Write That Book Already! by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark

In November, Writer’s Digest Books gave away several different ebooks to celebrate NaNoWriMo. I downloaded them all, but was especially intrigued by WRITE THAT BOOK ALREADY! The cover says it contains “original insight” by Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Scott Turrow and many more. The front matter is cluttered with testimonials from other household names, such as Jacquelyn Mitchard and Po Bronson. Maya Angelou wrote the forward. With such an all-star list of contributors and endorsers, I couldn’t wait to read the wisdom in its pages. My excitement was short-lived. The famous writers on the cover contributed a miniscule amount to the book. The rest of it (written by Barry and Goldmark) is either patronizing, outdated, or just plain wrong.

I could point to just about any page of the text to give an example. Here’s one from early in the book, where the authors feel the need to explain the difference between fiction and non-fiction. “Fiction’s first and foremost rule is that the work is made up, rather than history or fact. This doesn’t mean that you can’t draw from real experience or memory. It does mean that you get to use your imagination and create any story you want to.” This is how you explain fiction to primary school children, not adult writers.

When the authors are not talking down to us, they are giving outdated advice. The section on building a writer’s platform gives a cursory mention to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, then goes on to say, “By the time this book is in your hands, there will no doubt be many more social-networking arenas. Do whatever you can to keep up, including (gack!) actually learning about this stuff.” Barry and Goldmark completely ignore the fact that nowadays, social networking is the platform for most writers. A remark like this would be forgivable if the book was from 1990, but the copyright date of this book is 2010. Anyone who says “gack!” at the idea of learning how the internet works for writers doesn’t deserve to be called one. And don’t get me started about the anachronistic hyphen between the words social and networking, as if the authors have maybe coined a nifty new expression.

Then there’s the advice that’s just plain wrong. The authors repeatedly tell the reader to use Literary Market Place as a resource, which is a clumsy, expensive, and almost useless text. There are plenty of better resources out there, ranging from Writer’s Digest Guides to agentquery.com and none are hard to find. Worse, Barry and Goldmark tell writers to query literary agents one at a time. Who does that? Agents themselves will tell you to query multiple agents at once. Another one: the authors insist that blog tours are arranged by paying an online marketing service. Obviously the authors have no idea how blog tours work, or even what they are.

WRITE THAT BOOK ALREADY! even includes a recipe for chicken soup. Perhaps Barry and Goldmark think writers can’t find a cookbook. The recipe comes in the middle of a chapter about taking care of ourselves, in case writers don’t know how to do basic things like bathe and exercise. They also say we should deal with rejection by eating a quart of ice cream. (I wish I were making this up.)

Before deleting WRITE THAT BOOK ALREADY! from my ereader, I took a second look at the famous names on the cover, many of them my literary heroes. Their contributions to the book, maybe five percent of the total, are either generic “my first sale” stories or lists of other books that these authors recommend. Even Maya Angelou’s forward is a simple cheerleading essay that had nothing to do with the rest of the book’s content. (Did she even read it?) I can imagine my favorite authors offering their names for the cover and the tiny bit of prose inside because the community of writers is generous like that. In this case, their generosity has lent an aura of authority to a bad book.

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rating: 1 star

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I recommend PLOT by Ansen Dibell or WORD WORK by Bruce Holland Rogers instead of this book.

 

7 thoughts on “Write That Book Already! by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark

  1. I feel your pain. Over the years I collected dozens of writing books. There was a point in my life when I thought THEY all KNEW better than me. It took a while for me to figure out that while some were useful and inspiring, most of those books were useless, and some were downright dangerous.

    As for famous author endorsements? The whole process has gotten out of hand. There are certain authors who are faves of mine, but I seriously doubt their judgment and/or taste. If I see their recommendation on a book, I am assured it’s going to be a lousy book. I honestly don’t know why many of the big names pass out praise willy-nilly. Someone has pictures of them with goats?

  2. I think the best books to teach you to write are simply just well written books. Read enough of them and you won’t need any step by step guides 😀

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog, Kinga!

      I learn a lot from fiction, too. For example THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell taught me how to write flashbacks well. However, books written just for writers have shortened my learning curve a lot, and I like to discuss those books on my blog.

  3. You can’t look at a gorgeous cake or eat it, and know how to create one like it yourself. You need to bake a lot of cakes, and maybe attend culinary school, or in the very least get some really good cookbooks or some videos and work your butt off and listen to your grandma who makes great cakes until you learn how to do it and do it well.

    Great fiction is the same way. A reader sees the result. They don’t see the craft (and if you CAN spot the craft in a casual read, it’s not a great book). Practice, practice, practice and consistently checking your progress against the greats gets some people where they need to be. Learning to be a critical reader who can deconstruct the elements in another person’s fiction helps a lot, too. A lot of writers get stuck in the process (even after they begin publishing). They know what they want, but don’t know how to get there. That’s where good books (and classes and workshops) will help.

    What this post demonstrates is that there a lot of how-to books for writers that are essentially instructions on the back of a cake mix box. Sure, you get a cake as a result. It’s just not a very good one.

  4. Thank you. I was looking for a gift for every member of my 12-person writing group and I was a heartbeat away from buying a dozen copies of this book for them.
    They would never have forgiven me

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