of frustration, dedication and determination as me is really quite encouraging. As writers, it is easy to feel alone, but by bringing together communities, either online or in reality, it really helps to create bonds and make it much harder to just give up on the story.

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How has the establishment of NaNoWriMo influenced your writing habits?

The awareness of NaNoWriMo makes it easier to put off writing something new straight away, knowing that I intend to spend the entire month of November writing means that I don’t feel September is wasted because I mostly played Pokemon and didn’t achieve much of anything else. It also gives me more focus, and causes me to force myself to sit down each day and write – at least for the month of November!

Do you have any tips for NaNo newbies?

The secret to successfully completing NaNo is by not caring too much about making the story perfect,  focus instead on getting the words on the page. Never delete anything – if I must remove it from the plot, I will either highlight mine in a different colour (so I can find it against later) or cut and paste it to the end of the manuscript so that it still counts towards my final word count goal. And if your story feels a bit flat, then it’s time to add something dramatic and different! Be random if you need to.

What is the most unexpected thing you have had happen in a NaNoWriMo novel?

It’s hard to remember what the most unexpected thing is, but I’ve had a few! One of my favourite was when I discovered which of the characters in Tail of Two Scions had the hidden agenda, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected. I had set up several “red herrings” and determined that the original plan was just too obvious so thought “who is the least obvious suspect that would make sense” and voila! It then involved some going back to add in foreshadowing and also determining her motivation, but still!

What is the strangest thing you have ever Googled for “Research purposes”?

When I started my story this year, I spent a lot of time looking up random cockroach stuff – and got caught up on trying to determine whether a cockroach was a beetle or a bug (turns out roaches are neither) just so I could pull off a humorous dialogue interchange. I’ve also looked up what would happen if a chicken ate a cigarette (spent half an hour looking and then just decided that it was easier just to not include it in the plot at all as it wasn’t really of any relevance).

aroha-fcsml
“Aroha’s Grand Adventure” was my 2010 NaNo novel – and is now available on Amazon.

Do you reward yourself for achieving your daily/weekly goals? If so, how?

I started doing that this year, although I’ve lapsed somewhat now we’re halfway through the month (I think one day my reward was “sleep” – ironically the same night we had the house-gone-to-sea earthquake and I got NO sleep at all due to the tsunami warning). But I’ve tried to come up with something for every day – often it’s food related, a trip to the local Coffee Culture for chai and belgian biscuit, occasionally it’s watching a favourite show (QI, MLP or OUAT). The night after the EQ it was ice cream, but I ate it before achieving the word count – figured I deserved it anyway, given I was running on 3 hours sleep.

Anything else you would like to add?

I blog my NaNo Process day-by-day. If you have the time, this is actually a pretty neat process, because it allows you to determine patterns in your writing. My standard pattern, I realised, was to flake out around the end of the first week – between day 6-9 when typically I would either wind up with a: “my story sucks, I don’t know why I’m bothering” or “I’m really losing momentum”. I don’t think this is atypical, I think it’s a result of the first few days of exciting out-of-the-date writing, followed by the realisation that, if you, like me, are seat-of-the-pants writing (as opposed to rendering a pre-plotted story) then that’s about the point when you actually get into the plot and may, indeed, start to falter. Advice? Be aware of it, and push on through to the other side!

You can follow my day-by-day process here: lemurkat.co.nz

Book & Resource Recommendations for NaNoWriMo’s.

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For NaNo Newbies

No Plot, No Problem
Chris Baty
No Plot, No Problem
Chris Baty
Write your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next
Jeff Gerke
The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel
Hallie Ephron

For Writers

Scene and Structure
Jack M Bickham
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
Save the Cat!
Blake Snyder
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story
K. M. Weiland
The Emotion Thesarus
Angela Ackerman & Becca Peglisi
(their Thesaurus series have a several other books that are invaluable to writers – available both in hard copy and e-Book)
Recommended by: Judy Mohr, Em Lowe

Websites

www.nanowrimo.org
www.jamigold.com/for-writers/

Facebook has several pages dedicated to including the main NaNoWriMo group as well as municipal groups.