book reviews / research

Non-fiction for Indie Authors

Here are three more interesting non-fiction books I read recently:

  1. Humor That Works–humor as the key to communication
  2. The Writer’s Lexicon Volume II–like Volume I with more words–a godsend to Indies.
  3. The Rural Setting Thesaurus--descriptions of personal and natural places as though you had been there
–a note about my reviews: I only review books I enjoyed on this blog. 

Humor That Works

by Andrew Tarvin


Andrew Tarvin’s Humor That Works (Page Two 2019) is an extended look into why humor is a great vehicle for communicating and how to make that happen. It’s especially intended for those of us without a funny bone. Tarvin describes himself as “the world’s first humor engineer”. Through his company, Humor That Works, he teaches people how to get better results for their companies or themselves in business by having more fun. He didn’t start as a funny guy. In fact, he’s an engineer but in college, he started an improv group, probably realizing engineering above all other professions needed an approachable way to communicate with the masses. He found he had a knack for humor. When he tried it in work situations–at meetings and trainings–it made learning easier as well as more memorable. Because of this, and because most people appreciate the spice humor adds to group situations but have no idea how to effect it, he started his company:

“…with my team at Humor That Works, we’ve helped more than 25,000 people from more than 250 different organizations from all around the world use humor to achieve success and happiness in the workplace.”

Now, he’s written this book on what humor is, how to become a funny guy (or gal) and how it can help you achieve your business goals. It is a business how-to book but uses humor as the vehicle to deliver greatness:

“I’m obsessed with efficiency; I believe the word efficient should be one syllable.”

“…saying, “Let’s circle back on this” when I never wanted to talk about a subject ever again.”

Here are some of the thirteen chapters:

  • Why Choose Humor
  • The Skill of Humor
  • Humor and Execution
  • Humor and Communication
  • Humor and Connection
  • Humor and Leadership
  • Success and Happiness at Work

It’s difficult to get across how wittily effective Tarvin is so I’m just going to share a few of the quotable ideas he uses in the book:

  • “No one is expecting your weekly status report to be hilarious. So, when you add a small joke at the end of it, or you replace your meeting summary with a haiku, or you simply smile as you walk”
  • “…always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific.” –Lily Tomlin
  • “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” –Mark Twain
  • “Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.” –Jules Renard
  • “There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” –Linda Grayson
  • ““Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.” –George Carlin
  • “Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. By all means, you should follow that.” –Ellen DeGeneres
  • “I never met anybody who said when they were a kid, I wanna grow up and be a critic.” –Richard Pryor
  • “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.” –George Bernard Shaw
  • “…this book isn’t about being funnier: it’s about being effective-er.”
  • “When discussing which Row/Column to Put Data into in a Spreadsheet, quote Hamlet: “2B, or not 2B: that is the question.” 

There are a bunch of how-to-succeed-in-business books but none that I can think of that focus on the importance of humor to achieve goals. This is highly recommended as one of the books to be included on your business bookshelf.

–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review


The Writer’s Lexicon Volume II

by Kathy Steinemann 


Kathy Steinemann’s The Writer’s Lexicon Volume II  (K. Steinemann Enterprises 2018) is a must for any Indie bookshelf. It addresses the most common overused words among writers and how to rephrase them more accurately. This includes words/actions/emotions like:

          • Afraid
          • Angry
          • Bad
          • Blush
          • Clenched Fists
          • Good
          • Like
          • Nice
          • Pout
          • Sad
          • Sigh
          • and more…

I can’t edit without it and it’s companion, The Writer’s Lexicon Volume I. in front of me. Literally. I have 3 screens on my computer. One is for email; one for writing; the last for my three favorite edit/research books, including both of Kathy Steinemann’s:

Yes, I’m nuts. We can talk about that later! For me, this arrangement makes it so much easier to write what I mean. I let Kathy help me figure out other ways to describe a nodding head or a shrug. Let’s take ‘shrug’ as an example. Kathy first discusses why characters shrug. It’s not always because they aren’t sure of an answer. Sometimes they are being deceptive, defensive, indifferent, resigned, or about ten other emotional reasons. Then Kathy explains what body movements reveal those:

  • Defensive–squinting, licking lips, leaning away, holding something in front of the body
  • Denial–sweating, shuffling backward, locking eyes with someone, raising palms in a not-me gesture

She forces me to analyze why my character is reacting as s/he is and then show that correctly. I couldn’t ask for more. The book also includes a bonus section with ‘taboos’–adverb abuse, ambiguous verbs, crutch words, word bloat, and more.

Highly recommended for those who are serious about their writing.

The Rural Setting Thesaurus

by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi


I bought Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Rural Setting Thesaurus (JADD Publishing 2016) to buttress my knowledge of the rural settings that make up so much of my current WIP–actually, the entire ecosystem that is the background for my trilogies in Man vs. Nature. Ackerman and Puglisi didn’t disappoint. The authors cover settings at home, at school, in inhabited rural areas, and the very rural (the arctic tundra, the badlands, and more). For each of the dozens of locations, the authors cover sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and sensations (all the sense) as well as possible conflict, people found here, and related settings. Then they give an example of what a description of the setting might be. For example, the example for river is:

“I stumbled up the hill, my body baked as dry as the land I’d crossed. Flashes of liquid light winked through the trees ahead and my legs tremored.  Cocking me head, I heard it at last: the gentle burble of salvation.”

If you’re writing about a rural location you haven’t visited or don’t know enough about–especially the all-important sensory detail–there’s no better book out there than this.

Oh–this is part of a series by these authors covering:

  • The Urban Setting Thesaurus
  • The Positive Trait Thesaurus
  • The Negative Trait Thesaurus
  • The Emotional Wound Thesaurus
  • The Emotion Thesaurus

More non-fiction for Indie Writers

2 More How-to-Write Books

Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing

A Writer’s Coach

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

66 thoughts on “Non-fiction for Indie Authors

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    • For a long time, I bought the big picture help books–how to write. These fundamentals I find invaluable. I only use them at a certain time during editing but then, I use them a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jacqui – those thesaurus books look fascinating – but I do love (and am very jealous of!) your three screens and set up … for your working day. I really should expand my use of words … I guess if I wrote more then I’d do better – another goal for this year: no doubt, improved through more reading – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great reviews for books that writers might need in their collection:) I’ve never seen a book about humor presented that way. I’m a big fan of that in writing and life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like humor in writing and have read a few about that which I wasn’t terribly inspired by. This one is different. The guy is not only clever but thorough in his discussions.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. This is a great help to writers! Thanks for sharing these helpful books with us. I think we all make many of the same kinds of mistakes when we start out writing, and some of the habits try to stick with us even when we’re aware of them in our later writing career. Always good to have reminders.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I like the way you have written these reviews Jacqui. Quotes from Humor That works give a fair idea about the quality of the book. It is interesting to note how you use these books for your own WIP… learning while writing adds another dimension to your insights. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do often get distracted by the depth of teaching Kathy especially goes into in her books–forcing me to evaluate why I have a character ‘nodding’ and is that accurate?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jacqui, I have the Rural Setting Thesaurus and two other volumes. I purchased the RST for the same reason you did–to assist in the setting of my current WIP. I’m unfamiliar with The Writer’s Lexicon books, but I’m going to check them out. Thanks for the shares!

    Liked by 2 people

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