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Your First Novel | Review

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Your First Novel Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb

Writer's Digest 256pp £8.64

 

 

 

Your First Novel

 

 

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'I have come to appreciate that people learn in different ways, and that what suits one person doesn’t necessarily suit another.'

 

 

 

 

'There are people who are fired with enthusiasm but who don’t know the first thing about using punctuation. Everyone’s needs can be catered for.'

 

 

 

'they want to know what writers do, and they try to emulate other writers in order to give a form to their own drive to write.'

 

 

 

'Her emphasis is on establishing good writing technique, not just in terms of actual writing skills but also by fostering a strong appreciation of craft.'

 

 

'Throughout the section there is a strong emphasis on reading other authors, and looking at what they’re doing.'

 

 

'What makes this book especially useful is that the other author, Ann Rittenberg, is an agent; in fact, she is Laura Whitcomb’s agent.'

 

 

 

'There are as many mistakes to be made in attempting to find an agent or to approach a publisher as there are in writing a novel in the first place.'


 

'Your First Novel is an excellent tutorial and reference source for anyone who wants to become more than a weekend scribbler... with a book like this on your desk, you stand a much better chance of succeeding.'

 

 

Ann Rittenberg's endorsement of WritersServices

I used to think it was a minor miracle that the world was not hip-deep in books on how to write. There were so many of them around. I used to wonder how many different ways there could be of saying the same thing, not to mention wondering why people kept on buying the same advice over and over again. However, as time has gone by, I have come to appreciate that people learn in different ways, and that what suits one person doesn’t necessarily suit another. The philosophical approach of John Gardner and Dorothea Brande may suit those who have a clear idea of what they’re doing, and how to set about it, but who need a little moral support as they set about their business. It will not suit the person who needs some nuts-and-bolts advice about writing convincing dialogue. And yes, much as I hate to admit it, there really are still people who need to have the basics of manuscript layout explained to them. There are people who are fired with enthusiasm but who don’t know the first thing about using punctuation. Everyone’s needs can be catered for.

The people who interest me most are those who know at some fundamental level that they are writers, who have been inventing stories since they first clasped a small hand round a fat crayon and set out those first wobbling letters, and who can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives. Except, they have no idea what a writer actually looks like. They question other writers, they read about other writers, they want to know what writers do, and they try to emulate other writers in order to give a form to their own drive to write. Too often, they end up disappointed because, well, they’re not Writer X or Writer Y. Instead, they’re Writer A or B, who needs to figure out an A or B style, but doesn’t know quite how to set about it. This is where a book like Your First Novel comes into play. I like the title, for a start. Your novel. Not my novel, not Laura’s novel, but yours. It puts the emphasis in the right place, with the person who’s reading and trying to learn how to be a writer, and how to get published.

Laura Whitcomb, who wrote the first section of the book, is a published writer with lots of good ideas to help the writer who is not yet published, and who is floundering a little. Her emphasis is on establishing good writing technique, not just in terms of actual writing skills but also by fostering a strong appreciation of craft. Whitcomb seems to have a hundred and one different ideas to offer, from the predictable but always-effective ‘keep a journal’ to a huge variety of different exercises to practise at all stages of writing a novel. Throughout the section there is a strong emphasis on reading other authors, and looking at what they’re doing. Each chapter comes with its own eclectic list of recommended reading; the bright author will do well to follow up on her suggestions. No writer should work in a vacuum; Whitcomb makes this very clear. Her technical advice is also very solid, clearly explained and well laid out on the page. The approach is inevitably broad-brush, but when you’re trying to write your first novel, it really is not the right moment to start wrestling with the finer complexities of grammatical usage. That can come later.

What makes this book especially useful is that the other author, Ann Rittenberg, is an agent; in fact, she is Laura Whitcomb’s agent. Her section of the book concerns the business of finding an agent and getting a novel sold to a publisher. There are probably fewer books about this end of the business but those I’ve seen mainly seem to assume that there is a perfectly straightforward linear progression from completing a novel to handing it over to an agent who then sells it. Easy, really. If only. There are as many mistakes to be made in attempting to find an agent or to approach a publisher as there are in writing a novel in the first place. Rittenberg goes over the basics of what happens once you’ve written your novel and you have to start hawking it around. Her approach is refreshingly honest. She explains what succeeds, what doesn’t, and how things work from the agent’s point of view. I particularly liked the section on writing letters to agents and publishers, and the mistakes people so often make, because, yes, I have seen such letters myself. Her advice on what to do is spot on and should be required reading for everyone submitting work.

Your First Novel is an excellent tutorial and reference source for anyone who wants to become more than a weekend scribbler. Working through the chapters, carrying out the exercises, following up on the references provided, will give the budding author a very thorough understanding of what’s involved in writing a novel and getting it into the bookshops. The advice is clear and unambiguous, the tone supportive, but as both authors make clear, in the end it’s up to you. However, with a book like this on your desk, you stand a much better chance of succeeding.

 

© Maureen Kincaid SpellerMaureen Kincaid Speller a reviewer, writer, editor and former librarian, is our book reviewer and also works for WritersServices as a freelance editor. 2007

Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller

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List price: £12.77
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
2007-02-25
Paperback
Sales rank: 762,580


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