52 books in 52 weeks: The Literary Agent’s Guide to Writing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 18.

The Literary Agent’s Guide to Writing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal by Andy Ross does exactly what it says on the cover.

An American book, written by an American literary agent for the American market means that it’s very thorough, and possibly goes a little more deeply than our UK markets require. Nevertheless, I like to start with the way the Americans do it because, well, they do it so well.

The author is an agent and a former bookseller. He ran his own book shop for 30 years and started his literary agency in 2008. Therefore it’s odds-on he knows what he’s talking about.

There are no exercises, just good, honest advice. I devoured the book in just under 2 hours. Contents include things like:

  • the query letter
  • finding an agent
  • what is platform
  • the mind of the acquisition editor
  • what happens when I get an advance?
  • the structure of the book proposal

… and many others.

The sections I found particularly useful were the elements of the book deal and a word about the advance.

My only niggle was that the contents in the Kindle version aren’t hot-linked to the individual chapters. But apart from that, this is a very useful book for anyone who wants to know why we need to write book proposals in the first place, and a good recap on how to write one for those of us who already have in the past.

The Literary Agent’s Guide to Writing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal is available in paperback for £8.25 ($8.95) and on Kindle for £2.92 ($3.72). It’s also available on Smashwords.

52 books in 52 weeks: Blogging just for Writers

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 17.

When I started blogging, the only people who I knew that blogged were writers. I wasn’t aware of any other kind of blog – or even vlog, as seems to be the rage by now.

I recently read an article that said writers who blog shouldn’t be blogging for other writers but for their readers. I didn’t really understand what that meant as my readers have always been mostly other writers. The author didn’t go on to elaborate, leaving me completely in the dark.

And so I picked up Blogging just for Writers by Frances Caballo in the hope that she might enlighten me.  But she made the exact same vague comment, and I started to feel very thick.

The book is very, very short. It took me just over 20 minutes to read it. And I have to say I didn’t learn a single thing. It failed to deliver on the reason I bought it in the first place and then didn’t tell me a thing I didn’t already know other than present me with a list of things I’d never even heard of. In fact, had I not read it to the end, I would have asked Kindle for a refund.

For a start, the book opens telling me to be as gutsy as Nora Ephron. Now, forgive me, but who on earth is or was Nora Ephron? This is like referring to a film that the reader has never seen. Then it goes on to list loads and loads of apps and add-ons to enhance your blog that I haven’t even seen.

For example (and I even just checked), not one of my blog platforms offers me “blog glue”, “disqus”, “optinskin” or even a “hello bar”. If these things are known as something else on various different blogging platforms, then we need the alternatives too.

I don’t believe I live in a bubble, and this book left me with too many things to scuttle away and research later when, really, it should have given me the information in the first place.

The prose prompts are quite good in that they offer, well, prompts to write to. But apart from that, this book was a waste of time for me.

Blogging just for Writers is only available on Kindle for £2.36 ($3.07).

52 books in 52 weeks: How to Write a Book from Outline to Finish Line

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 16.

I bought How to Write a Book From Outline to Finish Line: 10 simple ways to outline your nonfiction book by Shelley Hitz because I wanted to refresh my memory on writing a book proposal.

What I should have looked for was a book on writing book proposals rather than a book on outlines, as it wasn’t really what I was looking for – not the author’s fault at all, but mine.

However, when I say “I bought” it, the book was actually FREE on Kindle, so I didn’t need to worry about returning it and asking for a refund. And, because I’d bothered to get it in the first place, I decided to read it from start to finish anyway, and it didn’t take long.

The book actually does do exactly what it says on the cover: It does suggest ten different ways to outline your book. These cover apps and packages such as Trello, Evernote, Scrivener, et al, and other more tried and tested systems, such as whiteboards and sticky notes. And then the chapters very quickly cover how the author uses these tools to outline her own books.

There then follows a chapter on writing the book itself, or how to start and then how to keep your bum on the seat, and then there’s a chapter on dictating the book, writing it yourself, or hiring a ghostwriter.

If you’re looking for tools and apps, etc, to help you brainstorm your next book, then this is a good place to start, and it’s free (at the moment). It’s a short, quick read written in an enthusiastic style.

How to Write a Book From Outline to Finish Line: 10 simple ways to outline your nonfiction book is available for free on Kindle, in the UK and in the US, and probably elsewhere in the world too – just copy and paste the title into the search and you’ll find your local copy.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Crime Fiction

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 15.

