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How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights

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This may come as a shock, but brilliant writing and clever wordplay do not a published author make. True, you’ll actually have to write if you want to be a writer, but ultimately literary success is about much more than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys). Before you snap your pencil in half with frustration, please consider the advice writer, teacher, and self-made lit star Ariel Gore offers in this useful guide to realizing your literary dreams. If you find yourself writing when you should be sleeping and scribbling notes on odd pieces of paper at every stoplight, you might as well enjoy the fruits of your labor. How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead is an irreverent yet practical guide that combines solid writing advice with guerrilla marketing and promotion techniques guaranteed to launch you into print—and into the limelight. You’ll learn how to: • Reimagine yourself as a buzz-worthy artist and entrepreneur• Get your work and your name out in the world where other people can read it• Be an anthology slut and a brazen self-promoter• Apply real-world advice and experience from lit stars like Dave Barry, Susie Bright, and Dave Eggers to your own careerCheaper than an M.F.A. but just as informative, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead is your catapult to lit stardom. Just don’t forget to thank Ariel Gore for her inspiring, hands-on plan in the acknowledgments page of your first novel!

265 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2007

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About the author

Ariel Gore

33 books308 followers
ARIEL GORE is the author of We Were Witches (The Feminist Press, 2017), The End of Eve (Hawthorne Books, 2014), and numerous other books on parenting, the novel The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, the memoir Atlas of the Human Heart, and the writer’s guide How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness in January 2010.

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5 stars
221 (35%)
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243 (39%)
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124 (19%)
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29 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 140 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny Fosket.
Author 1 book15 followers
June 25, 2009
Ariel Gore has been unknowingly stalking me since we were both at Mills College over 15 years ago. When I was pregnant with my first daughter her Hipmama book, zine and website (and now defunct but once awesome discussion board on the website) hurtled me into a world where mothering, politics, creativity, activism, and intellectual musings were all inextricably combined. Now, her latest book has come out just in time to feed my novel writing dreams and fantasies. It’s filled with inspiration, humor, practical advice and fascinating interviews with great writers. Thanks Ariel! I'll be looking out for your menopause book in another decade or so.
Profile Image for Sara Habein.
Author 1 book65 followers
August 7, 2010
What I like about this book is that while it has certain indie-hippie undertones, it doesn’t make any judgements one way or another about what the ‘best’ way to publish is. Self-publish, find an agent, make your own zines, start a blog, go for the big publishing house deal — do whatever works for you. “Be as crazy as you are,” she says.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to people just beginning the writing process — better to get books that concentrate more on craft for that — but for anyone who has waded in a little or anyone who feels they might be stuck in a success-rut, it can’t hurt to give some of this advice a try.

(Full review can be found at Glorified Love Letters)
Profile Image for Timothy.
Author 2 books12 followers
March 31, 2008
It's sort of embarrassing to be caught reading this book, because of the title. Or I felt that way, anyhow. But I'm owning up to it here. It filled me with a kind of firey energy for both producing writing and getting it out into the world. In that sense, it was very useful. It's pragmatic and doesn't really romanticize "the writing life." I liked that. I also liked that it discussed both how to get published and also self-publishing of various forms.
Profile Image for Julene.
Author 14 books52 followers
December 1, 2009
I certainly enjoyed this book, especially the interviews with cutting edge self-promoted writers. Mostly geared towards fiction or memoir writing, she talks about book proposals and how to set up tours. As much as I enjoyed this book, I kept wanting to get more out of it than I did. It's a good fast read that at some level inspires, but for me it had a level of discouragement because I can't put on a pink tutu to get readers into my readings, I just can't. She can and did. It's a different generation than I am and I don't think I have that kind of energy, which saddens me.

