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The Truth About Writing: An Essential Handbook for Novelists, Playwrights and Screenwriters [Paperback]

Michael Allen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Kingsfield Publications (1 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903988055
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903988053
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,923,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Michael Allen is best known for writing popular mainstream fiction, and he's been doing it successfully for more years than he cares to remember. (Actually his first novel was published in 1963.) Here are some quotes from reviews of his work:

'Absolutely first class' The Bookseller
'Solidly constructed' New York Times Book Review
'A pleasing narrative style' Daily Mail
'Beguiling entertainment' Kirkus Reviews
'Don't miss it' The Observer

These days, Michael publishes all his new work in Kindle format. Much of his earlier work is now out of print, and some of the printed books listed on Amazon are only available secondhand; but most of this earlier output will gradually be republished in Kindle versions. In addition, there are some brand-new publications, listed on Amazon Kindle for the first time anywhere. To take a look at Michael's output and see what appeals to you, click on the Kindle category below and scroll down.

Michael Allen is also known for his practical books for writers:

How to Write a Short Story that Works
The Truth about Writing
On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile

From 2004-07, Michael wrote a daily blog, the Grumpy Old Bookman. Still available online, this contains over one million words of essays, book reviews, and useful information for writers. Michael has recently reopened the blog for occasional reviews, news, and opinion pieces.

Product Description


Writing can seriously damage your health - not to mention your relationships, your bank account and your career prospects. Here is a book that tells writers how to survive and prosper while struggling to make sense of the mad worlds of publishing, theatre, television and film. The early chapters help you to clarify your ideas about what you hope to achieve as a writer - money, fame or literary reputation; they also provide a realistic assessment of your chances of achieving those aims. Subsequent chapters provide a detailed explanation of how the modern publishing industry works, and explain the crucial role of emotion for writers of both fiction and drama. Later chapters offer practical advice on how to find the time and energy to pursue your writing career, and provide help on how to market your work in the digital age.

From the Publisher

‘The Truth about Writing’ is a controversial, hard-hitting book which is going to upset some of the literary establishment. It will, however, prove enormously beneficial to writers.

After reading this book, writers will know how to think clearly about what they want to achieve from a writing career, and will be able to avoid wasting their time and effort on the unachievable. What’s more, they will know how to make the most of their limited time and energy.

Here, by way of a taster, are just of few of Michael Allen’s more trenchant conclusions:

As far as income is concerned, most writers would be better off working behind the bar in their local pub.

The desire for fame should be sufficient, in and of itself, to get you sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Serious literary criticism is written in a language called litbabble, which is a form of postmodern, deconstructed gobbledygook. Its practical value, in terms of helping you to write a better novel, is nil.

Unsolicited submissions, from writers who are not represented by an agent, are accorded the same degree of respect as would be given to something left on the publisher’s doorstep by a dog with diarrhoea.

The so-called advance is actually a retrospective.

Most publishers can recognise a bestseller, but only when it was published two years earlier and they have the sales figures in front of them.

Publishing depends, for its continuance, upon a ceaseless flow of mugs, suckers, and assorted halfwits who are prepared to work for a year or more without any serious prospect of remuneration.