The first thing Writing Crime Fiction by Rosemary Rowe advises you to do is ALL of the exercises in this book – and there are plenty.

The second thing it tells you to do is to work on something fresh for the purpose of these exercises …

However, later in the book, the author does say that readers may work on something they already have in progress now that they’ve done all of the other exercises.

I love these writers’ guides from Teach Yourself Books. Some fall into the “get started in …” category while others, like this one, fall into the “creative writing masterclass” category.

Of the entire series, this is one of the shorter books, coming in at just over three hours to read the whole book from cover to cover. Obviously, joining in with the exercises will take much longer.

Topics covered include genre, setting, character, dialogue, structure, viewpoint, editing, etc.

The first few exercises are what I call exercises-for-exercise-sake. But from the middle of Chapter One the exercises start to build on each other with ideas for those who aren’t sure where they’re going just yet,

I’m not sure I see the point of the workshop exercises in many of the Teach Yourself books as they’re more of a comprehension exercise. True, this will exercise the writing muscle, but for me, I’d far rather be expending time on something that at least has the possibility of turning into something I can send out.

If you have a burning desire to write something but have no idea what exactly you want to write, then this is an excellent resource for getting the writing juices going. Personally, I’d like a few more write-along exercises that can be applied to new or existing material.

However, I do recommend the book for any level of writer at any point in their career, as we can always learn something new and fresh. And it might kickstart a stalled project.

Writing Crime Fiction  is available on Kindle for £8.99 ($11.38), and in paperback for £12.99 ($16.99 – although at the time of writing, the US paperback was out of stock).

52 books in 52 weeks: How to Write Short Romance Kindle Books

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 14.

How to Write Short Romance Kindle Books by Nina Harrington, claims to be a 40-minute read/masterclass. My version was part of a bundle, and I think it took me just about an hour to read it from start to finish.

It’s a great little step-by-step read that does exactly what it says on the cover. Each “step” is presented in an order that would probably work for most.

There are no exercises as such, but if each chapter is taken as an exercise, then again, that would probably work.

A whole chapter is devoted to the actual Kindle procedure while another is dedicated to marketing your work – the latter being something a lot of authors are now having to do for themselves anyway.

I think the advice in this book would apply to most Kindle books, rather than just romance. But short romance reads are, apparently, doing very well.

How to Write Short Romance Kindle Books  is available on Kindle, as a standalone for £2.41 ($3.09), or in a bundle £5.39 ($6.92), and in paperback for £3.99 ($5.99). The bundle isn’t currently available in paperback.

52 books in 52 weeks: Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance

I’ve been a bit busy in recent weeks, mostly catching up on my self-imposed publishing schedule, so I’m a little behind in this. However, I didn’t forget, so …

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 13.

Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance is a short read of just over an hour – if you read it straight through.

There are no exercises, as such, but the book does lay out the various steps to take when embarking on writing romance, in an order that’s certainly worth trying.

Throughout the book there are examples illustrating the point(s) just made, mostly from Ms Fielding’s own back catalogue. I confess, I skipped much of these as I was in a hurry to get to the end of the book in my first reading. But personally I think, if I decide to try a romance, I’d probably use this as a write-along guide, alongside a novel within the genre/imprint I’d like to target.

There is useful advice for the beginner writer that the more established may also wish to skip. But, generally, for all levels of writer, it’s a good road-map to follow.

Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance is available on Kindle for £3.49 ($4.55) and in paperback for £4.50 ($5.99).

52 books in 52 weeks: Bird by Bird

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 12.

What can I say about Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott?

I’ve seen this book raved over by writers far and wide, and by some with whom I’ve been friends for a long time and whose opinions I trust.

And so I waited and waited for the book to be released on Kindle … and it never was. In the end I asked for the paperback as a birthday present.

It’s a lovely little book. It sums up exactly what the life of a writer is truly like – or at least many writers I know (including yours truly). Granted, we aren’t all single parents, or battling depression or substance addiction. But the rest of it?

I literally laughed out loud at some of the asides the author made, while others made me pause for thought.

The author does indulge in stories of her own depression and she comes across as quite religious, so if either of these things are likely to turn you off, then walk away. This seems to be the main gripe with other negative reviews. Otherwise, it’s a nice little read.