I was hoping for information on how to set up blog tours for poets, something many are doing now. If anyone has a clue, I'm trying to figure this out. The book talks about writing blogs and other ways of using them. I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the blogs out there, any good reference books on this? Or are there just too many for anyone to track them all? That's my guess.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 13 books34 followers
February 21, 2008
a truly inspiring, pleasurable read, even for a writer who's been at it a while. ariel gore is not only hilarious and brilliant, she's encouraging in a non-sappy, un-condescending way. plus, she's brazen as anything in her determination to get her work out there. by the end of this book, you will be too. i think this book would be helpful for artists/photogs/etc too, just like anne lamott's bird by bird is. also, i thought the dave barry interview alone was worth the price of admission.
Profile Image for Letitia.
1,039 reviews85 followers
June 11, 2019
This is one of the more entertaining how-to writing books, but it's difficult to rate because it's just...a lot. Like, way more than necessary. Feels spastic and unfocused, despite being divided into easily digestible numbered snippets.

There are some true gems in here, I have to say, and this will be useful to SOMEone, although I'm not sure who since portions of it read like a "How to Write For Dummies" (in the best way) and others are assuming that you have a publishing contract and you're hitting the road to promote the Great American Novel. So I guess if you've literally never gone to a writing conference or writer's group, and don't have a mountain of advice on writing and publishing, sure, this could be a catch-all for every stage of that process.

But do you NEED to read it? I didn't but I've done the aforementioned conferences/groups/mountains of advice, and really the only part I took something significant from was the interview with Bertice Berry, from which I plucked this new life mantra: "When you walk in purpose, you collide with destiny."

Other than that, Gore's main thesis is the same as everyone else's when you ask them for advice, techniques, hints, leg-ups...write. Just effing write. Also, remember that publishing is subjective and all your favorite writers, all the WORLD's favorite writers, have been rejected. This is the life of writing. I think we've all observed that, and maybe just have to be reminded of it by someone who gets paid to write. I've certainly read sub-mediocre writers and thought "Good God if she can get published then I'm basically Faulkner" but I've also definitely read amazingly brilliant writers who made me want to throw my laptop away and never try to be excellent at anything ever again. If I couple those two sensations, I figure I'm a somewhat good writer, and dammit somebody out there wants to publish somewhat good writing.

So that, in a nutshell, is the book. Write. Write. Don't give up on publishing. Oh, and write.
Profile Image for Unwisely.
1,370 reviews12 followers
March 13, 2018
I am not sure how I stumbled on this - I had vague memories of reading The Hip Mama Survival Guide: Advice from the Trenches on Pregnancy, Childbirth, Cool Names, Clueless Doctors, Potty Training, and Toddler Avengers at some point in the past, probably because Ariel Gore wrote for Bitch or Bust or one of those magazines I used to get. It was before I did logging, so I only have vague memories (although I think that book was the reason I own a Bikini Kill album).

That said, this book - which has personal advice as well as interviews with people I mostly hadn't heard of but have now looked up - really got me motivated to actually submit some writing somewhere. Or, at least, think about doing so. I have flagged some of the exercises and will type them up to send to my writing partner before I send it back to the library. And I actually wrote an outline of something I've been fiddling with for a couple years now. So - it didn't just make me think I should write more, I actually did a couple things. And it got me thinking about promotion.

