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Techniques of the Selling Writer

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  1,309 ratings  ·  179 reviews
Techniques of the Selling Writer provides solid instruction for people who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it. It gives the background, insights, and specific procedures needed by all beginning writers. Here one can learn how to group words into copy that moves, movement into scenes, and scenes into stories; how to develop characters, how ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published January 15th 1981 by University of Oklahoma Press (first published 1965)
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K.M. Weiland
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
I honestly can't believe I haven't stumbled upon this book before now. I can't even remember having heard about it, but perhaps I did and dismissed it as a marketing book based on its title. Suffice it to say, I'm glad I've read it now. Although dated in some of its presentation, this book is a gold mine of practical tips. Swain's advice on scenes and sequels and motivation-reaction units have long since entered the writing canon, and his thoughts on structure, character, and the writing life in ...more
Wilmar Luna
May 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All fiction writers
Recommended to Wilmar by: Randy Ingermanson
Techniques of the Selling Writer is quite possibly the most important book a budding author needs to read. Ignore the reviews that say the examples listed in the book are out of date or not well written, that misses the point entirely.

What this book does, and does well I might add. Is give you the basic foundation on what is important to include in your book and how to improve and refine your craft. It tells you the building blocks of writing an appropriate sentence or reaction and then reminds
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was very disappointed with this. It's a book that's full of commonsense tips stuffed with unnecessary explanation. I will agree that some of the information in the book is timeless, but it's nothing that can't be found online. What little useful information is available would be more appropriate in the form of a 100-tips blog post.

It's expensive for such an old book in e-book format ($16.17). Some of the verbiage was very strange and I had no idea what nor who many of the references in the
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: reference, writing
After coming across Jim Butcher, K.M. Weiland, and many others describing the usefulness of Swain’s scene-sequel format and motivation response units, I decided to go the source.

This book is dated. The author’s phrasing can be awkward, his examples are frequently sexist, and he refers to markets and tools that time has passed by.

But there is also a lot of good information in there.

And fairly frequently, Swain will present a concept or technique in his dated, awkward way, that somehow turns on
Patrick Sherriff
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
Sure, Techniques of the Selling Writer is showing its age. His language is at times inadvertently sexist, the brief section on the difference between heroines and heroes seems laughable now, and the advice on typewriter ribbons is quaint, but please dear reader, don't miss the wood for the trees. Accept that the book was written in 1965 and see what still applies -- so much does. His discussions of what makes a character compelling, how to construct scenes and above all, the importance of ...more
Jun 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing

Excited and sad.

Excited that this is an amazing book that FULLY and COMPELLINGLY covers the fundamentals of the craft of writing, and sad that I should've read this four years ago when I started writing.

Most of the books on writing have nuggets of advice that can be applied to your writing. Some of them make sense, some don't. You pick and choose what you like and move on and apply what you learned.

But this book!

So much of it is GOLD. Granted, they are really story fundamentals - what are
Stefan Emunds
Nov 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Reality can be impersonal, harsh, even nasty. But if we conquer a part or aspect of reality, it turns into our friend and ally. This book is tough on the author, but if he/she takes its principles to heart, it will put his/her writing on a new level. What is professionalism? Sticking to the right principles no matter what. Dwight knows what he's talking about. For more than twenty years he taught a professional writing program at the University of Oklahoma. This book reveals the principles that ...more
Timothy Frost
Oct 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Wannabe authors
I have a shelf full of 'how to write' books, but this is the one I keep returning to. I read it from start to finish before starting a novel and I read it again when I have finished, to see how I did.

You need to get past Swain's somewhat dated attitudes (complete with more than a little sexism). This book was written fifty years ago and it shows. Don't worry about it.

Every chapter is a gem. Swain breaks story-telling down into its constituent parts, then builds it up again, showing you how to
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: keeper, writing
When I first picked up my pen (keyboard?) to take writing seriously, I ran across Randy Ingermanson's website on How To Write The Perfect Scene. His explanation was a distilled version of what Mr. Swain discusses in this most excellent book.

