A beginner’s guide to the craft of writing and the business of publishing, from veteran novelist See (The Handyman, 1999, etc.).
“This book is for the timid, forlorn, and clueless,” declares the author, who is none of the above. Her chatty, breezy text aims to build the confidence and coping skills of people who, like the 32-year-old Californian divorced mother of two See once was, dream of making a career as a writer but don’t know how to go about it. Part One, “Before,” offers a framework for getting down to work. The fundamentals? “A thousand words a day, five days a week, and one charming note written to someone in the literary world who makes your hands sweat—five days a week, for the rest of your life.” The charming note, along with the cheerful replies to rejection letters that See also mandates, make aspiring writers human to the jaded New York insiders who determine their literary fate: “like everyone else in the world, [publishing professionals] like to hang out with their friends instead of strangers.” Sound but unsurprising advice on identifying your material, startling but not entirely flaky suggestions about using affirmations (“I’m powerful, loving, and creative”) to bolster your courage, and straightforward guidance on how to send out a manuscript round out this section. Part Two, “The Writing,” covers character, plot, point of view, scene setting and construction, and revisions—it’s helpful if not innovative material presented with the sharp humor and judicious use of personal anecdotes that enliven the whole. Part Three, “During and After,” is a must for first-time authors who don’t realize how much their successful publication depends on their efforts, from throwing their own parties to arranging local bookstore signings, and how short the time frame is. (“Four months after your book is published, it’s dead.”) See’s comments on magazine writing—forget query letters; send notes describing the piece, then send the piece—are equally shrewd. “Living a literary life is a marriage,” she writes: romance is part of it, but so is hard work.
Smart, savvy, and sensible.