Author: L. Perry Wilbur

Publisher: Piccadilly Books, Ltd.

ISBN: 9780941599917

Sometimes, you can tell a book by its cover.

The illustration on the cover of L. Perry Wilbur’s book, Writing and Selling Articles for Profit, features a cartoon-rendered writer, banging away happily at the keys of his laptop (we know he’s happy because he’s smiling), as paper money flies up from the screen and lands on a large, neatly stacked pile of money on his desk. Outside his brightly lit, money-filled office, the sun is shining and a few lazy white clouds drift just beyond the horizon. This is the writer’s world – and it could be yours, the cover strongly suggests.

The reality for most working writers is, I dare suggest, a bit different. The desk would as likely be stacked with bills and rejection letters as towers of crisp cash. The writer wouldn’t be smiling giddily – he’d be squinting, or sneering, re-considering some stubbornly resistant line of text. And the shades would be drawn – no distractions, no excuse for daydreaming. For many writers, writing articles – writing anything – is often as grueling as it is satisfying.

But that’s not the vision Wilbur is selling, and it’s probably just as well. The world has enough surly writers who obsess over craft and spend their days fighting with obdurate editors. Wilbur’s audience is that corps of magazine readers who flip through their favorite publications, secretly wondering whether they might ever live the dream of seeing their name in print. Wilbur is their cheerleader, their guide to the thrill of a literary life: “Every day, week, month, and year will be filled with adventures into the world of the true, the world all around you, even now. You will come to think of yourself as a seeker of truth, a storyteller of a thousand events, places, people, observations and ideas.”

Well, why not? Better to spend your days banging out adventures than banging your head against your desk, searching for just the right transitive verb. Wilbur’s approach to article writing is that anyone can do it. All you need is a positive attitude and an open mind. He spends almost as much time talking about where to find story ideas and living the writing life as the actual craft of writing articles. In fact, his discussion of the specifics of non-fiction writing pales in comparison to your average college composition textbook.

It seems rather churlish, however to point out what’s missing. Wilbur’s audience is the non-professional who would like to know what it takes to become professional. And if he focuses mostly on the rewards of the writing life, so what? If the reader takes the bait, maybe he or she will go on to read a few other books about craft, write a few articles, and begin a serious relationship with that fickle vixen, the writing muse.

In the meantime, there is a good deal of useful and uplifting information in Wilbur’s book, which is divided into four sections. Section one deals with the abstract joys of writing and the sense of accomplishment that seeing one’s byline in print provides. Section two focuses on generating story ideas (short answer: anywhere and everywhere). Section three is called “Practical Considerations” – a general discussion of how to get started in the writing world. And the fourth section, The “Mechanics of Writing Articles,” offers a breezy overview of everything from choosing article titles to the benefits of conducting interviews.

It took me a bit to warm to Wilbur’s thesis that anybody could achieve financially-sustaining freelance-writing success (and by success, he means dozens of article sales to professional magazines every month). I still think it takes a bit more than desire to achieve success in the increasingly competitive world of publishing. “If there’s an essential must for success in writing articles, it is simply a love for ideas and working with them,” he argues.

Apparently, that smiling writer on the book’s cover knows something many writers don’t know. Perhaps we’re too busy re-reading our rejection letters to notice the piles of cash just beyond our grasp.