Beginning Writer's
Answer Book
edited by Kirk Polking
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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The Beginning Writer's Answer Book is a compilation of the most frequently-asked questions by readers of Writer's Digest magazine. This edition holds almost 900 answers representing every kind of writing.

The book consists of forty one sections crammed with helpful information. Chapter titles include "How Do I Know If I Have What It Takes?", "What is a Query? How Should I Write It?", "How Can I Find an Agent?", and "How Can I Avoid Legal Problems?"

There are also several chapters devoted to specific types of writing. Those interested in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screen-writing, children's literature, music lyrics, magazine articles, short stories and full-length novels will find this handbook helpful.

Editor Kirk Polking has done an excellent job compiling a massive amount of information and organizing it into a tidy book. The pace flows freely and the language is simple. It is possible to read this book a few pages at a time or a marathon pace without feeling overwhelmed.

Beginning Writer's Answer Book should be considered an effective tool for quick answers. Just about every question a new writer might have is mentioned here. However, all the subjects are merely touched upon. Further in-depth information has to be found elsewhere.

It should also be noted that this book focuses mainly of the business of writing. Explanations on how the publishing world works are plentiful. Any new writer should feel more confident venturing into the deep, dark literary jungle after reading this book. However, there is little discussion of writing technique here. Writers needing help with style and other creation issues will need to search other places for information on the actual writing process.

The obvious flaw in Beginning Writer's Answer Book is so big you can drive a truck through it. This handbook was last printed in 1994 and it is in need of a major upgrade. I don't think a typewriter is a "must-have" piece of equipment anymore. This book was very current in its heyday, offering the latest information on computers.

As of 1993, few databases operate at speeds faster than 9,600 bps, and some still connect at only 2,400 bps or slower.

Man! I bet in 1993 authors had to walk barefoot through the snow (uphill both ways) to get to the library, too!

Seriously folks, this book provides a wealth of information and many important addresses. However, a revised edition would also provide current web site addresses for all these writing-related agencies mentioned in the fifth edition (the last to be published in 1994).

Beginning Writer's Answer Book provides some helpful basic legal advice regarding copyrights and publication. Of course, lack of a current edition means there is no information regarding publication rights and the Internet. With the lawsuit between the National Writer's Union and the New York Times, these issues and the law are literally changing daily. A short section in an updated version of this book would have been helpful. For further details regarding freelancers' rights and the Internet, see the NWU's Freelance Writers' Guide: ISBN#0-9644208-1-3.

I checked to see if the Beginning Writer's Answer Book has been updated since 1994. Perhaps my copy is not the latest? Unfortunately, according to Amazon I do have the most recent edition and the book is out of print. Such a shame. I searched the Internet to find out why Writer's Digest has not updated the book and could find no answers.

While lacking a major upgrade, this handbook is still a must-read for the beginning writer. There is so much valuable information that is extremely helpful for newbies. Unfortunately, the book is out of print. However, I found my copy at a library and that's a great place to start your search. I also noticed many copies for sale at, so you may want to search book web sites for a copy.

If you truly want to pursue a career (or hobby) in writing, it is best to read everything you can on the subject. Starting with Writer's Digest's Beginning Writer's Answer Book is a great  place to begin. With answers to almost 900 writing-related questions, you'll hopefully be contributing to the craft in no time.

Good Luck!

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