Useful and inspirational for a dabbler like me!
Profile Image for Pauline.
22 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2012
I have a total girl-crush on Ariel Gore in the I Want To Be A Writer Like She Is When I Grow Up sense. All of her books are amazing, and this one is one I consider a must-read for any writer working on building their platform.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
396 reviews24 followers
May 25, 2016
An excellent read... not sure if I would add this to my permanent collection, but I know I can get it from the library if I need to look something up. She is very encouraging and supportive of getting your writing out there. Her approach is authentic and friendly.
Profile Image for shannon.
241 reviews
June 10, 2019
Practical advice about the writing/publishing process. Humorous. Includes writing prompts from several established writers.
Profile Image for Danny Aldham.
73 reviews8 followers
December 12, 2019
I just finished reading ‘How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead’ by Ariel Gore. It was a book I picked up off the shelf while wandering through the 808 section of the North Vancouver City library. The title is light and funny and a little outrageous. The book follows in that impression.
Reading this book I felt like I had happened across an interesting stranger in a coffee shop or brew pub, struck up a conversation, and had then found myself held captive by the stories, language, attitude and enthusiasm. Quite simply, this book is fun.
Ariel Gore has a sharp mind, and her wit and intellect come through on every page. She has a ‘can do’ attitude that creates an infectious energy in the reader. Sure it will be hard work to become a famous writer before you’re dead but here is how to get started. Come on, let’s go.
I saw some parallels to  A. L. Kennedy’s ‘On Writing’ essays. Both women have done stand up comedy work and that busy, active mind comes through in spades. 
Funny, quirky even, the book is a bit of a thrill ride. Wait, slow down I think, I need to write this down. But then I realize it is a book, not a conversation, and I can go back at my leisure. 
She finds she cannot get the reclusive Haruki Murakami to sit down for an interview. No problem, she will just imagine the conversation, thereby ‘Showing rather than Telling’ that imagination can overcome so many obstacles.
Short chapters keep it moving, and the real or imagined exercises give the reader great take aways. 
Like most writers, I am a little shy and introverted. Whether I can put these directions into real action might be a stretch. But I think the plan and directions are solid.  
Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Filip.
863 reviews35 followers
May 15, 2017
I must admit I really enjoyed this one. It was funny, informative and surprisingly comprehensive. The style in which was written makes me want to try other books by the author, even though the genre isn't really my cup of tea.

This comprehensiveness is also a bit of downside, as the book doesn't only focus on writing and publishing fiction, but thanks to it, anyone would be able to find hints and advice that can be useful for him.

The only problem I had with the book, and it is not the fault of the book itself, is that the advice presented here is clearly aimed at the US publishing markets and some information and suggestions - like about publishing zeens and organizing tours, don't necessarily correspond well to other countries.

I liked it though and I just hope it would give me the courage to try.
Profile Image for Herb.
Author 4 books12 followers
February 18, 2018
One of the members of our nascent local writers' group describes herself as a "Post-It Writer." She writes things that are a few words at a time. She hates to read.

She'd love this book.

Bloggy. Fizzy. Nothing that demands your attention for more than thirty seconds at a time. Three pages per chapter, on average.

But I'm giving it four stars despite its effervescence, because it's the clearest thing I've ever read regarding the fact that every writer is responsible for doing everything she can to make her own way. No waiting around to be discovered, no moping because the muse took a vacation. Just go. Just GO, already! She makes self-promotion sound plausible (and even secretly a little enjoyable) to committed introverts like me.

I've done some different kind of promotional work this weekend because I read this book, and I think she'd call that a win.
Profile Image for Rui.
1 review
September 3, 2018
Though some parts sound cliche, this book is very helpful for putting future writers on track. I have read several books doing the same thing, mostly written by men, but none of them sounds so accessible and inspirational like this one. It is a must-read for anyone who harbors unrealistic expectations for this writing career or feels thwarted by the impossible mission of lit stardom. What I like most about the book is the interviews with other published writers that talk so frankly about writing. Ariel's inside knowledge and fascinating quotations (I am glad that she quoted Wei Hui, a rare quotation coming from a western author) sound humbly honest. I have really learned a lot from this book. Thank you.
Profile Image for Cassandra.
2 reviews17 followers
September 13, 2017
I absolutely loved this book. It focused more on the publishing and marketing aspects of authorship than writing technique, covering everything from self-publishing, finding an agent, organizing a book tour, and writing a book proposal. Gore also covered some of the less glamorous aspects of being a writer, like making ends meet financially or facing rejection letters. The overall point Gore made was not to wait around waiting for a book deal to fall in your lap - if you want your story published, you have to get out into the world and make it happen.
Profile Image for Laura Connell.
66 reviews52 followers
February 18, 2019
I enjoyed this book for writers on how to publicize your book (and yourself). She dedicates it to an aspiring author who died very young before Gore got a chance to mentor her.

