An important change of pace for this blog. Consider this a public service announcement to new and newish writers, or anybody for that matter even thinking about writing a book.
There are a lot of how-to books out there about writing. Some are better than others. I haven't read one in ages - I've discovered over the years that you can find all the advice you need for free online. Even better, read a lot of fiction and pay attention as you read. Take out your favorite book, outline it, diagram the character arcs, see how it works. Go through it several times, each time with an eye toward something different: how does the author introduce a new character, how does the author describe setting, how does the author make this person sympathetic ... etc. This makes for the world's best homework ever. You'll love it. And you'll learn a lot by rolling your sleeves up like that.
But, if you really want to shell out a few bucks on how-to books, pick the ones written by authors who have sold a metric shit ton of books recently. If you've never heard of the author in question but are still eyeing their how-to book, go to Amazon and check out their fiction. Make sure they write in genres you write or intend to write in. This is important. There are a lot of universal "rules" to telling a story, but the best advice tends to be genre-specific. You can do certain things in romance that you cannot do in thrillers; there are certain things you should do with mysteries but not in sci-fi; etc. And, last but not least, double-check their fiction to see how well it is selling. Amazon lists sales ranks for every book on its site. Again, you want to find an author that is selling well right now. I cannot stress this enough. The indie publishing landscape changes significantly every 6 months or so. Strategies that worked for indie authors 5 years ago no longer work well, if at all.
That's how to pick a good how-to book on writing.
Moving on to gurus ...
Don't give them a dime of your money.
Okay, tell you what. You can give them your money if they guarantee you a specific ROI and offer your money back if you don't realize that ROI within a defined timeframe. And that's only if they can demonstrate a proven recent sales track record to you, with hard data. If there's someone out there offering those terms, then shit, tell me who they are and I'll sign up too.
But I'm pretty sure there's nobody out there doing that.
DO NOT pay anybody to "help" you write a book. Especially if they're going to charge you thousands of dollars to do so.
Don't do it.
You can pay someone for cover art. There is a steep, steep learning curve to book cover design. You can learn that as you go, but in the interim it's okay to shell out a few hundred dollars on a cover - because a good one will help sell your book and a bad one will turn readers away before they even get to the book description.
You can also pay someone to edit. The learning curve here isn't as steep compared to cover design, but still this helps. A good editor will save you a lot of grief.
But whatever you do, don't pay someone to be your mentor, your Obi-Wan, your guru, your whatever the fuck the shark wants to call himself or herself.
Let me put it this way. If someone claims they can help you write a bestseller, then why the hell aren't they just writing a bestseller themselves? They can pocket all the cash and not have to worry about dealing with clients whining to them about their book not selling as well as advertised.
Whatever they're going to tell you, you can find online for free. You can find for yourself reading your favorite, bestselling authors. You can find for yourself in good how-to books. I'm overstating this, but essentially: nobody can make someone else a bestseller. Back in the day, NY publishing houses paid their staffs a lot of money to help authors along, to grow writers, to make them into bestsellers, and even these experts got it wrong more often than they got it right.
Historically, authors have been preyed upon by gurus and treated miserably by publishing houses with ridiculously lopsided contracts. Amazon came along and shook things up, making the playing field a bit more level.
But the gurus are still out there. It pisses me off to no end because most of these gurus are, or used to be, authors.
They should know better. They should remember what it was like for them. To be new and eager and bursting with energy, looking for someone--anyone--to give them the One Big Secret to Publishing.
They should remember how difficult they had it. They should remember how newbs are soft targets. How easily someone with starry eyes can be duped. It's predatory, it's dirty business, it's a fecking disgrace if you ask me if you are purposely targeting newb authors and promising them things you know you likely can't deliver upon and charging a small fortune.
Beware the gurus.
Especially if they're asking for thousands of dollars to help you along. Just don't do it.
In fairness, I am painting in pretty broad strokes here but my wider point stands: beware of the guru. If you're at all tempted to give someone money to be your writing coach or mentor, demand to see their recent sales records before you fork any of your hard-earned cash over. Seriously, you need to see hard data. Demand to see the last 6 months of their fiction royalties. If they won't share that with you, run--don't walk--to the nearest exit.
That is all.