Troubleshooting Your Novel

Troubleshooting Your Novel will take your story to the next level of excellence.

Let an award-winning novelist guide you through the process of making your book the best it can be.

By building on the principles and theoretical framework laid out in Story Trumps Structure, this book moves to the hands-on level with checklists, timesaving hints and tricks of the trade, and hundreds of questions for manuscript analysis and revision.

Concise, practical, and easy-to-use. Each chapter stands alone so you can flip to the section you need, identify a specific problem, and address it.

Learn to focus on what lies at the heart of story—tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, discovery—and break out of the box to write fiction that truly resonates with readers.


Winner of the 2018 Storytelling World Award


“I encourage every writer out there—whether published, about-to-be-published, or just with the desire to be published—to read this book…I assure you, the finished product will be a thousand percent better.”

—#1 Bestselling novelist Steve Berry



It is a testament to the skill of Steven James that he can write a book on craft that is every bit as much a page-turner as one of his best-selling thrillers. I read this book in a kind of thrall, enjoying the wisdom on every topic it touched upon. Writing is rewriting, as they say, and this eminently useful guide is a tool kit for making that good book better, and making that better book great.

-- David Corbett, Award-winning author of The Art of Character

When my friend Steven James asked me to write a foreword to this book, I was flattered. Steven is one of the best writing teachers I know. In 2014, when we started Master CraftFest, which involves a day of extensive training with a small group of students at ThrillerFest each year, Steven was our first choice to be an instructor. Our instincts proved correct. His classes have been widely popular. Steven sent me the manuscript, and I thought, Okay, I'll skim through it to get the gist of things and then write a few kind words. I started on page 1 and read a little. Then a little more. Then a little more after that. A few hours later, I finished the entire book. Every word. And was amazed. For years I've said that someone should write a practical, hands-on, how-to guide on polishing a manuscript. So many writers bangout that first draft and then have no idea what to do next. The art of self-editing is a lost one. Writers today are in a hurry. The world of independent publishing has ushered in a generation of impatience and, to some degree, carelessness. In my day the gatekeepers were New York editors. They decided what was published. Those days are gone. The gatekeepers today are you, me, and every other reader in the world. We determine what's popular, what endures, and what comes next. And if you thought NewYork editors were tough, the entire world makes them look down-right kind. All of which means that now, more than ever, writers have to master the art of self-editing. And it is an art. In the following pages Steven whittles down that task to a clear, concise, and succinct form. He's created a book that needed to be written, and thank goodness he was the one who wrote it. Steven holds a master's degree in storytelling, which in and of itself is impressive. He's taught writing all over the world. He's published fifteen novels, along with another terrific book on writing, Story Trumps Structure. This man just doesn't talk the talk; he walks the walk. From the day I wrote my first word to the day I sold my first word was a span of twelve years. During that time I completed eight manuscripts, five of which were submitted to New York publishing houses. They were rejected a total of eighty-five times. It was on the eighty-sixth attempt that things happened for me. Unfortunately, in the1990s, no book like this existed. You learned manuscript polishing through trial and error, writing every day, and taking heed of the many rejections that came your way. That path was both instructive and painful. Steven has now taken some of the pain out of the process. I encourage every writer out there--whether published, about-to-be published, or just with the desire to be published--to read this book. Then apply its principles to your own writing. I assure you, the finished product will be a thousand percent better. I'll definitely be doing that. And we'll all have Steven James to thank.

-- Steve Berry, New York Times and #1 Internationally Bestselling Author

Steven James is a master of the writing craft, as well as gifted teacher. He's both engaging and insightful. It's no secret that these qualities make him a Writer's Digest Conference attendee favorite. He knows what he's talking about and he knows how to effectively share his insights with others. Our post-conference attendee surveys confirm, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is one of the best. Certainly we welcome his return.

-- Phil Sexton, Publisher at Writer's Digest