As an aspiring novelist, you likely have several books on writing on your shelves. They may be about character or plot, grammar and style, or how to write a bestseller. A book worth adding to your must-read list is Pat Walsh’s 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Reasons Why It Just Might (Penguin, 2005).
Pat Walsh, a former editor and co-founder of MacAdam/Cage Publishing, not only knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t pull any punches. While many (or most) of the how-to-write books out there are encouraging, purporting to give you the secret steps to success, Walsh gives his readers a reality check: you’re facing incredible odds to get your book published and selling well. He says that each year, more people win million-dollar lotteries than get a first novel published.
Walsh is specifically out to discourage would-be writers who aren’t willing to put in the necessary time, effort, and attitude. In fact, his first two reasons for rejection are that you’ve only talked about writing the book instead of finishing it, and that most of the finished “books” are just plain lousy! From there, he goes on to discuss what makes them bad: poor grammar, syntax, style, dialogue; preachiness or no sense of storytelling; and that you think you’re good already and don’t need to revise.
Along the way, Walsh offers anecdotes and comments that leave you chuckling aloud, as well as straightforward advice on how to fix the problem once you recognize it. Yes, he’s blunt, but it works. It’s a bit like sitting down with your father’s boss, who discourages you with all the reasons why you shouldn’t seek a career in that field, but gives you advice at the same time and includes stories and tidbits that pull you in regardless of his original intent.
After dealing with the problems of your writing abilities, Walsh goes on to cover the mistakes people make trying (or not trying) to understand the publishing world, self-publishing, agents, marketing, slush piles, query letters, etc. He gives you the insider’s view of how things really work, so of course you’ll be sure not to make those mistakes with your book, right?
Once he’s told you all 78 reasons for failure, Walsh discusses the 14 must-have attributes of a successful novelist: good writing, honesty, research, and a lot of down-to-earth advice on intangibles.
Walsh cautions that 78 Reasons is for writers who already have a completed draft, but it’s also an excellent read for those who are part way through and are serious about finishing. You’re going to be sending it out in the near future, so these techniques can help you avoid some of the mistakes in the first place.
Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Jensen