Narrative Magazine Is Selling a Fiction Craft Book for $225

by Kelly Luce

Few things can throw me into a rage. Mostly only gun nuts, racist email forwards, and men who tell me to smile. Add to that today’s I-just-barfed-in-my-mouth announcement of Narrative co-founder Tom Jenks’ 400-page, six (6)-chapter craft book, humbly titled A Poetics of Fiction, priced at $225. No, I didn’t misplace the decimal point.

Just in time for Christmas!

Jenks, whose magazine charges writers $23 to submit stories and yet fills many of its slots with solicitations, defends the book’s hefty cover price in this morning’s email blast: “It represents a relatively small amount compared to what I charge for material given in much smaller portions in workshops and tutorials. The book represents an extremely good value in terms of how it can help you across a lifetime of writing.”

What’s inside? Magic spells? An invitation to Yaddo? Roofies for agents and publishers?

Tom Jenks wants you to think he’s doing you a favor by charging only ten times the cost of a normal hardcover. And even though you’ve never heard of him, he’s clearly talented; just look at how he manages to type one-handed (the other hand is patting his own back) the following deluded self-love: “…the information in A Poetics of Fiction is more than useful — it’s essential and not readily available anywhere else.” The 1,523 books that searching “craft of writing” brings up on Powells.com must not cover, as Jenks’ book promises to, “diction, point of view, characterization, patterns of imagery, plot, and theme.”

This is such bullshit, and it’s offensive to writers who have written both critically acclaimed, beloved works of fiction as well as fine craft books — many of which discuss diction, point of view, characterization, patterns of imagery, plot, and theme. And they cost less than thirty bucks.

Jenks, interestingly, feels the need to justify himself further. “Over the years, I’ve received positive feedback from many students and authors,” he promises. He chooses as a lengthy example (the testimonial takes up almost half of the 1200-word announcement) praise from a student “who as an undergraduate at Princeton, studied with Toni Morrison.” Why is it important that she went to Princeton and, while there, studied with Toni Morrison?

It just is. Just like it’s important that he name-drop Raymond Carver in the third paragraph. Because if there’s one writer the poor suckers who have enough money to buy this book have heard of, it’s Raymond Carver, who died 27 years ago.

Save your money. Buy a plane ticket to see your mother instead. She misses you. And if you or the writer in your life is looking for a craft book, I leave you with this:

11 Essential Craft Books You Can Buy — All of Them, Together — for Less Than Tom Jenks’ Craft Book:

Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose

On Writing, Stephen King

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern

The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays From Tin House

Burning Down the House, Charles Baxter

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway

Wonderbook, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer

Naming the World, Bret Anthony Johnston

Ron Carlson Writes A Story, Ron Carlson

How Fiction Works, James Wood

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