"Beginning Writer’s Answer Book, 30th Anniversary Edition," edited by Jane Friedman

Pros: So thick with information that I don’t even have an appropriate analogy for it
Cons: Very broad in nature
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Writer’s Digest Books/F+W Publications

Darnit, someone needs to send me a terrible book to review, quick (just joking, really, please don’t)! I’ve given out so many high ratings lately I’m starting to feel like Pollyanna, or maybe Santa Claus. I guess I’ve been lucky; the books I’ve reviewed of late really have been that good. The most recent is “The Beginning Writer’s Answer Book, 30th Anniversary Edition,” edited by Jane Friedman and published by Writer’s Digest. It took me longer than I’d have liked to read it for review; it’s a sort of FAQ (frequently asked questions), which isn’t meant to be read straight through, but of course since I was planning to review it I read it cover to cover. It’s so thick with information that this took rather a while!

The only potential disadvantage to this book is that because it covers such a wide variety of topics it won’t get into great depth for any one, and if you’re only interested in one kind of writing, much of it won’t be relevant to you. However, as the title indicates, this book is aimed at beginning writers. Most beginning writers either haven’t yet chosen one particular venue or haven’t explored their options yet, so this kind of overview is exactly what they need. Thus the format isn’t so much a flaw as a factor of the book’s primary audience.

I can see why this book has sold more than 70,000 copies in the 30 years it’s been around, and why it merited an all-new edition. So many of these questions are things I’ve heard new writers ask time and time again. While it’s true that most, if not all, of the answers can be found on the web nowadays, having all of this in one easy-to-access fact-checked location is invaluable to many people. Certain questions are handily marked as being particularly important or worth paying attention to so that you don’t miss the career-making advice you should take and career-ending mistakes you should avoid.

Content

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, want to publish traditionally or self-publish, fancy some corporate work or writing columns for your local newspaper, you’ll find plenty of information in here. Questions are organized by topic so you can read up on an area, but there’s also a thorough index and a complete catalog of the questions so you can look up information fast. The appendices contain such things as brief examples of formatted manuscripts and query letters, lists of handy web sites and publishers, and a sample pay rate chart.

The list of questions is huge, so I can hardly reproduce it here, but I’ll include a handful to give you an idea of the details you’ll find:

  • Am I too young to get my stories published?
  • Friends say I should write a book. Should I?
  • Should I join a local writing group?
  • What’s meant by over the transom?
  • What’s a tearsheet?
  • Are second and reprint rights the same?
  • How do I type a sidebar in manuscript form?
  • How will I know whether an agent is reputable?
  • I get lots of form rejections. What might be wrong?
  • What is a book packager?
  • How can I get my comic strip published?
  • Do I need permission from a corporation to publish a book about it?
  • What should I look for in a lawyer?
  • Who buys stories today?

The questions range from very general to highly specific–just like real-world writers’ questions. While the book can’t get into a vast amount of detail on any one small issue due to its audience and format, it does a very good job of providing an overview as well as pointers to further information. It might seem a little self-serving to some that many of the books recommended have been published by Writer’s Digest Books as well, but truth be told, they do publish the widest selection of writers’ books available, and this book certainly does provide pointers to other publishers’ books, in addition to web sites.

It’s really pretty simple. If you’re a beginning writer who would like to take on writing as a career or long-term hobby, you will more than get your money’s worth out of this book.

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