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How I Became a Famous Novelist

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  3,521 ratings  ·  761 reviews
What Pete Tarslaw wants is simple enough: a realistic amount of fame that will open new avenues of sexual opportunity; the kind of financial comfort that will allow him to spend his life pursuing hobbies such as boating or skeet shooting at his stately home by the ocean or a scenic lake; and perhaps most importantly the chance to humiliate his ex-girlfriend at her wedding. ...more
Paperback, 322 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Grove Press, Black Cat
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Sonnet Fitzgerald There is at least one scene that describes sexual activity, but not for long and not in a graphic way.

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Jul 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Melki by: John Box
Shelves: humorous-fiction
“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

Pete Tarslaw spends his days turning crappy themes written by wealthy teens into polished essays good enough for a college application. He never really thought about being a novelist until he sees best-selling author Preston Brooks being interviewed on TV. Pete considers said author to be full of shit, but is taken by the adoring young women shown in the audience at the writer's lecture to
MJ Nicholls
An uproarious assault on the sorts of manipulative middlebrow fictions that sit, with smug pastel or pastoral covers, on every highstreet booksellers’ bestsellers shelves and shift enough units to keep real writers impoverished for nine lifetimes. Next time you encounter someone talking up The Kite Runner or The Poisonwood Bible, slap them across the head with copies of Hely’s witty novel until the message is received that laziness in book choice kills. Bestsellers should come with warnings on t ...more
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
From what I can tell, slacker humor, as a sub-genre, is observant, slightly self-deprecating, very ironic, and inherently smart – all without appearing to try. This book’s got that and more. The most important part of the "more" is that it’s very, very funny. It’s a satirical look at the world of books: publishing, promotion, schlock, sensationalism, selling out, and above all, literary pretension. Pete decides that writing a bestseller will be the best way to save face, and to be in-your-face, ...more
Mar 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone on goodreads
Recommended to K by: Lena Phoenix, Jason Pettus
How to Become a Famous Goodreads Reviewer

1. Review a book that lots of people are reading.

Really great reviews of obscure books are often wasted efforts; even if you have a long list of devoted friends and followers, these reviews will not get you as much recognition as will reviews of hot, current reads.

2. Try to choose a book that has pulled on lots of people's heartstrings, a book which you can then rip as emotionally manipulative and mediocre.

The Kite Runner and The Guernsey Literary and Pot
Jul 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
This is a sly, often hilarious, satirical takedown of the current publishing scene. An invitation to his former girl friend's wedding pushes Pete Tarslow into an existential funk. He convinces himself that the only way to avoid losing face at the wedding is to become a bestselling author. Based on his examination of the NY Times bestseller lists, he develops a set of rules for writing a blockbuster novel.
A few examples illustrate their tongue-in-cheek nature:
Rule 1. Abandon truth.
Rule 2. Write
Lee Klein
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Funniest thing I've read in a while. Innumerable chuckles, chortles, snorts, and lots of LOLs. Recommended for writers "sick of all this lit shit." Read it thanks to reviews on here. Never heard of it. Gulped it down in 100-page days. Unputdownable. Perfect reproduction/satirization of craptastic literary styles, not to mention book expos, MFA programs, Oprah, author interviews, Hollywood types, Tom Clancy types. So many funny similes, asides, setups. And just when you think it's becoming too ja ...more
Jason Pettus
Jul 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Projects of metafiction (for example, books about authors writing books about authors) are notoriously difficult to pull off, simply because of the large circle-jerk factor involved, and the way such a project can easily spiral down into an endless navel-gazing masturbation session; now add the extra comp
Jul 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
When I was eleven and saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" at the theater with my family, we all enjoyed it so much that when it ended we stayed in our seats until the next screening and watched it again. For the first time, I have done the equivalent with a novel -- I got to the last page and started right over. "How I Became a Famous Novelist" is the funniest, most enjoyable book I've read in a very long time.

