Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: The Renegade Writer

One of the books I picked up on my last trip for work was Linda Formichelli and Diane Burrell's The Renegade Writer: a totally unconventional guide to freelance writing success.

I really enjoyed this book as a look at the world of freelance non-fiction, but I think it's best suited as one of a series of books in a library rather than a stand-alone guide to the non-fiction world. I think it needs to be backed by at least two other books. One would be a good resource on writing queries, with plentiful examples (more on this in a subsequent post). And the other one would be a more, well, conventional guide to freelance writing, not to borrow too freely from the subtitle. Because I think a writer needs to really understand the rules in order to determine which to break.

However, The Renegade Writer was informative and clearly written, with enough anecdotes from the writing business to keep it fun. I thought I'd tell you a little about the contents to help you determine if this would be a good addition to your writing resources:

Breaking in by breaking the rules: even new freelancers can be renegades. I thought this was really helpful -- it offered a lot of tips for the so-to-speak freelance noob to enter the industry and then parlay initial assignments into a career. Linda and Diana laid to rest some of the rumors that make newer freelancers worry they are about to destroy their careers before they can even begin through one misguided query, suggesting that it's OK to start with shorts, it's OK to write for newspapers and it's OK to write for free -- you just have to know when these things are helping your career and when it's no longer advancing your particular set of goals.

Cranking up the idea factory: bold thinking leads to countless ideas. Loved this section, which is about nurturing and developing non-fiction ideas, but the general concepts apply across the board. One tip I liked is similar to shopping in your own closet (which would be easier if the mall did not offer Cinnabons and chick flicks as well as new tops): go through old writings and look for new life. Recycling is in, people!

No fear querying: now turn those ideas into assignments. Here we address the always controversial topic of SASEs, whether or not to read back issues before submitting (and if so, how many) and whether or not it's ever acceptable to call an editor. They also have a pre-query checklist. I like checklists.

Signing on the dotted line: renegades get fatter, fairer, safer contracts. Contract negotiation, because writing is a business, not just your hobby. I will admit, I was too over-the-moon about my past publications to worry much about the contract I signed, but I am an older, wiser writer now. Well, I'm older and less excitable, anyway.

Mining for information: a little digging can turn up info gold. This chapter is about finding sources to flesh out your great idea - finding the right source, getting them to talk to you.

Talking the talk: renegade interviews get the story, and then some. How to get folks to open up and give you the real story. As a mildly introverted person, I don't find myself squeaky with excitement over this prospect, but it was good information.

Putting pen to paper: yes, renegade writers even break grammar rules! I didn't really need these chapter. I've been breaking grammar rules since I discovered the English language. Seriously though, this chapter has some useful info about story length for delivery, when to alter quotes and how to do it so you don't get sued, and how to keep your grandmother from reading your "91 ways to shock to him tonight" article in Cosmo.

Getting the green: don't be shy when it comes time to collect. Ah, money. As practical as the focus was here, I just found myself day-dreaming about the day when I'm cruising around in a Lexus, thinking of great stories on my way to the beach.

The renegade attitude: Your success often depends on your mindset. All about turning from that freelance noob to the career writer, through saavy business skill to match your killer writing.

Thriving, not just surviving: don't settle for anything less than reaching the top. And once you've become that career writer? Here's how you keep it going.

Like I said, I wouldn't use this as my sole resource, but The Renegade Writer is packed with great information. And it was a really engaging read -- very nice if you're going to be stuck in the Denver airport (or that may have been Chicago, I honestly lost track) for four hours on a misbegotten layover, as I was. Overall, I'd give this book a solid 8 out of 10 points -- I'd be interested to read anything else the writers have on the market, and I plan to keep this book on my shelf for a long time to come.

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