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The Write Stuff: Must-Read Guides for Writers

Thursday, May 13, 2004
I’ve read my fair share of writers’ guides over the years. In fact, during the early years of my career, I read them obsessively, hoping I’d eventually figure out what was involved in making it as a freelancer. (The alternative -- working full-time for someone else -- seemed too horrible to contemplate. Still does.)

So I guess you could say I’ve become somewhat of a guidebook connoisseur over the years. I’ve learned to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. The ones that fall into the latter category, in my opinion, are those that encourage writers to follow “the rules” in the traditional writer-editor courtship dance (you know, those hard-to-stomach rules that say that the magazine editor should hold all the power in the relationship and the writer should simply sit by the phone, waiting for the editor to call). That’s why I was delighted to stumble across a book that is positively overflowing with attitude.

The book is called The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell (Marian Street Press Inc., 2003, paperback, 206 pages). As the title implies, the authors encourage writers to break all the rules (for example, the rules that say that query letters should be kept to one page, simultaneous submissions are a no-no, you should never pitch an editor by phone, and so on). While most of us who’ve been kicking around the freelance business for a while have figured out most of these rules for ourselves, the book still warrants a read, if only to remind you that it’s okay to challenge the rules in the writer-editor playbook every now and again. (Or on a daily basis, if you prefer!) So be sure to check out The Renegade Writer.

The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels
(edited by Timothy Harper, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003, paperback, 314 pages) is another recent book that warrants a read. The book -- which was written by members of the American Association of Journalists and Authors -- contains sage advice on everything from writing successful magazine queries to finding a collaborator for a book project to fine-tuning your research skills. The book is savvy and smart and peppered with the success stories of freelancers who’ve done extremely well for themselves. Even veterans of the freelance life will pick up some new tricks from this well-written and information-packed guide.

Of course, if you’re a Canadian writer trying to make a living as a freelancer in The Great White North, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of the PWAC Guide to Roughing it in the Market: A Survival Toolkit for the Savvy Writer by Angie Gallop (Periodical Writers Association of Canada, 2003, paperback, 91 pages). This compact little volume contains practical advice on everything from mapping out your career to holding your own at contract negotiation time. There’s even a little contribution from me on finding your way to freelancing nirvana. You can order the book directly from the Periodical Writers Association of Canada.

I've got a fourth book to tell you about -- but this part of the review almost didn’t get written! When I went looking for my copy of Publicize Your Book: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book the Attention it Deserves by Jacqueline Deval (Perigree, 2003, paperback, 320 pages), I discovered that my copy has disappeared from my office—again. I have no doubt lent it out to one of my many writer-buddies (I know I’ve easily recommended it to a half-dozen people since I finished reading it last summer), so I had to scramble to order a replacement copy. Do I mind owning two copies of this book? Not really. I’m sure that they’ll both be in circulation before I know it. You see, Deval’s book is a must-read if you’re serious about selling truckloads of books. She tells you everything the book publicist at your publishing company is too busy -- or exhausted -- to tell you about the weird yet wonderful world of book publicity. Self-publishers will find the book to be an invaluable resource, too. So if you’re interested in learning more about what makes certain books fly of the bookstore shelves, pick up a copy of this book. (On second thought, pick up two. You may find that your copy has a tendency to wander, too.)

| posted by Ann D @ 4:19 PM