Steve Hely's satire of the modern book-publishing industry is acutely observed. The crazed d
John Martin
Jan 04, 2012 rated it liked it
I was going to detail what I liked and did not like in this book.
But then I reached Page 147.
I quote:

Book reviewers are the most despicable, loathsome order of swine that ever rooted about the earth. They are sniveling, revolting creatures who feed their own appetites for bile by gnawing apart other people’s work. They are human garbage. They all deserve to be struck down by awful diseases described in the most obscure dermatology journals.
Book reviewers live in tiny studios that stink of mothb
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor, favorites
The Set-Up

To impress his former girlfriend at her upcoming wedding, Pete Tarslaw decides to become a famous novelist. Figuring it couldn't be all that hard, he spends an afternoon at a bookstore studying bestselling books. His studies reveal the keys to a successful book:

Rule 1: Abandon truth.
Rule 2: Write a popular book. Do not waste energy making it a good book.
Rule 3: Include nothing from my own life.
Rule 4: Must include a murder.
Rule 5: Must include a club, secrets/mysterious missions, shy
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A former liberal-arts major and professional washout, Pete Tarslaw decides to write a bestselling novel in order to upstage his ex-girlfriend and pick up women at her wedding. Realizing that writing a plotty thriller is "exhausting," he decides to write a literary novel since "with literary fiction, you can just cover everything up with a coat of wordy spackle." He comes up with a book called "The Tornado Ashes Club," which is about man falsely accused of murder who drives off across America wit ...more
Aug 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lena by: The Week
Shelves: fiction
This book is an exceedingly funny send-up of the various problems with modern publishing. Pete Tarslaw is a twenty-something slacker who decides to write a best-selling novel to make a newly engaged ex-girlfriend jealous. The process by which he goes about this, and the fact that he actually succeeds, is sadly nowhere near as far-fetched as one might think.

As Pete relays his "creative process," he skewers formulaic books, cruel critics, numbers-obsessed publishing execs, earnest graduate studen
Luke Devenish
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Such a wicked piece of chicanery. Loved this. Very funny and very naughty. The spot-on lampooning of bestsellers and all the seemingly cynical formulae behind them was a scream, and all too horribly accurate - so much so, that I now feel positively enlightened! It's ruined them for me! The faux New York Times list was a riot. I wish I'd read this before I started writing books myself - I think I would have stolen a few of hero Pete's very well considered tips. His St Paul on the Road to Damascus ...more
Mar 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Hilarious send-up of the current literary “scene.” Hely’s protagonist, Pete Tarslaw, concludes, not unreasonably, that most acclaimed novelists are just big faking fakers who fake, from the James Patterson thriller types to the earnest, sappy Nicholas Sparkses. (Or rather the very funny fictional equivalents whom Hely invents.) But Pete takes it one step further, and decides to emulate them: he will crank out an intentionally bad—but sellable—“literary” novel and thus make big bucks, attain fame ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Gimmick novel about gimmick novel-writing

Not a top recommendation, but a funny quick read; but be prepared to roll your eyes.

Steve Hely's novel is funny and entertaining, though I feel that the novel is far more autobiographical than he'd want to admit. I obviously can't know that for sure, but I get the feeling that he may have even originally planned to write his own novel and thought about what might sell. Giving up on that, he used his thoughts as fuel for his character's aspirations to get
Jul 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
OMG! I LOLed so much I ROTFL'd! WTF?

Ok, srsly ... Steve Hely has a golden ear for bad writing, and for how writers behave in all their awfulness and charm, and his narrator is so malignantly cynical that even I, Mykle Hansen, more than once needed to put this book down and handle a kitten. The comic timing starts out good and gets better and better. The send-ups of recent bestsellers may seem dated in another ten years but right now they are like comedy crack. And then, folded into this bundle o
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This might be the book that reveals my true nature, though I sincerely hope it’s just a bad light. I believe in reading and I believe in writing, and I’ll argue up and down that if you write, you’re a ‘real’ writer. This might be book the book review, though, that exposes me for the literary elitist I am.

