Review: The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and ExercisesThe Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell

My rating: 4.9 of 5 stars

Any writing reference book, even a tip books, is hard to review. Because its information is presented in a small, quickly digestible bits, a lot can be covered, but not in great depth or detail. Instead of being tied down to one subject and sticking to it, it tries to cover a lot of ground, and some things might be repeated or familiar.

However, I found this tip book to be quite good, and want to read more of James Scott Bell’s works in the future.

The Art of War for Writers is a writing reference book filled with 70+ tips on the fiction writing life. Unlike The Tao of Writing by Ralph L. Wahlstrom, which applies the principles of Taoism to the craft of writing, The Art of War for Writers loosely borrows from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” by dividing the writing tips into three sections—Reconnaissance, Tactics, and Strategy—with a few quotes from the original “Art of War” scattered in between. The Reconnaissance section details pre-writing motivation; the Tactics sections gives tips on story craft; and Strategy primarily focuses on instilling writing habits while trying to market your novel. So if you happen to be a huge fan of Sun Tzu’s original piece and thought Sun Tzu’s exact quotes would be applied to writing, you’re out of luck there.

But if you’re looking for a good book fill with all kinds of writing tips, you’ve come to the right place. And while it had tips and tricks I’d heard elsewhere, I can’t say that this book was bad because of the fact that I’d heard these tips before. I am just one person. My knowledge and experiences while reading this book are not going to be the same as everyone else’s.

The only problem I had was not with the writing tips on their own, but how they were presented. In one instance, Bell recommends getting a copy of Writers Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents when searching for agents, but doesn’t recommend any other institutions. This is understandable given that he works for Writers Digest and is published by them, but it feels sort of cheap to try and promote one’s publishing company in a book that is already hurting for more text from its tip-book style. He also refers to other books on writing which he has written for deeper explanations to his tips, which feels like another ploy made to get me to buy a book from him.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire this book, his writing style, and his tips. I’d love to read another book from him as a result of reading this book. But for those sort of small marketing ploys, I feel a bit cheated and manipulated sometimes instead of empowered to write. These small little advertisements don’t happen all the time in the book, but the fact that they are there is a little concerning.

Yet out of writing books I’ve read so far in this style, The Art of War for Writers is a quick, flavorful read. The diagrams and illustrations that Bell provides in his encouraging, humorous manner are what make this tip book stand out. One thing to note, however, is that Bell assumes you are going to publish via the traditional route with an agent and publishing company. But the tips in this book can be applied to the self-publisher as well. It doesn’t hurt to have a hook or synopsis; it can ease the marketing part of the process.

Recommended for the beginning writer or intermediate writer looking for new strategies for attacking their problematic fiction.

View all my reviews


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