P.T. Barnum probably never actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but that doesn’t make the saying any less true. The latest example of someone out to fleece those suckers comes courtesy of Kelly Luce, who has blogged a cautionary post on Electric Literature about pay-to-submit marketplace Narrative Magazine’s new book—a 400-page, six-chapter, $225 how-to guide entitled A Poetics of Fiction.
Now Narrative’s co-founder Tom Jenks may well have some good advice in there. The samples Jenks posts seem reasonable enough as far as they go. But I don’t see anything that suggests it’s worth $225. As Luce points out, there are many, many, many other how-to books on writing that you can buy for less than Jenks’s book costs.
For that matter, for only $90 you could buy writing advice from James Patterson, a man who at least has the distinction of having earned millions on the strength of his writing (and that’s without charging people $23 per story to submit to a magazine!). Or pay $20 each for some lessons from Michael Stackpole, who I’ve seen in person and can verify is an excellent teacher and a writer who knows his craft—and even Stackpole has a number of useful essays available for free.
As I said in the piece about Stackpole, I’ve come to realize that a lot of writing advice fundamentally boils down to the same advice, just from different givers, just because so much successful fiction shares so many things in common that it would be hard for any reasonably intelligent person not to take note of them. So there’s certainly no need to pay $225 for even the best possible writing advice. You can get it somewhere else for much, much less. If you want to see some other places (both to look and to avoid), check out the articles posted under the “writing advice” tag on TeleRead.
Another great place to find writing advice is here in Indianapolis each July or August, at Gen Con. The Gen Con Writers Symposium is an amazing resource for people looking to learn more about the craft, because there will be dozens of authors there giving useful seminars, many of them for free (and the ones that do charge are usually only a few bucks each). There are other useful resources for indie authors, too.
These writers that charge huge amounts for advice books are falling into the trap of pricing their books relative to how much they charge for their in-person courses. I suppose I can see where they’re coming from—they don’t want to compete with themselves to the point where people can pay so much less and get the same benefit they could have gotten from the in-person lectures and interaction. But they’re pricing against the wrong benchmark. If they want to price against something, they should consider pricing against all the dozens and dozens of helpful writing advice guides that are available at normal book prices—or even for free.