Publishers who worry that no one reads books anymore can take solace in the fact that just about everyone wants to write one.
The market for how-to-write titles is thriving, with a new crop of authors this fall set to join peers like Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, Pantheon/Vintage, 1994/1995) and Stephen King (On Writing, Scribner, 2000) in offering guidance on their craft. And wannabes who don't find what they're looking for on the current list can look ahead to next April, when Little, Brown will publish Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel.
Will any of these become the next
On Writing Well, William Zinsser's 30-year-old classic of the genre? Too soon to say, but consider the early success of novelist Francine Prose's book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them(HarperCollins, August). Prose describes her book as an antiguide, telling PW, "Writing is not cooking—it always seems kind of nutty to have a how-to book." Everything should be this nutty; according to Nielsen Bookscan, as of September 10, the book had already sold 7,000 copies in hardcover.
A Guide to the Guides
G1) How to ReadLike a Writer:A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (HarperCollins, Aug.)
AUTHOR: Francine Prose, author of 21 books; National Book Award finalist for Blue Angel.
TARGET AUDIENCE: Aspiring writers and passionate readers; people who liked Thomas Foster's How to Read Literature Likea Professor: A Lively and EntertainingGuide to Reading Between the Lines (HarperPerennial, 2003).
ADVICE:Read... "How did I learn to write dialogue? I sat down and read Henry Green. Better to learn from a genius than from one of your benighted peers."
G2) A Writer's Coach:An Editor's Guideto Words that Work (Pantheon, Aug.)
AUTHOR:Jack Hart, managing editor of the Oregonian and former associate professor of journalism, Univ. of Oregon.
TARGET AUDIENCE:Journalists and aspiring writers of creative nonfiction.
ADVICE:Jump... "Make the leap" from "abstractions—the broad goals such as clarity and color—to the actual hands-on-the-keyboard practices that work."
G3) Writing Tools:50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (Little, Brown, Sept.)
AUTHOR:Roy Peter Clark, v-p and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, and author or editor of 14 books on writing and journalism.
TARGET AUDIENCE:Nonfiction writers—from Pulitzer Prize winners to those working on PowerPoint presentations.
ADVICE:Write... "If you want to write, here's a secret: the writer's struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive disorder, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing."
G4) The Ode LessTraveled: Unlocking the Poet Within (Gotham, Aug.)
AUTHOR:Stephen Fry, actor (AFish Called Wanda; Gosford Park), comedian and novelist (The Liar; The Hippopotamus) and unpublished poet.
TARGET AUDIENCE: Would-be poets, poetry lovers and those who'd like to learn about the basics of poetry, from meter to form.
ADVICE: Believe... Fry wants to liberate "the primal impulse within us all. I believe we are all capable (of writing poetry) and furthermore that a small, often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it."
G5) Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life (Writer's Digest Books, Aug.)
AUTHOR:Jerry B. Jenkins, writer of 155 books, including the Left Behind series, which he co-wrote with Tim LaHaye.
TARGET AUDIENCE: The millions who bought Left Behind books.
ADVICE:Sit... "I have a sign that reminds me: 'The only way to write a book is with seat in chair.' "
G6) How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author (St. Martin's Griffin, Sept.)
AUTHOR:Bestselling mystery and romance writer Janet Evanovich.
TARGET AUDIENCE: Would-be mystery writers and Evanovich fans; people who liked Elizabeth George's Write Away: One Novelist'sApproach to Fiction and the Writing Life (HarperCollins, 2004).
ADVICE: Laugh... In writing sex scenes, "some writers opt for frankness, some for discretion. I opt for funny."