There are no exercises. This is not a how-to-write book. It’s an insight into the life of a writer. And this book will be staying on my bookshelf, and not just because it was a birthday gift. It’s a nice, feel-good book to pick up and re-read as and when the urge arises.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is only available in paperback for a slightly pricey £15.59 (or $6.77).

52 books in 52 weeks: Just Write That Book Already

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 11.

Just Write That Book Already: learn how to avoid distractions, create a writing schedule, and organize your ideas so you can get started on your book today by Joy Farrington, doesn’t, I feel, quite live up to the promise of that zippy, snappy subtitle.

It’s a short read, taking me just under two hours, and there are a couple of nuggets in there – such as the WRITE technique and Writing Milestones. But that, unfortunately, is it.

It blows a lot of hot air under the guise of giving practical advice without actually giving any. The content is quite clearly a mish-mash of articles, transcriptions and notes that have simply been lumped together. Then it’s topped and tailed with testimonials and a transcription of a webinar or teleconference that pad it all out nicely, thank you very much.

The grammar leaves a lot to be desired, as does the layout/formatting – although I read the Kindle version, so the paperback may be better laid out. It’s the layout that gave the idea that it’s a load of old stuff glued together to make a book-length product.

There are no exercises (though there are one or two very short worksheets), there is no practical advice as such. It’s a quick way for the author to make a quick buck.

Just Write That Book Already: learn how to avoid distractions, create a writing schedule, and organize your ideas so you can get started on your book today by Joy Farrington is available on Kindle for £4.78 (or $5.93) and in paperback for £12.23 (or $11.00).

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing for Magazines – the essential guide

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 10.

Writing for Magazines – the essential guide by Diana Cambridge is, I feel, punching above its weight calling itself an essential guide.

Granted, there’s some useful information, but – in my opinion – there are better guides out there, including two of the author’s own: How to Write for Magazines – in one weekend and How to Write Travel Articles – in one weekend.

This essential guide actually reads more like a lecturer’s notes. I can imagine someone standing at the front of a room reciting much of the information, much of which is available in many, many other places too. There is no opportunity to pause and reflect; no opportunity to try out what the reader has just learned.

Ten chapters cover the basics of writing for magazines without actually giving much practical advice, and then the final section is a FAQ section that could have been lifted from several of the author’s help columns in a writing magazine.

If you want good, practical, write-along exercises that get you actually writing for magazines, then choose one of the author’s other books – it’s a pity that neither has been recently updated or included as an ebook. But if you just want to have a read, and then put it down and move on to the next one, it might be useful to you.

Writing for Magazines – the essential guide by Diana Cambridge is available on Kindle for £4.64 (or $5.81) and in paperback for £9.99 (or $12.58).

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Fight Scenes – Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 9.

Writing Fight Scenes: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors by Rayne Hall is the first in a series on writers’ craft* from the same author. It can also be found in the book bundle power pack 1.

First, one of my pet niggles: writers’ guides that claim to be on the craft of writing, yet are riddled with basic typos and editing mistakes. This is one of those – and the words “writer’s [sic] craft” are even part of the series title!

(*** personal opinion alert ***) I don’t know if the authors who continue to produce sloppy material are arrogant, ignorant or just plain lazy, or if perhaps I was just taught to have higher standards and basic pride in my own work. But it really, really narks me that if they can’t or won’t do it themselves, these people could at least be bothered to have someone else check over their work, preferably someone competent in basic English grammar.

Pet niggle over, this is actually quite a useful little book for anyone wanting to write fight scenes. It covers the basics in overview, and those who want to can go on to research their own chosen fight method in further detail elsewhere. The book is a good starting point.

There are no exercises, just easy to read, easy to digest snippets on weapons, words to use, blunders to avoid and historical information.

Throughout the book there are links to videos and pictures further illustrating the points made in the relevant chapters. I didn’t follow all of the links as many were no longer live, and as far as I can see from other reviews, this is largely the case (and the author does warn against this in the intro).

However, I found the words and advice were useful without the added support of the  videos.

Writing Fight Scenes: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors by Rayne Hall is available on Kindle for £3.15 (or $3.90) and in paperback for £7.22 (or $8.99).

*I’m using the term “writers” as plural, i.e. craft for writers, guides for writers. Therefore, the possessive apostrophe is also plural.