The degree of success experienced by a writer will vary according to circumstance, and the definition of circumstance is everything that the writer cannot control, or even influence.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome breath of fresh air 18 July 2003
By A Customer
You won't have to look far in the Amazon catalogue to find a host of books for writers with titles such as 'How to write a bestseller in 15 minutes a day', or 'Sell that script for $1 million tomorrow'. Michael Allen, by contrast, makes it clear that any such approach is dream-world fantasy. The most likely outcome of writing a novel, for example, is that you will not only waste a year in writing the thing, but that you will then waste another year, plus a lot of postage money, trying to interest agents and publishers who will mostly treat you as if you were a nuisance.
In short, Michael Allen does his best to encourage you to be realistic about your chances of success. But if you are determined to be a writer, he suggests that you work out exactly what you are hoping to achieve, and he provides some extremely practical ways forward. He also provides some excellent advice on how to organise your time so that you actually get the book (or script etc) written. I could have done without the advice on diet, but that's a personal matter.
Last, but not least, this book is a lot of fun to read. People who work in publishing might not laugh as much as I did, but then, as the author points out, the truth is seldom comfortable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading 9 Sep 2009
If you are serious about wanting to write and publish a novel, then this book provides both a government health warning and a wealth of tips and insights to guide you along the way. It should be required reading. Yes Michael is a grumpy old man. He is idiosyncratic and opinionated, and once he has a definite idea about something, well that's that. But his ideas on emotion and writing are brilliant and his analysis of the mainstream publishing scene pretty much bears out what I finally realised after 8 years - that unlike the world of scientific publishing, the mainstream business is run by amateurs. So thank you Michael for your book and your marvellous axioms. Long may you continue to be grumpy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bracing Dose of Reality for Writers 4 Jan 2009
By Thomas B. Colvin - Published on
Published by British novelist-scriptwriter Michael Allen, The Truth About Writing: An Essential Handbook for Novelists, Playwrights and Screenwriters is a sobering look at writing as a career or primary sideline.

In his introduction, Allen declares:

Writing a book or play is mighty difficult, and it can seriously damage your health - not to mention your relationships, your bank account, and your career prospects.

Allen, however, recognizes that writers write because something inside demands it. So he charts a path forward, not a rosy one particularly, but one that is perhaps more valuable because of its reality. He breaks his roadmap into these following chapters:

1. What do writers want?
2. Are they likely to get it?
3. How to decide what you want and how to go about getting it
4. How the publishing industry works or not, as the case may be
5. The role of emotion in writing
6. How to find the energy for writing
7. How to find the time to write
8. How to sell your work in the digital world
9. The secret of success

As these chapters indicate, this book is a down-to-earth account of strategies to help you grind out the next great novel or screenplay. Written back in 2003, the advice is still right on target.

I recommend it: it gives writers a lot to think about.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I wish to give negative stars 26 May 2011
By Snark Shark - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Normally I wouldn't dignify such codswallop with a response of any kind. But someone has left this swill a positive review, and I would hate to see any curious or struggling writer suckered out of 2.99 in order to be condescended to by a bitter, clueless narcissist. So here I am. (With apologies to any book I have left a one-star review for previously. You do not deserve to be lumped in with this guy, but the system is unequipped for the depth of my ire.)

Gosh, what can one say about the Michael Allen's "essays" on writing? I admit to only reading two -- this, and "On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile" -- and only because they are available as free PDFs. (Still are, if you must take a peek. A Google search reveals that while the website for Kingsfield Publications, owned and operated by Michael Allen, is a ghost, whoever is in charge of site maintenance didn't know how to take the essays offline before putting them for sale on Amazon.) This guy is ridiculous. According to him anyone who wants to be a writer is in it for the fame (hah!), fortune (HAH!), and adoring throngs of bed partners (!!!). And while it's understandable he'd want to discourage such notions, he does it not so much along the lines of 'suffer for your art but get a day job for your bills,' but more 'that's how it SHOULD be, and WOULD be, were it not for the incompetence of editors, the money-grubbing agents, and audiences who are little more than glorified opium-eaters.'

I mean. Seriously. What?

Allen tackles a variety of topics in these essays, ultimately aimed at underscoring the futility of a writing career. He tries to support his long-winded reasoning with "science" (Please note the scare quotes. Please, please.) in an apparent attempt to lend his personal feelings and experiences the objectivity of logical thought. What's embarrassing is how badly he mucks it up, presenting extremely basic concepts with the flourish of bringing wisdom to the unwashed masses. He stresses the importance of, say, quantifying the value of your intended result -- something any experimental thinker learns once they've eclipsed the seventh-grade science fair. I suppose Allen has the right to say what he feels about writing, as a career he once practiced, but he should leave scientific thought alone.

