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Book Review: The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box

writer's tackle boxGuest post by Ellen Berry

For the past year I was looking for a shortcut. Like most unpublished writers, I’d been determined to bypass the hoop-jumping and “get discovered” by a publishing house. I’d heard too many sagas of publishing woes, and didn’t want to end up as dejected as a cheap paperback cover.

My friend went the self-publishing route with modest success, and I wondered if I was being stubborn by not following in his footsteps, but it had long been my goal to be published the traditional way. That being said, I was not averse to skipping blithely past all those writers drooping in line outside publishers’ front doors. There had to be a back door, and I was going to find it. Apparently I didn’t think the rules applied to me – but I didn’t realize I had this in common with most writers newly seeking publication until I read The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box: Getting a Hook on the Publishing Industry by Lynn Price.

So, the essentials. Are they in here?

Loaded with key strategies and insider details about getting published, Price’s book contains guidance she has learned as a publisher (Behler Publications) along with insight from contributors in her industry. Every sentence of Tackle Box, it seemed, was something I needed to remember or act on.

The only real problem I encountered with this book was the lack of information design. It would have been much more useful as a workbook. The publisher’s slogan is “personal journeys with social relevance”, and perhaps that’s why such an important aspect of non-fiction book structure was overlooked. Right off the bat, I wanted checklists, a nitty-gritty index, and visual aids to help me sort out all the information and bookmark it to find again easily.

The book is divided into four sections:

Section One takes up more than half the book, and features interviews with knowledgeable industry professionals. There’s information from every angle – the contributors have extensive backgrounds as agents, writers, editors, book shepherds, publicists, cover designers, distributors, book reviewers, booksellers, and/or author advocates. The interview questions are well-written and relevant, and the answers straightforward and informative. It was like a breath of fresh air to get the why behind the mandates. I found myself wanting to listen to the interviews, or watch them on video, because the people were as interesting as their input.

Section Two is an in-depth guide to the manuscript submission process from a publisher’s perspective. Price writes in a friendly and funny way, packing in smart strategies and delivering an in-your-face reality check. For example:

“If you want to watch an editor implode, tell her that your book is for ‘everyone.’ I implode on a regular basis because I don’t have ‘everybody’ in my Rolodex… If you can’t define your audience, then how can you be sure you even have an audience?” – Lynn Price, The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box

Section Three compares different publishing options, (trade publishers, self-publishing, co-publishing, Print-on-Demand, and vanity presses), explains how each works, and helps readers decide on the best option. After reading this section, along with the rest of Tackle Box, I was more comfortable in my pursuit of traditional publishing as a good choice for me – probably because I felt like I better understood how it all works.

Section Four is a style guide specially designed to prevent manuscript rejection. It contains clear-cut instructions on how to avoid misuse of back story, Point of View, capitalization, etc. with helpful examples and analysis. Price even goes the extra step to explain why it is important to the quality of a manuscript to follow these guidelines.

I read this section with mixed emotions. As someone trying to get published, I was grateful to get a crash course in survival – and that I could put it to use right away. As a writer, I saw this do-or-die set of rules as a long list of the work I had yet to do on manuscripts I thought were complete. (No doubt, this is one of the reasons Price choose to include this section in her book.) As a reader, I found the section somewhat befuddling – much of it is presented as an interchange between an editor “doctor” and a new editorial intern conducting an autopsy on a rejected manuscript. Although much can be learned post mortem on any project, and therefore the perspective was insightful, the dialogue style made reading rather clunky. I would have preferred an approach more like a reference guide.

In all, I’d highly recommend reading this book if you are seeking publication – and I recommend choosing the Kindle version for searching, bookmarking, highlighting, and for otherwise easier reference. (You can download a free version of Kindle for PC if you don’t have the reading device.)

Ellen Berry writes about a variety of career and education topics for BrainTrack.com.

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