Until I'd come across this, I floundered with how to write something compelling. I felt as if I was wandering around feeling how to do things with no understanding of underlying structure. The results were frustrating, disappointing and disheartening.

Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
THE very best how-to on the craft of writing fiction! The book was written in the 60's, as evidenced by some arcane phrases. But Swain is (was) a master at teaching the craft. He taught at the University of Oklahoma and the book is published by the University's press. I got my copy through Amazon for Three Bucks + shipping ($7 total) and I would gladly pay 10 TIMES THAT AMOUNT for the information presented!

Swain easily unpacks the process of building the novel and makes it understandable in
Jan 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
The short answer: There are many better books, period. This is the only book that I've ever returned.

Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies is Comprehensive and detailed with a plethora of examples. Two techniques, which I haven't seen described in this useful and epiphanic way in any other book, stand out: particularity and triage revising. (See my review:

Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book contains glimmers of insight into writing compelling fiction. I especially liked Chapter Two's section on vivid writing, and will likely refer back to it for inspiration.

Thankfully much of the great advice in this book is available from other books and websites, because Techniques of the Selling Writer is full of racism and misogyny. This may have been the norm in 1965, but in 2015, we should not need to slog through such disgusting, demeaning statements for the useful information they
Jan 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers of all kinds
Recommended to James by: Patrick Sherriff

Back in the pre-computer dark ages I was sentenced to cull the slush pile of a best forgotten magazine, Cthulu has nothing on that horror. Please read this book if you are writing popular fiction and stop the nightmares of innocent readers. Swain provides meticulous instructions on how to write basic pulp, even if you're a James Joyce wannabee, you should learn the basic forms before mutilating them. Literati will turn their nose up at this, the descriptions are
Katherine Owen
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books on the actual craft of writing that I've read. This is an excellent resource for the aspiring writer. I highly recommend this book.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
There's a fairly common idea about art in all media that learning technique risks moving toward a derivative product. But writing seems to get the worst of this, since it doesn't require any appearance specific technical skills in the way that painting or playing a violin might. I think it's a stupid idea in general, one that underestimates the extent to which all art is a product of cultural Evolution and imitation of precursors, and one that places an unjustified weight on the notion of an ...more
I haven't finished this yet, having had to take it back to the library before I could get through it. But I found a lot of nice practical tips in the part I did read, and will probably finish it at some point. I did find it a bit slow reading—perhaps that's because of the sheer density of useful information packed into Swain's concise sentences; or it may be because my mood/current circumstances weren't right for absorbing it quickly.

One thing to note briefly: in contrast to the last (excellent)
Steven Ramirez
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Originally published over forty years ago, this is still an excellent reference. Writers who are learning the craft as well as those who want to sharpen their skills should read this book. It’s filled with practical examples of what makes solid fiction that sells. Let’s face it, most likely we are not writing the great American novel. But if you want to make a living as a writer, this book just might help get you there.
Vicki Tyley
Jul 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An oldie but a goodie. After more than eight years of reading writing books and blogs, I’ve come across most – if not all – the techniques covered in this 1965 book. Mind you, it never hurts to be reminded. Techniques of the $elling Writer is actually one of those books that I wish I’d read when I was first starting out. A worthy addition to any writer’s bookshelf.
Megan Holstein
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I only got a few pages in before giving up. This isn’t to say it’s a bad book, but it isn’t for me.

For many years, I wrote in private. I’m only just now joining the world of writers, and I’m learning that writers have a certain style they use to talk to each other. And frankly, it kills me. They use too many ellipses, wind back and forth, and appeal too much to the sense of the artist.