She writes in a lighthearted way with short chapters and interviews with successful authors giving advice on what worked for them, what to avoid, tips and tricks.

Inevitably, the book is a little outdated and needs to be revised for the current technological climate. However, lots of great encouragement here for aspiring and fledgling authors.
Profile Image for Sassafras Lowrey.
Author 26 books176 followers
May 8, 2017
Ok so clearly I've been living under a rock (for 10 years?!) this book is fantastic. I wish I'd read it when I was just starting to build my little literary career out of my zinester foundation - would have made me much less nervous I was doing everything wrong. People always ask me "how do i become a author" and now instead of trying to summarize my ideas on the topic I can just send them to this book! woohoo!!!
Profile Image for Missy.
Author 2 books7 followers
June 23, 2019
By the time you finish this book you’ll have no excuse for not becoming a famous writer. Some of the publicity advice may seem more relevant when the book was published (what with the social media/web2.0/smartphone paradigm shift of the last decade) but not so fast: on-the-ground punk rock engagement still has the ability to wow an audience, perhaps now moreso.

But the bulk of advice is big-sister encouragement and rock solid advice I wish I would have read earlier.
Profile Image for Ashley Maden.
77 reviews1 follower
February 28, 2023
As a writer, this book felt like a giant hug from a fellow writer who has been through the hardest parts of the craft, and learned some things along the way.

This book represents why I love books and reading so much, the ability to communicate with another person about anything throughout space and time, and it dives into that concept so eloquently.

I will definitely keep this book around and read it when I need some fresh perspective or inspiration for writing.
Profile Image for Ery Caswell.
192 reviews17 followers
July 29, 2017
its a fun read ((or partial-read)). scan the list really and pick up & move on at parts that seem pertinent to you. I like Gore's voice throughout. and a helpful distinction made b/w writing for the self vs writing to be a writer and to publish and who to write to.

"But eventually, journaling to become a writer started to feel like playing with buckets of salt water to become a surfer."
Profile Image for Kimberly Diaz.
48 reviews
February 11, 2022
This book's hilarious title drew me to it. Since then I've read it and referred to it again and again. Ariel interviews successful writers and they provide advice for aspiring writers. I found it helpful and great fun to read. One of the most useful and practical "so you wanna be an author kind of books.
Profile Image for Jedediah Smith.
Author 6 books1 follower
July 6, 2017
Silly but mostly harmless. Except she doesn't know what adverbs are.
80 reviews
May 23, 2019
I was so sad that she didn't get to share this information with her friend before she passed away. I'm glad she shared her advice with the rest of us.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Susan Howson.
671 reviews28 followers
June 17, 2019
I bought this to inspire a friend and decided to read it first, and I figured out what I suspected after We Were Witches... I love Ariel Gore and I’m going to read all of her books.
17 reviews
March 2, 2016
I actually really enjoyed this book and it's a good reminder that the only way to get better at a craft, is to practice.

She DOES note several things that you can do to improve your writing and how to go about actually making a name for yourself in the industry. So it's not a fluff book like a lot of "helpful books" out there that talk about positive attitudes and crap.

I recommend this book if you plan on trying to become a writer of any sort.

Here are some of my jumbled notes on the book:

The first step to writing is to write. A lot of people have dreams and things just in their imagination sitting around doing nothing, and the first step is literally to just write it. Even if it means a bunch of scribbles on a piece of paper of your idea. The glory of being a writer is that you can re-write.

I particularly like: “If you believe you have a hundred years to live, imagine you only have one.”

Next step, dream. If you can’t imagine the life you want, then no amount of “squirreling” will get you there. Imagine yourself in a magazine or at opening night.

