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How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published [Paperback]

Howard Mittelmark , Sandra Newman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Jan 2009

There are many ways prospective authors routinely sabotage their own work. But why leave it to guesswork? Misstep by misstep, How Not to Write a Novel shows how you can ensure that your manuscript never rises above the level of unpublishable drivel; that your characters are unpleasant, dimensionless versions of yourself; that your plot is digressive, tedious and unconvincing; and that your style is reliant on mangled clichés and sesquipedalian malapropisms. Alternatively, you can use it to identify the most common mistakes, avoid them and actually write a book that works.

Guardian Award shortlisted novelist Sandra Newman and veteran editor Howard Mittelmark have distilled 30 years of teaching, editing, writing and reviewing fiction into a hilarious and liberating guide that is the perfect read for anyone who's ever laughed at a badly written piece of prose and for anyone who's ever penned one - and doesn't want to do it again.

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How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published + How to write a novel in 90 days.(A tried and tested system by a prolific author): Written by a published author who has been there and done it over a dozen times!
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (29 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141038543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141038544
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


This writing how-to should carry a warning: it's the kind of book one reads at the expense of all other responsibilities. (Library Journal)

A great resource and a fun read with a lot of solid advice for would-be novelists. (Publishers Weekly)


'[a] hilarious, wickedly observed and deeply useful guide'

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars very entertaining but not particularly helpful 23 Nov 2009
I found this book extremely entertaining, and it would pass a couple of amusing hours for anyone, wannabe writer or not. I laughed out loud at points, and it certainly does stand out from all the other writing help guides out there.

However, the most notable way it stands out is by not being particularly helpful. There are some useful pointers in here; however, it mainly gives the impression of being an opportunity for the authors to vent some anger towards hopeless writers. The style is condescending, smug and mocking. The fact is, however, that the hopeless writers at whom this book is clearly aimed would have no use for it: they will never be successful, no matter what. Those writers who stand a fighting chance - who have basic ability but need some help - are the ones that benefit from writing guides and this book is not for them. The examples are so clearly ludicrous, and many of the pointers so blatantly obvious, that if you don't already know them you should stay away from fiction at all costs. Therefore the authors have defeated their own objective. They manage to poke fun at, and alienate, the very audience they're trying to sell to.

I think there is a lot of value to this book. However, it should be rebranded in the 'humour' section, as it is definitely an entertaining read rather than a helpful guide to novel writing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem 5 May 2009
By Claretta VINE VOICE
Anyone who has attempted a novel would benefit from reading this and would pick up many useful tips. It has much broader appeal, though - anyone who is interested in fiction will enjoy this as it points out so many of the mistakes that slip through the net and that you find in many published novels. The examples of 'how not to do it' are frequently silly but also hilariously funny, and the joke is brilliantly sustained right through to the end. Don't read it in public, because you will find yourself laughing out loud far too often. A minor comic masterpiece.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and helpful 5 Mar 2009
This isn't a writing course -- it won't help you generate characters, overcome writer's block or find the inspiration to unleash the artist within. But it does contain some very good pointers towards the kinds of fault that will send your manuscript into the waste basket, and it's written by people who know.

I found it intermittently very funny, and usually helpful; some of the recommendations will be familiar to anyone who's read anything similar before, but it's mostly fresh and zippy enough. You'll get through it in a single sitting, but it would make a useful pre-flight checklist for any fiction manuscript.

Certain Amazon reviewers seem to have found this book personally offensive, and the examples of mistakes insulting to unpublished writers. On the other hand, one of those reviewers doesn't know that a 'straw man' is a deliberate misrepresentation of an opponent's position, designed to be easily refuted, and not a deliberate exaggeration designed to make a salient point clearer, which is what the parodic examples in this book are. I'd say they're made so comically awful partly in order to *avoid* offending or discouraging unpublished writers.

The implicit 201st piece of advice here is probably: if you're dreadful enough to find the examples insulting, and you can't see how bad you are even after it's pointed out to you, give up.
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74 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sarcastic and useful 19 Oct 2008
This brief little guide to how not to write is two things in one. Firstly, it is a self help book intending to help budding novelists avoid mistakes that get most novels rejected by publishers. Secondly however, this is also a funny book in its own right and could be read and found to be entertaining even if you didn't want to write a novel.

I bought this book as a writing guide and in this respect found it quite useful. In the first few pages I managed to spot some of the areas where I had been going wrong in my own writing. The book as a whole contains a mixture of tips, some that you may think are obvious and others not, but all of them are insightful in some way.

The book is very, very sarcastic which certainly appeals to my sense of humour. At a few places I did laugh out loud and one particular part did cause a few minutes of chuckling. There is also a distinct dislike for the author Ayn Rand running through these pages which I can but applaud loudly.

If there is a downside to the book it is that now I am reading fiction through the lens of Mittlemark and Newman. I've started seeing some really obvious mistakes in the work of famous and respected authors, and I have to try not to make this prevent me from enjoying their work. Oh well, I suppose if published authors aren't perfect then there is hope for us all.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Remember-the-obvious how-to-book 31 July 2009
Humorous? Yes. "How not to write a novel" is about how to write a book with no plot, cardboard people, and using horrible language. And that is funny, but the sarcasm does get a little old, when every one of the 200 mistakes is "attacked" in the same way.

Full of gold nuggets? There are some - hey, not everyone strikes it rich. This is a great little remember-the-obvious-how-to-book, but then again, I guess the obvious mistakes are also the most recurrent mistakes.

All in all, this is a humorous little book, but not the book that will be dog-eared and underlined and used time and time again in my writing endeavours.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars How NOT to Write a Review
Writing advice comes in many flavours, and you can find a book that will validate just about any approach to writing. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Andrew Lawston
5.0 out of 5 stars The best there is
FANTASTIC. Full of helpful, insightful tips; examples of errors written especially for the book, rather than referencing a number of other books (nothing worse than a book that you... Read more
Published 1 month ago by rilaya
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable and informative read
The authors fulfill their promise. They give excellent advice on what NOT to do if you want to write a novel. Read more
Published 2 months ago by A K BLACK
4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and Instructional
Brilliant book. I bought the paperback and read it in one day. It contains lots of helpful information for writers working on their first novels. Read more
Published 3 months ago by JJ Toner
4.0 out of 5 stars Good advice.
This is a well laid out book, and it shows the many pitfalls that so many authors fall into. Having read it I can see problems with my own work and it has helped. Many thanks.
Published 6 months ago by J. Coppin
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile amusement
It may not be the best substitute for an M.A in Creative Writing, but a quick study of this will encourage the reader to avoid the worst clangers and yawn-making writing. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Rosalind Minett
3.0 out of 5 stars Its ok.
it has some helpful suggestions. However a lot of the examples of stories that were included were quite sexual, unnecessarily so, I felt.
Published 8 months ago by Mrs Joanne Deakin
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written and Wrong
As one would expect in a book on how to write, the authors get full marks for the wit and style of their writing - but a minus score for their philosophy. Read more
Published 9 months ago by John Winterson Richards
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful reference book
I found it a bit dry in parts and not as funny as expected but i also found it helpful too and made me aware of pitfalls many authors fall into so in that respect i would recommend... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Lyn Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Planning to write a book. I always think it is better to know what NOT to do rather than what to do. Enjoyable read that I will out into practice.
Published 13 months ago by Trekian
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