This is the book that I want to be required reading. There are a few books I feel this way about: To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451. Forget banning books; Literally force people to read this
Carolyn Kellogg
Jul 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Reviewed in the LA Times
August 16, 2009

If you love books, or know a little about the publishing industry, here are 10 reasons why Steve Hely's first novel, "How I Became a Famous Novelist" (Grove Atlantic/Black Cat: 322 pp., $14 paper), will hit you like "This Is Spinal Tap." In fact, in honor of Spinal Tap, let's crank that number to 11.

1. Hely has written for David Letterman and has a dry, sharp wit.

2. If anyone can write a rollicking satire of the publishing world, this is the guy.

3. Hely's p
Helen (Helena/Nell)
Jun 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
I bought this at an airport in a two for one deal. I bought it because I liked the idea of what it said on the back jacket" "A gleeful skewering of the publishing industry and every cliche of the writing life."

I like gleeful skewerings. But EVERY cliche? Maybe that was a wee bit too ambitious.

I think the book might have been very funny. It wasn't very funny. It had bits of wry and bits of amusing and bits of quite clever, but not very funny. Also I wasn't dead keen on where it went in the end, w
Jan 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was the funniest book I’ve read in a long while. Jilted Pete Tarslaw cooks up a plan to write a blockbuster novel, just to show the woman who got away. And heck, also to attract a fresh bevy of ardent bibliophiles, just like his adopted mentor, Preston Brooks, who is sort of a cross between Nicholas Sparks and Robert James Waller, and whose saccharine oeuvre includes “Kindness to Birds.” Tarslaw goes to work studying the bestseller lists and bookstore shelves, recording his astute and funny ...more
Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
For anyone who loves (to laugh at) books and the people who write them, HOW I BECAME A FAMOUS NOVELIST offers plenty to enjoy. In composing the fictional memoir of first-time novelist and literary scandal-monger Pete Tarslaw, comedy writer Steve Hely finds ways to gleefully skewer all forms of literary genre and pretension. The spoof New York Times Bestseller List (linked to in the Amazon Best of the Month Review above) is a classic in its own right and sets much of the tone for the whole book. ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by:
Shelves: read2010
I read a few reviews before writing my own, and wonder if people really thought this book was that funny, or they know it is supposed to be so that's how they talk about it. That would actually fit right into Pete Tarslaw, the 'hero' of the book, has discovered about the publishing industry - it is a farce! All you have to do is discover the magic formula, and you too can have a home in the Hamptons.

Some of the book was clever, one part in the beginning made me smile, but ultimately I won't reme
The bad [books]! These bad ones - terrible ones, ones that don’t even make sense and have adverbs everywhere and made-up words - they sell ten million copies and they make movies out of them. I used to cry every night, literally… because I thought I must be stupid. I had these dreams, every night, where everybody speaks some foreign language and I don’t know it.


It is impossible to say how much I enjoyed this send-up of modern literary trends. I recommend it for everyone in the pu
Jul 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, biting satire. This was one of the funniest books I have read in as long as I can remember, and it made me think long and hard about what I read, why I read it, and how those books make me feel. Through his main character Pete Tarslaw, Hely nails and skewers the modern literary industrial complex. One look at his mock NYT Bestseller List will have you rolling on the floor, or snorting up water on the subway while getting dirty/jealous looks from fellow passengers.

Protagonist Pete Tars
Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was so unbelievably funny that I've been trying to think of ways to describe it for several days. Laugh-out-loud funny? Hysterical? I rolled around on the floor in glee while reading it? So aptly satirical that at times I was frightened? I'm not sure if I've gotten it right, so I'll just leave it at: damn funny.

