The Art of War for Writers

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Put James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers next to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on your bookshelf—or better, within easy reach! It’s that good.

Using famous and long-ago Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his model, Bell presents vital and valuable information for writers in bite-size chunks. These nourishing and digestible non-chicken nuggets add up to a lot of chapters, yet only two are longer than five pages.

That’s what makes them so useful: you can read a few, set the book aside to ponder them, and then come back without being overwhelmed with information. These chapter titles will give you a sense of what I mean:

  • From Part I, “Reconnaissance”: 21. Put heart into everything you write.
  • From Part II, “Tactics”: 36. Speed is the essence of the opening.
  • From Part III, “Strategy”: 59. Network according to the law of reciprocity.

So if I think this is such a great book, why give it only four stars? Just one thing. The book was published in 2009, as the independent publishing revolution was just taking hold. Bell’s thoughts about indie publishing reflect the times, so he puts his emphasis on finding a path to what we now call traditional publication. Much has changed in six years, and if Bell were to update the book (let’s hope he will!), I’m sure his tone would change—and there’d be even more chapters to guide writers through the minefields of the indie-publishing world. As the title of chapter 23 says, “The writer of potential greatness settles not for ‘mere fiction.’”

Highly recommended.

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