Category Archives: Writing book reviews

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Writing books – Thanks, but this isn’t for us

2015-09-08 14.46.48While the previous writing-related books I’ve reviewed have been suitable for any active writer, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted! I would definitely suggest that Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us by Jessica Page Morrell, subtitled A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected, is aimed at the more confident, polished writer who is nearing the point of either seeking an agent or publisher or getting ready to hit the self-publish button.


Written by a developmental editor who claims to have been called the Angel of Death by a critique group she ran, this book goes through all the common problems she sees in manuscripts. For each category she looks at, such as first impressions, she gives a detailed explanation of that aspect, why it is important and what it needs to include. She breaks down the categories of what she sees as the dealbreakers (dud prologues, trying too hard, not enough happening, too much happening), all with detailed explanations of how and why they are a problem, and then gives options for improving that aspect (dialogue, anecdote, suspense, theme, setting). Examples are given from published works and from novels she’s come across that have problems (heavily disguised so as not to embarrass anyone!). Each chapter concludes with exercises and tips for your own work, and a list of further resources.


The fourteen chapters include first impressions, plot, style and language, conflict, avoiding dialogue disasters, characters and writing memoirs. The final chapter is entitled Driving an Editor Crazy: Goofs, Gaffes and Howlers That Sink a Manuscript (dippy and oddball names, creepy sex scenes, fact checker breakdown, head hopping, inconsistent voice…).


There is also an epilogue that covers living the writer’s life, with tips and advice on how to make writing more than just a hobby. The first section, entitled Toughen Up, maybe should have been at the front! The book concludes with a glossary of relevant words – “The lingo of writing; The lingo of publishing” – which covers relevant words or phrases, such as crucible, inciting action, subtext, earn out, imprint, remaindered; all the vocabulary that the author wants to be able to use intelligently in discussions about their craft – or rather about their business, because this really is the attitude that the author is expecting from her readers.


There is a lot of valuable material in here, to the extent that I feel it would be off-putting to the writer who is relatively new to the craft. The author really does not pull her punches, and is almost intimidating in her fervour (“If I sound like a badass on these pages, keep in mind that I’m a pussycat compared to the suits in the publishing world. You know, the folks who send out the rejection letters.”). However, close reading and analysis would probably help any writer on the cusp of publishing standard to figure out any remaining problems and tidy things up.


If you’re putting your first novel together, then there are plenty of other books out there to hold your hand and guide you gently. If you’re submitting and not getting the results you want, or are about to take that first step of sending your work out to find a publisher, then this book would be a very useful addition to your library. If you’re self-publishing, then the responsibility to make sure your work is of publishable standard rests on your shoulders.


The interior of the book is clearly laid out, with clear headings and subheadings. Checklists are included for your own work. The writing style is clear and to the point. I love the simple but effective cover design on the paperback, and at just under 350 pages it’s a fair-sized book. The kindle version isn’t much cheaper than the paperback, and in this case, as in most writing books, I’d definitely recommend getting the paperback version.


Writing books – Writing Active Hooks Book 1: Action, Emotion, Surprise and more

2015-09-02 10.44.32This is one of a series of books by Mary Buckham. She has books on writing active hooks, and writing active settings, and I think I’ll be working my way through them. This one is on Active Hooks, covering action, emotion, surprise and raising questions, with mentions of other types of hooks (book 2 in the series includes unique character hooks and foreshadowing among its topics, as well as placement of hooks). This book is only available as kindle version, costing around the same as a posh coffee, although I note that there is an omnibus edition available of the Active Settings series, with the Active Hooks as a bonus, in both ebook and paperback format, and I’m very tempted.


Hooks are “tools to engage readers and keep them engaged”, and the examples include ideas on how to control the tension within the hook, depending on what genre you’re writing in.


Each hook is introduced clearly, with each chapter including examples from popular fiction, plus worked examples where a simple sentence is enhanced to include a hook, or a variety of hooks, that pull the reader forward and make them want to read more. There are then practical assignments, such as going into a book shop, to a shelf you don’t normally read from, and picking up books at random to read their opening sentence.


This isn’t a particularly long book, but it provides a lot of detail on a specific topic, and is worth a look at if you feel your writing needs a little more jazz. As it’s a short ebook, it’s ideal to have on your phone app for those moments you’re out and about and need something to read. By itself, it’s not going to have a major effect on your writing, but if you’re at the stage where you’re confident on the basics of plot and setting and just want that extra oomph that will pull the readers along, then this would be well worth considering.




Writing books – Blueprint Your Bestseller

Blueprint Your Bestseller

I have a large and growing collection of writing-related and editing-related books, and i thought it might be useful to review a few of them.


The first book I’m looking at is Blueprint Your Bestseller, by Stuart Horwitz. This book is aimed at considering the overall structure of your book. It applies to both fiction and nonfiction – this book itself was written using the same methodology – and does not touch on topics such as point of view, dialogue or showing and telling. Instead, it shows how to break down your work into series, scenes and an overall theme. By considering how these series develop, and the scenes in which series converge, you can reach a deeper understanding of what your book is about, and how to improve it.


This book is best used once you have a rough draft – action step zero is to write around a hundred pages, so it’s ideal for helping you to make sense of your nano novel, for example. It then gives you  22 steps towards improving the structure and strengthening your content. These steps are practical and straightforward, when read in conjunction with the main text, and provide a clear way to produce a multi-threaded story, where the threads (or series) back each other up and support each other. For example, one step is to draw a target representing the theme that you’ve worked out, and to consider how close each scene is to that target.


Like many “structure” books, a worked example is given, but unlike some that rely on you having at least basic knowledge of the story under analysis, this one works with a commonly known fairy tale, The Ugly Duckling, and includes the full text of the tale, in both simple and annotated versions.


This is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine, and the techniques included are proving very useful when I carry out developmental editing.