If you have any familiarity with books that are on the bestseller list (Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Sue Grafton) this novel will kill you. Or if you've ever read a "bo
Jul 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Hely sure does have his finger on our collective pulse! This book is hilarious, it's also very sad. Poor Pete, a would be writer, finds out the woman he's still pining for is getting married to a rugged Aussie so he hatches a plan to upstage her groom in prestige at the wedding by writing a runaway bestselling novel. He carefully researches what's currently on the best seller lists and makes his wry observations of why they're selling and to whom. Along the way he will make you fall on the groun ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pretty-good, humor
After reading one disappointing bestseller after another, many readers might ask "Why not only such trashy book could ever get published, and also selling like crazy? ". In that sense, Mr. Hely's book might help to offer some insight into why some books manage to become bestsellers(in some cases, despite of poor quality and cliches); and why some books still managed to be sold-off despite poor remarks from critics.

In his highly humorous works of satire, Mr Hely created a wannabe bestseller auth
Sep 24, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: humor, borrowed, adult, lit-fic
Pete Tarslaw's college girlfriend broke up with him on graduation day, and, several years later, he's still not over it. So when he gets the email announcing that she's engaged, he realizes he can't go to the wedding and tell people that he writes college entrance essays for idiots for a living... So he decides that he's going to become a famous novelist. After analyzing the NYT bestseller lists, he creates a list of 16 rules for bestselling books and starts writing.

I made it 80 pages into this
Oct 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Usually, an entry into the 'light humor' category would send me running screaming into the night, frantically searching for the $14 I just pissed away. Christopher Moore, for instance, usually makes me want to place a shotgun in my mouth. And also to kill myself.

Steve Hely falls firmly into this category. However. Hely DOES take it upon himself to eviscerate pretty much every wildly successful American author who has no right to be successful. The Pattersons, Browns, Cornwells -- they all get a
Fred Forbes
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I won't spend a lot of time rehashing the contents of this book since it has been very ably done in previous reviews. As a "constant reader", I thoroughly enjoyed this work - it is clever, creative, laugh out loud funny and one of the best I have read this year. (What is it with humour = yellow cover? Dave Barry's new book is also yellow.)

What I find a disturbing trend arose when I noticed on the back of the book "a paperback original". How is it that someone of Hely's comedic chops - writer for
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“Writing a novel— actually picking the words and filling in paragraphs— is a tremendous pain in the ass. Now that TV’s so good and the Internet is an endless forest of distraction, it’s damn near impossible. That should be taken into account when ranking the all-time greats. Somebody like Charles Dickens, for example, who had nothing better to do except eat mutton and attend public hangings, should get very little credit.” 51 likes
“I try not to hate anybody. "Hate is a four-letter word," like the bumper sticker says. But I hate book reviewers.

Book reviewers are the most despicable, loathsome order of swine that ever rooted about the earth. They are sniveling, revolting creatures who feed their own appetites for bile by gnawing apart other people's work. They are human garbage. They all deserve to be struck down by awful diseases described in the most obscure dermatology journals.

Book reviewers live in tiny studios that stink of mothballs and rotting paper. Their breath reeks of stale coffee. From time to time they put on too-tight shirts and pants with buckles and shuffle out of their lairs to shove heaping mayonnaise-laden sandwiches into their faces, which are worn in to permanent snarls. Then they go back to their computers and with fat stubby fingers they hammer out "reviews." Periodically they are halted as they burst into porcine squeals, gleefully rejoicing in their cruelty.

Even when being "kindly," book reviewers reveal their true nature as condescending jerks. "We look forward to hearing more from the author," a book reviewer might say. The prissy tones sound like a second-grade piano teacher, offering you a piece of years-old strawberry hard candy and telling you to practice more.

But a bad book review is just disgusting.

Ask yourself: of all the jobs available to literate people, what monster chooses the job of "telling people how bad different books are"? What twisted fetishist chooses such a life?”
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