Try not to talk too much about your book because that might ‘scatter it to the wind’. It might throw off your habit of writing because you’ve told it so many times why keep doing it?

Don’t listen to nay-sayers. People will often try to get you to do things that will hinder your improvement. Set boundaries.

There will be those who attempt to plagiarize or “shadow” you. Cut them off as quickly as possible if they will not credit you.

Don’t let arrogance get to you. Other people’s or your own when peopel start to recognize you.

Potentially copy by hand your favorite author’s books to see and feel through their perspective how they write. Write the thing you most want to read. Remember that they too started out from just a blank paper.

Writing takes a lot of practice. There are no secrets to literary mastery.

Background - Daily Life, etc.
Away - Character faces a crisis, leaves known for unknown.
Thicken Plot - Complication of further conflict, faces tests, bumps in the road,
Darkest Hour - worst-case scenario happens
Return to old world - change of events over time or immediately that enables them to resolve their problem - dont need to tie up ALL the loose ends

Jump around? Chronological? Back in time?

Try to get rid of adverbs.

When you get a chance to, get out there, write anything you can write. If you can find an agent, great, if not, don’t worry about it.
Self-publish, publish for friends, edit for friends, start a local reading.

Start your own zine and work to promote it. Maybe try to get a job at a magazine company or a publishing company.

Submit your essays and short stories to anthologies. Sometimes anthologies will never see the light of day. Can google for anthology submission calls.

Write a proposal.
If you write a proposal you can detail what you’re going to write rather than finish the entire thing.
Faux propsal - Summary of the storyand the marketing strat. Sum it up.
Standard Proposal Consists of: Title page, the proposal contents, introduction, a table of contents for the book you’re going to write,a one-page author bio highlighting your writing credits and unique qualifications to write this book, a one-page analysis of the competitive titles that shows how your book is going to stand out from the others on the same subject, a one-page marketing plan, a brief statement on time that you need to complete it, and three sample chapters.
The fewer writing credits you have, the more substantial your proposal will have to be.

Get an Agent.
If you want to publish with a big house, you’re going to need an agent. Oftentimes they get a percentage of royalties. They usually work on commission. Target agents by looking at the acknowledgements pages of books you like and books that are similar to yours. (Authors tend to thank their agents). Google the name to get contact info and if the agency has a web site, read everything on it, especially the submissions guidelines. Don’t submit by email unless you find specific instructions to do so. Don’t send your whole manuscript unless the agent asks for it. Your query letter should be brief, no more than a page. Include: contact info, agents name, request that they read the manuscript, a mention o fwhere you got their name, the titleof your book, a brief summary of the books genre and story, a few similar titles the agent has successfully represented, and your publishing reidts, a thank you, and a sign off.
Format like a cover letter.

Previous pubs/awards/affiliations.
Credentials that speak to the project at hand.
Knowledge of publishing house’s lists.
Some knowledge of the market that isn’t dated.
Profile Image for Smartiekat.
1 review
June 25, 2007
Reading The Hip Mama Survival Guide for the first time changed my life. I graduated high school in 1994 a new teen mama, and by 1998 had been married and separated, learned to live on welfare, and was now in the midst of coming to grips with my queer self. I think I inherently knew that there were at least four things parents were not supposed to be: teen, single, poor, or queer. But Ariel had something else to say. (If you don’t already know, check out the Hip Mama zine.)

Well, Ariel’s done it again with How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. Thanks to her ever practical and accessible, but above-all inspirational, advice, I have discovered that I just might be a rising lit star, against all odds. If you think you might also be a lit star in the making, or if you’ve ever entertained a notion that you think you, maybe, just might, have something to say to the world in print (and you know you do), please, please, open this book.

