Episode 38
The Sifting
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Which Book Will Teach Me How to Write?

 Mar 16, 2018

Sorry, I don't name favorite writing books. But I DO suggest what your book better talk about.

Someone on Facebook asked for advice about what books to read to learn how to be a better writer. I hoped my response might also be of interest here since, well, ForeverLDS offers a rather detailed course on Professional Storytelling that I'm kinda proud of. Many podcasts, articles, and videos. As it turned out, it's not just for Latter-day Saints. Who'd a thunk?

Many will suggest great "how-to" books on becoming a writer. As you choose such a book, or writing course, I have some general advice about what it had better cover and discuss, especially in today's marketplace, which is in constant flux. 

--Do NOT read a writing book (or take a course) from an unpublished writer. SO MUCH of becoming an author is about the BUSINESS of writing. Unpublished authors (and most UNSUCCESSFUL authors, even if they're published) simply have no idea how to work with agents, negotiate contracts, self-promote, etc., etc., etc. In my own courses, live, online, and on my website, I think that's over half of what I talk about! But my students lately have been a bit further along, their manuscripts near completion.

--Do NOT fear self-publishing. Most writing books are published by, well, PUBLISHERS! So they generally stress a preference for going the "standard" route. Yes, if you self-publish, it means you must also become a marketer, but frankly, even if you use an established publisher, they will do FAR LESS than they used to, and will STILL give you a long "to-do" list of establishing a social media presence, embracing public events, etc.--because they simply do not spend as much $$ on advertising and promotion of your writing career as even ten years ago. Either way, it's gonna become your responsibility to make YOU and YOUR BOOK stand out. (Because, as you've no doubt heard, any caveman can publish on Amazon. Do all you can not to add to the crap-heap.) So, if your publisher is demanding that you beat the sidewalk creating a public presence and persona, why the freak get paid just 10%?? Learning how to self-publish will earn you up to 45% of SRP.

--Be a nice person. Does your book about writing talk about THAT? Gone are the days of J. D. Salinger and other "magicians in the back room" (sorta like the Emma Thompson character in "Stranger Than Fiction") who could pursue success despite being a recluse or having an anti-social, obnoxious nature. Those authors used to be REVERED for their eccentricities and mystique. Now they are mostly...unpublished and unsuccessful. I dunno. Maybe Salinger was "personable" at the beginning, and only became nutty after he wrote "Catcher". I suppose in that case he earned the RIGHT to be nutty. The point is, being an author has become like every other job in America. You excel when you adopt the basic values of sociability and courtesy.

--Learn the rules of formatting. (In many cases I simply mean mastering the ENGLISH LANGUAGE!) Publishers and agents are looking for every possible excuse to toss your manuscript in the trashpile. They're BEGGING for an excuse! Many "readers" get paid according to how many manuscripts they go through in a day. Don't help them improve their aim for the garbage can by creating an artsy-fartsy cover or title page. In fact don't even use color! Black. Just the black, Ma'am. You must let your words speak for themselves. 1-inch margins. 12-point font, and STANDARD like Ariel or New York Times. Not Papyrus or Jokerman! Double-spaced. Five-space indents for paragraphs. White, 20-lb paper. And master the basic formatting and punctuation rules of dialogue, grammar, etc. Don't let your ingenious story get tossed aside merely because you tried to be clever-clever, or ignorant, with issues of formatting. Today this applies to hardcopy AND digital.

IMHO, the more of the above topics that your book ignores, the less help it will be to you in your quest for success.

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