April Books

Getting Started As A Freelance Writer by Robert Bly (2008) is about... well, just guess what it's about. It was on the "new" cart at the library so I thought I would check it out. Maybe I can be a freelance writer! Here's how!

Robert Bly has written about a million books, almost all of which you undoubtedly haven't heard of, and he also writes magazine articles, marketing material, annual reports, brochures, junk email... pretty much anything you can make money at. He's not an "author" or a "novelist", he's a writer, and in this book he tells you how you can make a living as a writer too.

Obviously it's hard for me to say whether his advice is any good since I'm not a writer, nor have I ever read any other books on making a living as a writer. It seems pretty sensible - he offers practical advice on how to set up your office, how to market yourself, how to manage your writing business, how to find work - but then this guy makes most of his living writing "direct mail marketing" copy, ie, snake oil ads. Bly also makes lots of money through self-published ebooks, booklets, giving speeches, selling CDs of his speeches... basically regurgitating the same content in as many ways as possible to get more money out of it.

The book also contains sections on gettings cartoons, personal essays, and poems published.

Ironically, the book could have been better written, or perhaps better edited. There were a couple of times where he introduced the same concept twice within a page or two, as if he had rearranged some paragraphs and then not checked it closely enough. (This, I suppose, supports his contention that you don't have to be a good writer to make a living at it.) The section on the Internet was terribly dated; "If you think, as some people do, that there's any future in the Internet". (That's a paraphrase, I forgot to write down the exact quote.) This edition was a rework of the 1997 edition, and clearly he should have paid more attention to the Internet section.

I'm not sure whether this book convinced me that you can make good money writing, or whether it just showed that you can make money doing just about anything if you are willing to work hard enough at selling yourself, and repackaging your material in lots of different ways. The more I think about it the more it seems what made Bob Bly rich wasn't being a writer but being an entrepreneur, which is not to say that you can't make money writing, but Bly's path to riches isn't exactly the path I want to take.

One more thing - Bob Bly makes lots of money selling books about how to be a copywriter, and on further investigation there's a whole online cottage industry of ebooks, email newsletters, etc about writing. Doesn't that seem like a pyramid scheme? Bly sells a book about writing to 2000 people, those people write and sell 2000 books each - what happens when everyone who wants to be a writer has bought a book about it? Doesn't someone, at some point, have to write about something else?

Thomas Foster mentioned the novels of Reginald Hill a few times in How to Read Novels Like A Professor, so when I found Pictures of Perfection in a plastic bag at someone's curb, I picked it up. It says on the cover that it's a Dalziel/Pascoe mystery, but Dalziel and Pascoe are fairly minor players; the main investigator is a policeman (I can never remember people's rank) named Wield who is sent off to an odd little village in Yorkshire - odd not in the usual Yorkshire way - to discover the whereabouts of the missing village bobby. On the way to locating the missing policeman, Wield meets various peculiar village characters and has to sort out their relationships, their history, and their intentions.

Reginald Hill writes for an intelligent reader - this book is rich with references to literature and music. He has a knack for describing things in a way which makes you pay attention. Here he is saying someone has a good memory:

Wield's brain, which his CID chief, Andy Dalziel, opinied should be picked in strong ale and and sold to IBM after the sergeant's death, had been punching up references to Enscombe.

And here he says the same character is hairy:

Wield barked the sound which his friends recognized as his way of expressing amusement - though others often took it as a sign that the interrupted lycanthropic process suggested by his face was about to be resumed.

This is not writing for a lazy reader.

I very much enjoyed this book; I liked the characters, I liked the relationships, I liked the mystery.


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