'On writing' books are a dime a dozen, but the good ones are far and few between. To continue my use of worn-out phrases, Skip Press' How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write is the exception to the rule and anything but cliche.
Originally published in 1995 and updated in 2011, Press' book is general in scope but specific in hard-hitting hints and tips. He covers the writing life itself (with encouragement and humour) as well as various genres of writing in which one can get paid to publish.
Press' success rate is clear throughout as he gives examples of former students whose work has been published within a year of taking the course on which the book's premise is based.
As he writes:
I said that my book would not be loaded down with theory. It would offer concise, easily understood advice for both writing and marketing." (Emphasis mine, but it's always better out of the horse's mouth, isn't it?)
I met this book by happening upon it at the library, but soon realised I needed to purchase my own personal copy to have on hand at all times, as it's an invaluable resource and one I will go back to again and again. (Not to mention my need to underline and make margin notes - a behaviour the local librarian generally frowns upon.)
As a fiction writer, my primary interest was in the novel-writing section, however each section's tips were helpful and insightful. Because this resource both gives an exceptional overview and specific tips and sources, it is a helpful general resource to create a fully diversified writing career rather than an overly specialised one.
My take-aways included a full page of notes on the writing process, marketing, and effective query letters. Press’ humour and humility show throughout and he even includes copies of his own failed query letters as means of example.
Additionally, I recorded many excerpts from his book in the front of my writer’s notebook to serve as regular reminders. My favourite among them (though it’s hard to choose) being:
If you plan to write a novel, you’ll have to treat it like a business.”
It’s concise, to be sure (he certainly delivered on that promise) but I underlined it twice in my journal, and followed it with a series of exclamation points. Treat writing like the business it is in order to get results. It’s not rocket science, but there it is: the hardest part of writing is affixing butt to chair. So get over yourself, slap on your discipline pants, and get to work. I love it.
Now, before I over-toot Mr. Press’ horn, and because you’ve got to take the good with the bad, I offer one minor critique. If there is one criticism, it would be that this book is too general. It is a good jumping off point for finding additional resources for turning your craft into a career.
But don’t let this stop you. There is no catch-all resource for this thing we do, and the smart writer is not only reading books within his or her chosen genre to keep a pulse on what’s out there, but is also constantly reading about writing, exploring techniques, ideas, and learning from those who wrote before us.
Press clearly cares about the next generation of writers and the writing process, as is not only evidenced in the work itself, but in his commitment to improving editions. In addition to the 2011 update, Press is currently rewriting the work to reflect recent advancements in the publishing industry.
I would give How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write a Siskel and Ebert two thumbs up or a Michelin five stars… but I guess that would be hackneyed and cliche.
Paperback: 223 pages
Publisher: Career Pr Inc (June 1995)