I met this book by happening into it at the library, but soon realized I needed to purchase my own personal copy to have on hand at all times, as it’s an invaluable resource and one I will go back to again and again. (Not to mention my need to underline and make margin notes– a behavior the local librarian generally frowns upon.)
As a fiction writer, my primary interest was in the novel-writing section, however each section’s tips were helpful and insightful. Because this resource both gives an exceptional overview and specific tips and sources, it is a helpful general resource to create a fully diversified writing career rather than an overly specialized one.
My take-aways included a full page of notes on the writing process, marketing, and effective query letters. Press’ humor and humility show throughout and he even includes copies of his own failed query letters as means of example.
Additionally, I recorded many excerpts from his book in the front of my writer’s notebook to serve as regular reminders. My favorite among them (though it’s hard to choose) being: “If you plan to write a novel, you’ll have to treat it like a business.” It’s concise, to be sure (He certainly delivered on that promise) but I underlined it twice in my journal, and followed it with a series of exclamation points. Treat writing like the business it is in order to get results. It’s not rocket science, but there it is: the hardest part of writing is affixing butt to chair. So get over yourself, slap on your discipline pants, and get to work. I love it.
Now, before I over-toot Mr. Press’ horn, and because you’ve got to take the good with the bad, I offer one minor critique. If there is one criticism, it would be that this book is too general. It is a good jumping off point for finding additional resources for turning your craft into a career.
But don’t let its generality stop you. There is no catch-all resource for this thing we do, and the smart writer is not only reading books within his or her chosen genre to keep a pulse on what’s out there, but is also constantly reading about writing, exploring techniques, ideas, and learning from those who wrote before us.
Press clearly cares about the next generation of writers and the writing process, as is not only evidenced in the work itself, but in his commitment to improving editions. In addition to the 2011 update, Press is currently rewriting the work to reflect recent advancements in the publishing industry.
I would give How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write a Siskel and Ebert two thumbs up or a Michelin five stars… but I guess that would be hackneyed and cliche.
Annalisa Parent is a writer living in Vermont. See more about her love of cliches here.