I’ve been a bit frustrated at my inability to muster more gusto in tackling my summer reading list. I’m starting to realize that I can handle comics, poetry, and humorous books with REALLY short chapters, but anything more poses considerable challenge. But that’s ok, Ariel’s chapters range from ½ page to 10 pages, so I could breeze swiftly through at least one or two on even the shortest subway ride or stint on the toilet. And… while my lack of remarkable reading ability may make me both a pathetic grad student and the black sheep in my house of bookworms, according to Ariel, it need not dampen my lit star ambitions.

But, then Ariel always tells me what I need to hear. Don’t know how you made it to grad school because you can’t make it through the so-called-classics, that’s ok. Read what you like, read that you want to write. Great. Bring on the comics and poetry. Don’t know how to talk, that’s ok, me too, do a reading anyway. Well, ok.

And she makes it sound so easy. Well, not easy. She actually makes it sound like a pretty damn lot of work. But she makes it sound possible. I write a daily haiku blog, have a zine (or two) in the works, and have a treasured little start-of-a-comic that’s been shelved for the past 5 years. I’m well on my way!

And that’s not all. As an extra bonus, the book is filled with the perspectives of other fun rock stars that you’re dying to be like, including Michelle Tea, Susie Bright, Margaret Cho, and my all-time favorite writer and queen-of-it-all, Erika Lopez. Plus a wonderfully inventive conversation with Haruki Murakami.

After 10 years of awe and gratitude. I finally had a chance to meet Ariel this spring at Bluestockings bookstore and hear her read from this book. Since I, like Ariel, am still learning to talk, I had a hard time mustering anything much to say. But she graciously signed my tattered copy of the Hip Mama Survival Guide and in my head I said something like this: Sometimes we all need a little reassurance, a sense of validation, and some instant encouragement. Thank you Ariel, and please keep it coming. You are a superstar!

Profile Image for Christina Butcher.
Author 8 books9 followers
December 3, 2015
Dear authors waiting for publishers to finally get back to you with bad news, poets tired of pasting rejection letters on your bathroom wall, and novelists hiding in basements while clutching your manuscript for dear life, Ariel Gore has something to say to you: If you want to become a famous, successful author before you die, you need to get off your butts and do it yourself. Publish your own book, write and send out your own zines, and have some faith in your ability, for goodness sake. In her wonderful and sassy book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights, Ariel Gore sets the tone for underground, DIY marketing and publishing for writers at any level.

From start to finish, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead is filled with wit and sass as Gore convinces readers to take their future into their own hands. Once you start reading, it will become clear that this book is an amazing resource for aspiring and established authors alike. With just under 300 pages, this book is chalk full of interviews from well-known authors, writing exercises, and practical advice on how to get your writing out into the world, once and for all.
Ariel Gore uses each chapter to focus on different aspects of writing, editing, and convincing writers that they are more than capable of crafting their work into a tangible book. As a fellow DIY, independent author and publisher herself, Gore gives readers hope that if they just break down the seemingly monumental task of writing a book (and everything that comes along with it, like editing, publishing, marketing, etc.) into small steps, they can publish their work in no time. Gore emphasizes to readers that you don’t have to be a ‘somebody’ or have connections with a fancy publishing house to create meaningful work. You just have to have talent, heart, and a whole lot of grit.

The biggest takeaway from How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead is that if you truly want to become a famous writer, you have to rely on your own hard work and ingenuity. You have to write, as often and as meaningfully as you can, and then you have to get that writing out into the world by any means necessary. Go to poetry readings, host local reading parties, schedule book launch events, contact book sellers, and anything you can to make sure your work has a fighting chance in the world.

I can honestly say that this book is a great resource for up-and-coming authors, and as a fellow writer myself, I’ve already started using Gore’s writing exercises and tried to follow her sage-like advice. This book stresses the value of self-promotion, having fun, and putting yourself and your work out on the line. As a writer, a reader, and a book reviewer, I think this book is amazing. Enjoy reading!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 140 reviews

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