Now that you’ve got that out of your system, we can get on with today’s post. In the past few weeks I’ve paged through and marked up six how-to books sent to me, at my request, by inquiring publishers. I’m here to report on how or whether they’ll help you improve your writing, freelancing, photography, book promotion and public speaking.
Despite reading an essay on how writers don’t need to read how-to books and attend conferences, I am a big fan of how-to books (and conferences). Whenever I read one, I find something valuable I can immediately use to improve myself. Besides, people learn and progress in different ways. Some read books and practice with exercises. Some take classes and attend workshops. And some just stumble through, learning by doing. That’s what writers always say in interviews, right? “If you want to be a writer, write.” I’ve heard it a hundred times.
Well yes. But some of us need help, encouragement and inspiration. We need to learn from people who have been there or done that. We need new skills, like how to write literary narrative, photograph food, promote books, and pitch articles. So if you’re the type who learns by reading, here’s a handful of books that came across my desk recently:
1. Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling, by Helene Dujardin of Tartlette. Shame on me for not recommending this book as soon as it came out. Dozens of luscious photographs will lure you into understanding how Dujardin works her magic, and how you can do it too. This is a full-color book full of photos that teach you how to set up a shot, find the light, diffuse it, understand non-automatic camera settings, be an effective food stylist and other subjects valuable to food bloggers.
2. Talk Up Your Book: How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences and More, by Patricia Fry. Finally, someone had the courage to join the two topics writers dread most: promoting their books and public speaking. Fry, the author of 35 books, gives practical no-nonsense advice in a friendly manner, covering how to find opportunities, make the best of them, attract more people to your events, and even how to land speaking gigs at conferences. Even though I’ve been speaking and teaching for years, I found inspiring new ways to improve my talks and workshops.
3. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by Christina Boufis. For people who want to write personal essays and narrative non-fiction, including memoir, this book guides you through the process, including finding the story structure, doing research, how to revise, and how to get your essays published. It covers travel writing, profiles, and literary journalism, in addition to a few other genres. The author, who directs the writing program at the San Francisco Art Institute, sprinkles little boxes called “Pitfall Ahead” throughout. Here’s a sample that resonated for me, based on memoirs I have edited and my own struggles to write life stories:
“One problem that befalls beginning nonfiction writers is writing episodically. That is, writing a series of true-life episodes, one after the other, with no larger purpose tying them together. To avoid this problem, include only the events that have an important causal relationship: one event happens because of the next. You’ll find it easier to make a plot this way — and to structure these events into a story.”
4. The Business of Writing: Professional Advice on Proposals, Publishers, Contracts, and More for the Aspiring Writer, edited by Jennifer Lyons. I’ve got about 20 ear-marked, highlighted pages in this anthology, which covers lots of valuable advice from agents, publishers and writers about the publishing process, branding, and sometimes just encouragement. My favorite part comes from writing teacher Liza Monroy:
“Remember that you write because you need to, and talent can never be taken away. In a business so heavily reliant on subjectivity, where publishing trends come and go and business goes up and down as the economy does its thing, keep in mind that you became a writer in the first place out of your love of the written word and of books that changed or impacted you in a way you’ll never forget. You can’t control the business, and the life of a writer is full of ups and downs, highs and lows. What you can control is whether or not you read and write and how much to ensure this interesting and unpredictable path will be a long one. Practice consistently. Believe in yourself and your work, and eventually the right agent, editor and readers will, too. And remember, you are in it for life.”
Every writer needs to tape this to his or her wall for those dark days when you think you’re no good. We’ve all been there.
5. 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, edited by Sam Buchino for Writer’s Digest Books. Wondering how to find agents who represent cookbooks? This guidebook lists about 85 agencies that say they do, detailing how agents like to be contacted, which writer’s conferences they attend, and which cookbooks they’ve sold. The first hundred pages tell you how to write a query or proposal, how agents work and whether you need one. Profiles of writers who got a first book deal by using an agent explain how they did it and what they learned.
6. 2013 Writer’s Market, from Writer’s Digest Books. Because this is a comprehensive guide, I expected extensive listings of food magazines, detailing what they pay, and how to contact them. But the consumer Food and Drink section lists only eight magazines, most of them obscure. The trade magazine section does better with categories such as Beverages and Bottling and Groceries and Food Products, but there are no restaurant magazines.
On the other hand, all kinds of magazines publish stories about food, and this book is lists hundreds of them. So if you’re serious about freelancing, there’s tons of good resource material here. Also included are lists of literary agents and book publishers, and advice about pitching publications, running a freelance business, and entering contests.
Two more: If you’re a new blogger or want to start a food blog, please see my review of Food Blogging for Dummies. Many commenters said they wish it had been around when they started their blogs. And (cough), since I wrote a how-to book, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Will Write for Food.
Now, what I’d like to know is whether you find these kinds of books useful, and if not, why not? What did you think of the article I linked to about just writing, and to heck with distractions like books and conferences?
(Disclosure: Some links go to an affiliate program, where I can make a few cents if you make a purchase.)