In fact, "The Truth" feels distinctly middle-grade in ambition. Even when Allen produces salient points, they're often things which, really, should be obvious to anyone with more than a passing interest in writing. For instance: did you know it's the artist's job to INSPIRE emotion, rather than just express it? Allen also implores the reader not fall into the "trap of thinking that anything which you have written is automatically wonderful, just because you wrote it." He then devotes roughly thirty pages to the concepts of eating right, drinking enough water, getting exercise and avoiding RSI. I mean, yes, these are concerns people should have -- and not just writers -- but how low can the bar be set?

When he's not paddling in the kiddy pool, Allen is busy constructing a perception of the publishing business which is outright harmful to writers. Allen claims that writers don't get the respect they deserve as the lifeblood of the business, that editors are in it for the free lunches, and that the slush pile is a joke. Drawing from an extremely limited data pool (again with the shoddy science), he "proves" that industry professionals are incapable of recognizing talent or a potential bestseller, and that any success in this business is based on circumstance and circumstance alone. While there might be (tiny, tiny) grains of truth to what he says, any unagented writer who adopts these attitudes will soon find doors closed to them: doors of hard-working people who love their jobs even as they acknowledge the flaws of the system. The publishing business is just that -- a business -- and the blogs of the many agents and editors (and even published writers!) out there unashamed to reveal its workings will be exponentially more helpful than anything Allen contributes.

Finally -- and yes, this feels mean, but it must be said -- Allen is simply not that good a writer. His essays are a real slog due to a lack of structure and coherence; he doesn't seem as interested in proving his point as he is in displaying his talent for rhetoric. Which in itself is questionable -- Allen boasts of being a plain speaker, but in the next paragraph inserts "sesquipedalian," seemingly without irony. And anyone who uses "it therefore follows, as dogs follow a bitch in season" when making an academic argument has a considerable problem with tone. It may feel like nitpicking, but I'm trying to accurately reproduce why "The Truth" feels like the aimless ramblings of amateur hour. It's also interesting to note that Allen enjoys creating fictional characters to embody of his idea of reality and that, nine times out of ten, the targets of his mockery and disgust are conceptualized as women -- from snooty editors to weepy office workers to gullible readers. It gives the whole things a greasy patina of misogyny, which does nothing to improve the overall impact. (I mean, nothing like the phrase "all work and no play makes Jill a hard-nosed, unattractive bitch" to brighten MY day.)

Don't listen to this person. Don't give him money. There are other, more savvy people out there generously dispensing their insight for FREE. Don't waste your time on advice re: "success" from a someone who confesses they haven't sold a piece of writing in decades.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish All New Authors Would Read This 14 Feb 2012
By Ruth Ann Nordin - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Most authors who write a book and publish it expect the book to make them an instant success (regardless of whether they go with a publisher or not). A couple years ago, most authors strived for a traditional publisher, and this book gives an excellent inside look into the publishing industry. My research, discussions with traditionally published authors, and meeting agents and publishers support what Michael Allen says in this book. So if you are looking for a deeper look into the publishing industry (like what publishers want, why publishing is not going to always make authors successful, how they handle submissions), this book does a wonderful job of explaining it.

I self-publish, so my leaning is more toward the part of the book that took a look at what writers want, if they'll get it, emotion, finding time and energy to write, selling in the digital world, and the components of success. Again, this is stuff that has played out to be true when I've talked with self-published authors and did my research. Sadly, most authors who go into self-publishing focus way too much on selling a book instead of writing an emotionally satisfying book for those who read it. Self-publishing is seen (by most) as a get-rich-quick scheme. The reality is that it's not that, and it shouldn't be that. Michael Allen gets down to the nitty gritty of what a lot of authors are motivated by (money, fame, and literary acclaim) and why it's not as easy to get these things as they think. I think instead of believing they will be the next million-book-selling sensation, authors would do well to take what Michael Allen says to heart. It's not as easy as they assume, and a real, solid fanbase is best established with one reader at a time, which is done when authors focus on providing an emotionally satisfying read for the reader. I also liked his tips on finding energy and time to write.

