Dear Ally, How Do You Write A Book, by Ally Carter
I am not familiar with any of Ally Carter’s fiction work (which she refers to a bit ad nauseum here), but this book is mildly entertaining. To be sure, among the shortest books in history, aside from Bulgarian Military Victories Since The 19th Century, would be the a book on how one writes a book. This is so because one writes a book by writing it. To her credit, the author recognizes this to be the case and even riffs on it herself, noting that this question generally does not mean how one writes a book but rather how one becomes a published author and gets an agent and a publisher and all of that. Admittedly, a great many writers (including yours truly) do not have agents, and so this is a question that is generally well worth asking. What this advice column sort of book is, therefore, is teasing out the unspoken assumptions behind the desire of people to be recognized as authors and to make a living from their writing. The author assumes, moreover, that the writers are fiction writers, as there is a great deal that a nonfiction writer would have to deal with concerning research and questions of gaining credibility that are simply not included here. The author is herself a novelist and writes for others like her.
This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into thirteen chapters. The author begins with an introduction to the subject of writing a book and what people mean by it meaning publishing and not writing (1). After that there is a discussion about how one gets ready for writing in terms of one’s preparation, often by reading and becoming familiar with genre conventions (2). After that the author discusses various approaches to planning one’s work, from vague directions to head in to more detailed maps (3). The author discusses worldbuilding and its importance, not least if one plans on writing a series (4) as well as how characters are to be created and understood by the writer (5). After that the author discusses the development of plot (6) as well as finding one’s process for writing (7) and starting on one’s first draft (8). After that the author discusses the painful question of editing (9) as well as how a writer can beat writer’s block (10). After that comes the part most of the readers of the book will probably be particularly interested in, and that is the question of writing a series (11) and publishing one’s work(s) (12). Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of planning one’s future as a writer (13).
In many ways, this book is not necessarily meant to be taken entirely seriously. That said, it is a book that is meant for careerist writers and is designed in part to inform the reader, in a lighthearted way, that being a career writer is fraught with uncertainty and that it requires a great deal of editing as well as perseverance before one generally can achieve a great deal of monetary success. The writers that help the author out in answering her questions to provide a panel of successful if not necessarily world-famous authors provide their own experiences and demonstrate a certain broadness in their approach to writing novels. Whether that means starting out with dialogue like a play and then adding to that (a technique that is not dissimilar from my own), or whether it means obsessive edits that take months to do will depend in large part on the reader. The author prepares the reader for a time consuming and often difficult process of honing one’s craft and committing to living by it, which can be somewhat terrifying for many writers who are starting out in thinking that they could make a living by it.