Posted by: Kerry Gans | December 17, 2020

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 12-17-2020

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! A snowstorm is due to hit our area—the first significant snow in almost 3 years. If you, too, are in the snow zone, cuddle up with a hot drink and while away the hours with some literary links.

In a year that has seen the loss of multiple artists, this week we lost two more legends. Espionage writer John le Carré died at age 89, and science fiction author Ben Bova passed at the age of 88.

Many of us are reading more than usual this year. Summer Loomis discusses the benefits of community reading programs, and LitHub lists their 65 favorite books of the year.

When our fiction invades our life, it can be disorienting. Fourteen years after Thomas Mullen wrote a tragic novel about the 1918 flu pandemic, his family got COVID.

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss warn of the attack of the fake literary agencies: West Literary Agency, Stellar Literary Press and Media.


For all our espionage writers: Bayard & Holmes answer 7 questions for an espionage pro.

If your goal is funny, then James Scott Bell has advice on using humor in fiction.

Some writers get hung up on their openings. Roz Morris has tips on how to get going when stuck at the beginning of your novel, and Joe Ponepinto suggests the end may only be the beginning.

Stavros Halvatzis tells how to improve your premise, while Jami Gold ponders story tropes: to avoid or not to avoid?

If you build your story correctly, you will keep your reader turning the pages. Katharine Grubb explains how to make your scenes more cinematic, Janice Hardy lists 5 ways to fix a stalled scene in your novel, Kathryn Craft dissects the art of the chapter break, and Laurence MacNaughton brings it home with 4 essentials of unforgettable endings.

Our characters carry our stories, and they tell the stories in many different ways. Ken Brosky discusses how to effectively manage multiple narrators in your novel, and Melissa Donovan has 5 things your characters need.

The editing and critique process can be grueling. Askold Mewlnyczuk brings us reflections on editing, Bob Hostetler shares 5 easy fixes for frequent faux pas, Nathan Bransford tells us what to expect when working with a freelance editor, and Christine Carron explains how not to take critiques personally.

We all wish we could be more productive at times. Alexander Chee discusses overcoming writer’s block, Dario Ciriello extols the best writing tool you’ve never heard of, Robert Lee Brewer shares 9 lines of writing advice—with cats; and Colleen M. Story shows how to inspire hope for a new year of writing.

Sometimes it feel like our writing doesn’t matter, but you never know. Nick Hubble investigates how sci-fi shaped socialism, while Barbara Linn Probst explores the unexpected and long-tail: you never know the difference your book might make.


Publishing is a complex business, often with conflicting problems. Jim Dempsey tackles diversity in publishing, while Dennis Johnson makes the case that the bigger publishers get, the blander the books they publish.

While we love the craft, if we want to make money writing we need to treat it like a business—and that can lead us down writing paths we don’t want to follow. Nina Amir lays out how to take control of your writing career.

Selling books requires a platform, and even if you are going traditional you need to have one—the publisher can’t do it for you. Rachelle Gardner tells us what is considered a strong author platform these days, and Rachel Mans McKenny examines what she wishes she had known while querying.

There are many marketing paths you could take, but many involve professional reviews. Keri-Rae Barnum discusses getting professional reviews in the time of COVID, and Penny Sansevieri looks at a whole different experience: the best book marketing ideas for poetry authors.

In the end, marketing is about getting people to find your book and then delivering it to them. Andre Calilhanna explores various book discovery services, and the AskALLi Team presents the author’s guide to book distribution.


The Quarantine Tapes podcast with Paul Holdengraber hosts Ngugi wa Thiong’o on the time he met Langston Hughes (and more).

Kendra, Jaclyn, Sachi, and Sumaiyya of the Reading Women podcast announce the winners of the Reading Women’s 2020 award.


The past is prologue. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1839 letter to her cousin describing her lonely quarantine is up for sale.

Anyone for literary tourism? Phoebe Hamilton-Jones writes on the particular thrill of visiting a dead writer’s house.

Sometimes old works gain new relevance. Maureen Corrigan asks: does Betty Smith’s follow-up to the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn warrant reconsideration?

Nicole Broussard’s experiences walking and journaling in Paris and Montreal brought home the impossibility of saying everything.

Edith Vonnegut examines the love letters of Kurt and Jane Vonnegut.

Judith Schalansky investigates what we know of Sappho.

Since it’s that time of year, Jessica Strawser has gift ideas for every writer on your list.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! The next 2 weeks Thursdays are “Eves”. J. Thomas Ross will have something special on Christmas Eve, and we will have our yearly “most popular links of the year” round-up on New Year’s Eve.

Stay safe and warm if you are in the line of the storm, and we will see you next week!



  1. Just want to shout out a “Thank You” to the team the time and effort you put into this valuable site! Be well and Write On… 🙂


    • Wishing you the same, Donna. We’re all looking forward to a better 2021.


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