This book wasn't only a great resource as a writer, but I thoroughly enjoyed Michael Allen's sense of humor. This book is definitely worth reading.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth makes publishing insiders uncomfortable! 25 Nov 2011
By C A Guardiola - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I ran across this book in my search for writing advice after a very long hiatus. The one negative reviewer gave this book one star and implored the reader to not even spend $2.99 on it for the Kindle version. In fact, probably the only reason you have to spend anything at all on it is BECAUSE you may want the Kindle version! Snark Snark, the negative reviewer, characterizes the free PDF download of this title as an apparent mistake on the author's part, a fluke, an oversight. In fact, author Michael Allen makes it clear in his introduction to this book that he was deliberately making it available as a free PDF download (and at a current Print On Demand cost of $211.01 USD, who can fault him). What this told me was that Snark Snark either did not bother to read the book thoroughly, or he felt himself (herself?) the target of Allen's rightful criticism of the publishing industry. I read the rest of Snark Snark's reviews and cannot help but think that his/her identity is that of an editor somewhere, maybe someone in senior status, with enough leisure time to review books on the Amazon site, as most entry-level editors/readers are usually slogged with work and don't have time to go around knocking the work and reputation of a self-made writer, editor and publisher, all of which Allen has been.

This book is of TREMENDOUS value to the budding writer. It offers cold hard statistics on the likelihood of getting published, the pitfalls in the submissions process, and the shortcomings in personal traits (like skill and attitude) that often hamper the writer. Far from being narcissistic (I have no idea how Snark Snark justifies that description), Allen offers a path for the writer to engage in some sobering self-analysis, lest his/her delusions take them into the wild woods of job loss, divorce and bankruptcy. The chapters on diet and exercise for the writer are quite appropriate -- anyone who criticizes that has never gone through the cycle of staring at a blank page and feeling the drop of energy and fatigue. Anyone who criticizes health advice for writers has never been a writer, in sum.

Allen's work also cites an excellent monograph, that of Thomas Uzzell's long out-of-print oldie but goodie, "Narrative Technique." Uzzell was a writing teacher whose technique was emulated, among others, by A. E. Van Vogt, one of the most prolific and widely read writers of his day, the oft-termed Golden Age of Science Fiction. Hard to criticize writing advice with that kind of pedigree, but Snark Snark tries to encourage you to dismiss it outright.

What Allen was trying to get across to the budding writer (and which either went completely over Snark Snark's head or was deliberately ignored) is that writing is not for the delusional, the easily discouraged, or the faint of heart. It is hard, relentless work that must be honed if it's to be done right, and only a true dedication to the craft makes the writers true to themselves. Allen is to be commended for his service to the gaggle of up-and-coming writers, the gifted, the inspired, the half-mad and the truly baked all. This book should be required reading for any creative writing class.

PS Snark Snark, please don't criticize Allen's use of the word "sesquipedalian" as too fancy and implying arrogance by countering it with your use of the word "codswallop" which is not fancy but altogether defines arrogance.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb Jeremiad at the dysfunctional world of publishing 30 Oct 2011
By Nigel J. Robinson - Published on
I would happily give this book to all my starry-eyed creative writing students - albeit, in a brown paper cover. It tells the truth. It is hideously on target in its criticism of the ugly dysfunctional world of modern publishing. And it's great fun.

I speak as a PhD and tutor in creative writing, who has been a newspaper editor, publisher and highly successful commercial author for 40 years. Michael knows his business. And (unlike the previous reviewer) so do I.
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