Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The ABC Checklist for New Writers:
How to Open Doors and Get Noticed the First Time Around
by Lorraine Mace and Maureen Vincent-Northam
ISBN-13: 978-0955075179, Oct 2007,
A lot of books use the title “The ABC…”, but The ABC Checklist for New Writers is called ABC for good reason. It’s set up as a kind of encyclopaedia, in alphabetical order, providing information specifically targeted to new writers. Starting with “Abbreviations and working through to “ZZZ—Sleep on it”, the authors provide a reasonably comprehensive index of topics that might concern freelancers of all types. There’s little preamble. However, each of the topics is written in as thorough as way as possible, cross-referencing other topics, and providing innovative suggestions. It is quite possible to simply read through the book first, working from A-Z in order to increase general understanding and obtain some ideas, and then making use of it as a reference when a query arises.
Mace and Vincent-Northam are both experienced freelancers, and provide readers with the benefit of their experience. The overall result will be a shorter learning curve and fewer rejections. Topics covered include such things that all new writers need to know, like writing a bio, how to research the market, how to format a children’s picture book, writing a cover letter, avoiding common grammatical problems, invoicing, and a whole lot more. Many of the definitions end with a simple overview summary, to help clarify the more detailed explanation.
The book also provides templates of letters, a writing synopsis, a layout for a screen script, suggestions on shortcutting in MS Word, and an awful lot more. Read from cover to cover, this is a good compendium to make the overall writing process a lot more efficient and effective.
Some of the more innovative topics — suitable even for experienced writers — include the section on “Angles,” which provides very specific advice on rewriting articles to allow the work to be used repeatedly: “Always look at your research in the widest possible sense and never limit yourself to one sale per subject.” Another particularly valuable subject is the one titled “Padding”, which provides excellent suggestions on how to remove redundant words, and meaningless clutter from your work.
As the book aims to provide advice for authors of all genres, it is necessarily broad in scope. Sometimes, this, and the alphabetical structure, results in subjects being covered too briefly. For example, “The X Factor” tells authors to “Be original. Think in a different way to everyone else. Introduce new twists to old themes.” This is a complex suggestion for a new writer, and some reasonable examples on how a new author might think in different ways or introduce new twists would be really helpful.
A few exercises or some more extensive references on this topic, and some of the other topics, would make the book more valuable, especially for newcomers to the world of professional writing. That said, overall, this is a great guide for the new author and provides valuable information that will be able to be referenced again and again as writers encounter new questions.
Check out my audio interview with Lorraine Mace at The Compulsive Reader Talks (from the 12th of February).
More information on Lorraine Mace can be found at: www.lorrainemace.com.
More information on Maureen Vincent-Northam can be found at: www.maureen-vincent-northam.co.uk.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.