A review of How to Write Your Book (Guaranteed!) by Thomas A. Williams

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

How to Write Your Book (Guaranteed!)
By Thomas A. Williams
Williams & Company
ISBN 978-1-878853-93-6, 168 pages, $16.95, Oct 2008

Thomas Williams has a knack of taking the vague and daunting and making it seem straightforward and simple. Whether it be publishing your own magazine, making money out of poetry, or setting up a freelance writing business, Williams uses simple prose and inventive but simple systems to push the reader towards success. In his latest offering, How to Write Your Book, Williams offers his seven step “book writing system,” which, he guarantees will work if you follow his steps to the letter. There is really nothing extraordinary about the system, and I’m not sure that it’s absolutely necessary to use it exactly in the same way that Williams does, although he won’t guarantee you’ll succeed unless you do. What is nice about the system though is the way Williams ties a range of methodologies like mind-mapping, the use of notebooks, outlining, and brainstorming into a comprehensive, mostly paper based process to help you manage your way through any large project quickly. It’s easy to see how this would work, and also easy to see how it might not work if you left out one of the components, since they’re all interlinked.

As is always the case with Williams, the book is easy to follow, and contains a number of diagrams, illustrations, sidebars, anecdotes, bullet points, quotations, and references. The book is affirmative, and the scope reasonably wide. You can use the system for just about any kind of large scale writing project – from a novel, to a full scale nonfiction book, to a thesis. The book also provides insider information about the publishing industry and suggestions on both traditional and self-publishing, and five key things that every publisher (and reader) looks for in a manuscript. It’s good information, and quite different to anything you’ll find elsewhere, partly because of the way Williams turns just about everything into a systematic step process, including his writing tips:

For many years I published regional magazines and weekly newspapers. To help beginning writers whip their material into shape for these traditional “break-in” markets, I explained to them that anecdote and personal experiences were the lifeblood of readable articles. In doing this, I put the structure basic to all good nonfiction writing into “one-two-three” form and gave it a name: the “freelancer’s paradigm.” (95)

Even the process of getting the reader to get on with their writing has been codified, and made into an acronym: ATC – I’ll let you work out what the letters stand for. Although it might not be for everyone; and there’s a fair amount of paper manipulation and fiddle, Williams’ system is one that will work in turning a good idea into a well constructed, pleasing book. The systematic approach makes the most of each person’s individual creativity, and even the little tips on writing are unique and clever in their approach. For anyone who struggles with large writing projects, this is an empowering, fun, and innovative process.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.