Book Review: Book in a Month (BIAM)

I’ve decided to every so often do a short review on the book I am currently reading. In this case, it it BIAM. The UPC code is 9781582974866 (ISBN: 978-1-58291-486-6), the copyright is 2008, and it is available at Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon for about $22.

The author, Victoria Lynn Schmidt, says this work is from years of writing books and wishing that she had this or that all compiled into one book, and that it is intended to be the only resource needed for you (the book-in-a-month author) to write your novel. Shall we see what I think?

Does the book work/complete its goal of being the one and only resource needed to write a novel in 30 days?

One-word answer: Yes.

Could it be better?

Yes, it could, but it is a darned good start and is much better than many of the other writing resource books on my shelf. Some of the information is scant (such as imagery), and you need to know basics about writing, plot, and characters. It’s not a bad start, but it could be a little better by adding in just a little more explaining.

When I received the book as a Christmas gift from my brother, I expected to open it up and have it read like a textbook—or drill sergeant. You know, a “this is the topic of today, this is what it is, this is an example, this is an exercise, and this is your assignment to write” sort of thing. Perhaps I was under the wrong assumptions, and having expectations were the cause of my initial annoyance/disappointment. There are two issues with how the book is laid-out. First, you are 64 pages into the book before you even see the title “Week 1 – The Outline and Act I”. A good deal of those pages (43 to be exact) discuss time management, resistance to writing, and “buying” time to write. Yes, I think those are important, but I don’t think they are 67% of the introduction important, and I also do not think that spending 15 of the next pages talking about goals is that important, either. Maybe I’m being short-sighted, but my goal when I open that book (as a reader) is to write a book in 30 days, not fill out 30 pages of busy work before we even talk about the good stuff. To be honest, it is not much of an attention-getter and it does a good job of stifling the enthusiasm you need to get excited about a project. It is page 59 before we even talk about the “Book in a Month System”. Shouldn’t that go up to page 1? And why can’t those goals and time management skills sections be split-up into “tips and tricks” boxes throughout the first week’s worth of writing?

When you get into the actual day-by-day countdown, it becomes more of what I expected, with a “this is where you should be” check-in and worksheets that in many cases are helpful, though I found the Scene Cards to be good in theory, but not so good due to the sort of information the cards ask for. Why do we have sections for characters, setting, mood/tone, and scene objective, but no short description of the scene? Even only having enough space for something like, “Sally dumps Brad” or “Secret Agent Discovered” really makes the cards more useful.

The first week’s worth of day-by-day is very handy, but the guidance drops out from under you in Week 2. This is the second thing that gets me about the book layout—it makes reference to things like “turning point” and “reversals”  but doesn’t give you a reminder of what they are, and expects you to either remember the discussion from the first hundred pages, or requires you to go look it up. I wish the information were more evenly distributed, like when you need the info and not so much before you do. When your daily assignment is to brainstorm and give the character a minor victory, then plan your BIAM end-of-month party, it does make it more difficult to move through the book. I know there is no exact formula for novels, and you’re probably supposed to be so sucked into your own story that you don’t want guidance, but this is the time when you need it the most. Certainly there are things you should at least avoid while you’re in the middle of the river of book writing. I find it hard to believe there are no eddies or gators swimming through these currents of words and ideas. I’m just saying—talk about your saggy middle!

Week 3 gets better, and to be honest, I haven’t read into week 4 yet. I will edit this when I have to include my thoughts on how the book finishes.

Understand that I am being very analytical and doing reviews like this makes me wish I worked at a publishing company so I could better organize their books. We did this sort of review/critique/dissection a great deal during my technical writing class, so take my words for what they are and not an indication that I do not like BIAM. I do like BIAM. I am very glad to have it, and I am very glad to be reading it still.

If you get the chance to put BIAM on a gift-list, by all means do! It also is a good buy to get someone else who likes to write. All things considered, it is a solid book. I just wish they had taken a step back and realized they needed to rearrange the material so it was more user-friendly.

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