You know that phrase: a sucker born every minute. Well, it fits me in one particular category: how-to books about writing.
One of the shelves in my library is stuffed with writing books in every permutation: how to write well; how to get an agent, how to write a book proposal, how to write narrative non-fiction, how to be a writer, how to sell your writing, how to ….. well you get the idea. At last count, I owned 38 books on writing-related subjects. Some are paperback, some are hardback, and if they average out to $15 a book, that’s a $570 investment. Plus, I’ve taken out dozens of others from the library.
What is it about these books? I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years so you would think I know what I’m doing. And I usually do. Sometimes, though, reading about writing inspires me, makes me reach higher, makes me push to be the best writer I can be.
Sometimes the books just satisfy my urge to shop.
At the Books by the Bay festival in San Francisco a few weeks, ago, I stopped by the Book Passage booth. The store was featuring writing books, so naturally I had to have one. I bought “The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them,” by Brian Hill and Dee Power.
Now, I am writing a book. I’d like it to be a bestseller. Who wouldn’t want their book to be a bestseller? But is that something that a writer can calculate? After wasting $20, I am certain the answer is no. I am not the only one:
Here’s one of the questions the authors pose to “A Very Nasty Agent.”
Q: What is the most common reason you decline to represent an author?
A: They can’t write. You are asking the wrong questions, so it is hard to see how your book is going to be new, different, or helpful
My husband chides me for wasting my time and money on these how-to books. “Go write!” he says. “Stop thinking about it.”
Still, I have found some useful books. Here’s a short list:
Best Books for Writing a Book Proposal:
Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Non-Fiction – and Get It Published, by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato
Writing Books that have inspired me:
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, A Guide to the Craft of Fiction (good for non-fiction too) by Stephen Koch
Follow the Story by James B. Stewart
Telling the Story: How to Write and Sell Creative Non-Fiction by Peter Rubie
The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton
On Establishing a Writing Practice:
Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer’s Block by Jane Anne Staw
Writing can be a lonely business. I guess writing books do what all good books do – make the reader feel connected to a larger world.