Ink Stains edited by Lara Zielin

In INK STAINS, writer/editor Lara Zielin collects essays by nine published authors, none of them bestsellers or household names. So why would I want to read advice from a bunch of midlisters? Because they have the most to teach aspiring writers!

Reading “how I got published” stories from famous people is fun, but it often makes the whole thing seem unattainable. Not so the little gems in INK STAINS. The essays in this volume are by authors at the beginning of their careers. They discuss what it’s like to be a writer when you don’t have a dozen books, a huge fan base, or superstar advances. It’s also a very contemporary book, looking at the marketplace as it exists right now, not in decades past. You may not be able to follow the path that Stephen King took to get published, but following in the footsteps of Eileen Cook or Rhonda Stapleton is not only possible, but entirely likely.

In the introduction, Zielin says she gets the same questions over and over from aspiring writers. Underneath the questions is the unspoken plea: “Tell me about your obstacles so I know I can do it, too.” The essays, mostly by writers of young adult novels, discuss things like fear of failure, second book blues, busting writer’s block, and the importance of listening to your editor. These topics are the staples of how-to books and blogs, but they are tackled here with a fresh eye and a realistic take on modern publishing.

Nested in the middle of the book are a couple of standouts. In “Taking a Break from Your Book,” Sarah Quigley talks about taking a maternity leave from writing and the fear that the decision would sideline her career. This is something usually only spoken of in whispers, and it’s great to see it addressed head-on. In “My Manuscript is Trying to Kill Me!” Josh Berk recalls a time when he essentially forced himself to write a book, and what he learned from that process. His description of locking himself in the library with only his laptop and a can of Red Bull is a vivid reminder that writers write–no matter what. I found this essay particularly helpful, and will turn to it again on days when the words don’t flow.

The one nod to self publishing comes from Jim Ottaviani, who wrote “There’s Nothing Else Out There Like This!” Ottaviani self-publishes comics about science and scientists. He spends very little time discussing the pros and cons of different publishing paths, but he does explain why he made the decision that he did. The remaining contributors to this volume are published by the big New York houses. Interesting, then, that INK STAINS itself is not. Its niche topic makes an ideal self-published ebook, and in fact supports Ottaviani’s thesis: if your subject is unlike anything else out there, self-publishing might be for you.

As I finished the book, I thought, “This is what writers really talk about when they talk to one another.” Reading INK STAINS is like eavesdropping on a roundtable of professional writers. I am so happy that they collected their words in this book, so we can all be part of the conversation.

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rating: 4 stars

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Pie slices: 3 slices business, 3 slices inspiration, 2 slices craft

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book.

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