Book Review: The Writer’s Rules by Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown has been a force of nature in the magazine publishing circles for decades.

Her name became synonymous with the name and success of the Cosmopolitan magazine as its longtime editor.  She is the author of many bestsellers, including Sex and the Single Girl.

“The Writer’s Rules: The Power of Positive Prose – How to Create It and Get It Published” is one of my favorite reference books on writing for 2 reasons:

1) Its “Fifty Rules for First-Class Writing” is really a list that all professional writers should read at least once a year. I do.

2) The insight into how to get your articles published in magazines is unmatched. If you listen to HGB, the chances are you’ll be a publishing success no matter what your chosen field of specialization and expertise is.

Since I’m not much of a magazine article publisher, for me, the main value of the book is in the 50 rules that Brown lists and explains with appropriate examples.

Here are the Top Six Rules that she says are her favorite:

RELATED ARTICLE:   2 Tips for Writing Better Prose

Rule #4: Stay with the subject.

Rule # 7: Vary sentence structure so you don’t keep seeing the same pronoun.

Rule #12: Avoid IT or THIS or THAT to refer to a situation a few sentences back … say this or that WHAT?

Rule #18: Eliminate as many THE’s, AND’s, A’s as you can.

Rule #19: Root out THERE IS at the beginning of the sentences.

Rule #43: Kill all the clichés and tired phrases.

Where else would find a list of “Forbidden Words and Tired Phrases” by topics, like “Animals” or “Money” or “Geography”?

Here are some of Brown’s rules for those trying to see their bylines in prestigious magazines; each rule explained in detail:

  1. Research the market.
  2. Send a query letter.
  3. Make the deal.
  4. Request an assignment letter.
  5. Become intimate with your subject.
  6. Write it right.
  7. Pay attention to the deadline.

Also recommended are the excellent chapter on the lost art of letter writing and a collection of sample resumes that you can use when querying the magazine editors.

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