This book has that disease. I’m sure it has many great things about writing in it, but reading it felt like
Chris Babu
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book on writing I've ever read, and I've read a lot of them. As the title denotes, it's targeted at aspiring writers who wish to publish their books. Swain is credited for solving "scenes" in that he decoupled how/why they work with his groundbreaking technique called MRU's (motivation reaction units). You can learn about MRU's in a zillion places now, but that only scratches the surface of everything this book has to offer. Some of the information (and even style/language) is ...more
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
This was EXCELLENT, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to write popular fiction.
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had considered giving 'Techniques of the Selling Writer' a low rating whilst reading, because for all its helpful and heartfelt writing techniques, planning and human insight, it does drag on for far too long. A few chapters in the middle are at least over 100 pages long, and the examples of good writing were not strong enough to sustain my attention; hence why it took me three weeks to finish the whole thing. For that it nearly put me off both writing and reading altogether. There is also the ...more
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
This is definitely going into my top 3 books about writing. I doubled back and re-read passages, not just because I was tired and distracted, but also because I could instantly see the implications for various stories I've written and/or am working on. I plan to go back and take notes on most of the book, because there's so much in here that I feel I, personally, need to absorb. It hit all my weak points as a writer, and the author's beliefs on why writers write, and how to do your own best work ...more
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've heard this described as the best book to read about how to write. I would be inclined to agree. It's extremely informative. I think novice writers would get a lot out of it, and even people like me (who've read a LOT of books about writing) could get some useful tips.

The title is not a misnomer. If you want to write literary fiction, this isn't the book for you. Swain teaches you how to write pulp. However, even if your artistic aspirations are a bit higher, there's still good advice that
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: personal-library
Beautifully written, endlessly helpful, with an absolutely insane amount of information for what seems like a thin book. Techniques of the Selling Writer breaks down the elements of the novel - the acts, the characters, the scenes - into their base components, and yet does not end up formulaic or rigid. He sets out guidelines upon guidelines, makes lists within lists like some crazed student and his study notes, and yet ultimately all he does is give us the heart of what a story is. The title ...more
Garrett Robinson
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book contains invaluable data for any writer (or indeed, a storyteller of any medium—screenwriters would benefit from it tremendously). The data, techniques and strategies enclosed will help you become a better writer.

However, paradoxically, I found the book to be incredibly hard to read. It seemed to violate its own advice, as it was kind of all over the place, and repeated the same things over and over again ad nauseum, far past the point of "repetition drills the point home."

Also, it has
Kerry Allen
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: research
My experience with "how to write" books is overwhelmingly that they are 250ish pages of self-congratulatory garbage containing, if you're lucky, one little applicable tip not already residing in your toolbox.

This one, while dated in presentation (going on 40 years since original publication and bristling with things No Longer Acceptable--I screech a little every time I see the example that begins "Thoughtfully, he wondered..."), contains chapter after chapter of sound writing technique.

Jan 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, owned-by-me
Good book, but the author's style often got to me as I was reading it. I think it has a lot of value to the writer, especially the beginner, but even seasoned pros could glean something from this book.
M.J. Summers
Jun 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There is a reason this book has continued selling since 1965. It's because it's a brilliantly insightful look at writing and selling your work. A must read for any writer!
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: junk
There's a lot of text for a succesion of if... than... else... repeat. Maybe the editor is paying by the word. Talking about creative writing!
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Dwight Vreeland Swain's first published story was "Henry Horn's Super Solvent", which appeared in Fantastic Adventures in 1941. He contributed stories in the science fiction, mystery, Western, and action adventure genres to a variety of pulp magazines.

He joined the staff in the extremely successful Professional Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma training writers of commercial fiction
“To be a writer, a creative person, you must retain your ability to react uniquely. Your feelings must remain your own. The day you mute yourself, or moderate yourself, or repress your proneness to get excited or ecstatic or angry or emotionally involved...that day, you die as a writer.” 6 likes
“A story is the record of how somebody deals with danger.” 4 likes
More quotes…