Someone asked an interesting question online recently. It was "What's the best way to learn to write a book?" The author implied that he has several books he'd like to write but doesn't know how to go about doing it. My response to him may surprise you.
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The best way to learn to write a book? How about the only way! If that's what you and twenty million other Americans want to know, I have the answer. I also know you won't like it.
Hire a mentor.
And no! I don't mean just anyone. I mean someone with a proven record of his or her own conventionally published books plus articles, blogs, and short stories. And someone with a history of teaching fiction writing or journalism or nonfiction writing or whatever area you're interested in pursuing.
That leaves in the dust about 98 percent of all writers advertising their skills and availability to mentor up-and-coming young writers. If they advertise for clients, they're not for you. If you stumble across them and they don't have dozens, if not hundreds, of their own conventionally published books and thousands of short pieces to their credit (verifiably—no taking their word for it), forget them.
So, what gives me the authority to talk so bluntly? How about more than half a century in the business working as a writer, editor, publisher, ghostwriter, reporter, and writing workshop instructor at the college level? Wow. Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it?
Maybe. I don't know. I'm not impressed. All I know is that I'm who I am, and I've had the success I've had because of what I know and what I do. Period.
I have more than 250 books, tens of thousands of short pieces, and numerous blogs, all conventionally published. They, along with my other related experiences, qualify me to help others do what they want to do. Plus I've helped several dozen other young scribes get their feet in the publishing door and get their books into the marketplace. I know what I'm talking about.
So, if you want the best mentor you can possibly find with the greatest assurance that he or she will help you on your way to conventional, advance-publishing book deal, you'd better start the search. They're few and far between. And, even if you find one , they're likely already swamped with work and not likely to be available for someone new. Sad but true.
So, where do you find these remarkable supermen and -women? I thought you'd never ask. Here are a few suggestions.
- Ask around. You may know some fellow authors, editors, or teachers who can recommend someone.
- Check with nearby college and university writing departments, and pick their brains.
- Join some writers' associations, such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors andthe Author's Guild, and scour their newsletters for people who appear to qualify and might be available to take on new work.
- Run a search on the Internet for multi-book authors with impressive credits, and contact them through their publishers.
- Subscribe to some writers' magazines such as The Writer and Writer's Digest, and get some names and contact information from their articles (not their ads!).
- Check out some books on the subject at your local library or bookstore, but don't take everything you read for gospel. Remember, the same people who write many of the books advising others on how to get published aren't in much better a position to advise writers than you are.
If none of these suggestions appeals to you, feel free to drop me a line via my Website's contact page, and I'll see if I can recommend someone for you. Until then ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)