When I was younger, I was walking through the mall one day when I discovered a charity book sale going on. At the time, I did not fancy myself a writer even though I did occasionally have dreams of finishing something that I wrote and sharing it with the world. Perusing the books stacked on end in cardboard boxes, I came across one called The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes for only a dollar and decided I had to have it. I’ve owned this book for many years now, but have only just now pulled it off my shelf to give it a second glance as I work on editing my most recent epic.
First of all, I don’t know who Jack M. Bickham is, but I suppose from the things that he writes that he is a writer who also serves as a writing teacher. I can appreciate a teacher who wants to share their knowledge with more than just their students. Some of the advice is worthwhile, for example, he talks about making sure your characters are always in some type of motion because otherwise readers might get bored. He also talks about how as a writer you need to continue working, not give up, and not listen to your inner critics. At one point, he even dismisses the notion of a writer’s club, because most of the advice you receive there won’t be very beneficial. Instead, he suggests that the aspiring author finds a writing instructor, someone to teach the ins and outs of the industry, someone, oh, I don’t know, just like him. Is that salmon I smell baking?
I really appreciate the way the book is laid out, with the 38 rules being defined and then a brief explanation on how to fix the mistake. It’s easy to use, and a good refresher on some of the things we might forget.
There are two major issues I have with this book, however. For one thing, I’m not sure if ‘Wally’ is a real person, or just a figment of the author’s imagination on someone who would make those type of mistakes, or a combination of students that were condensed down into one, but if ‘Wally’ is a singular student, I would be highly insulted if I were him, and I sincerely hope he published something big to bring back to his instructor later. The other problem I have is that this book was written in 1992, and is unfortunately very dated in terms of advice on the marketing industry. For one thing, at one point it talks a great deal about submitting directly to publishers. Most publishers will not take unsolicited manuscripts, and a good number of them will not accept manuscripts that aren’t represented by an agent. And in today’s ever growing legal world, even if you do manage to get a sale without an agent, you still need an agent to help you navigate the contract waters. Most of the formatting advice refers to typewriters, and while it’s a good idea to format your submission correctly, this book is not the place to look for current industry standards.