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Writers.net: Every Writer's Essential Guide to Online Resources and Opportunities

Author: Gary Gach
Publisher: Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1997
Review Published: August 1997

 REVIEW 1: Will Winton

Since its inception, the virtual world has maintained an ongoing, cottage industry in what are colloquially known as "FAQs" -- Frequently Asked Questions. Originally contained in files on a server, FAQs grew into quickly photocopied instructions, on-line newsgroups, and with the rise of the World Wide Web, books. These books or user guides attempt to give a novice (or even an experienced user) the ability to make some sense of an increasingly chaotic Internet and Web. Ironically, the very notion of "virtual publishing" mitigating the need for actual, ink on paper texts has been subsumed by the very real pecuniary aspirations of traditional print sources. The result is an uneasy symbiosis, with the Web and the print industry playing off each others' strengths, while at the same time "papering over" some of the shortcomings of both.

Gary Gach's writers.net: Every Writer's Essential Guide to Online Resources and Opportunities is a typical example of the User Guide genre, containing a rather eclectic sampling of the various on-line resources available to the would-be writer. Indeed, Gach's book is familiar to anyone who has resorted to a traditional "users manual" when confronted with navigation issues on the Web. Filled with Web addresses and short descriptions of individual sites, the book fulfills an important role in becoming familiar and understanding the resources available to the writer on the Internet.

Gach divides his book into nineteen, reasonably organized chapters. Topics range from networking on-line to finding a particular site dedicated to children's writers. Each chapter features a short description of the general resources available on-line and more detailed descriptions of individual, topic-specific resources. The book primarily lists Web sites, but does discuss Gopher (a text-based Internet resource) and Usenets (open forums for on-line discussion). While this reviewer harbors no literary aspirations, he did find the sites featured in writers.net to be generally informative and quite in line with their descriptions in the book.

Indeed, it is the site listings that give the book its true worth. As anyone who has ever had to find a book, article, or journal well knows, the time wasted in the actual tracking down of said resource can be enormous. Writers.net presents a plethora of Web sites whose scope is wide ranging and thorough. As these sites are doubtlessly linked to others that may not be listed in the book, they provide a gateway whereby the aspiring author can discover for his or herself the resources tailored to their needs.

The book, unfortunately, suffers from two significant and, alas, all-too-common shortcomings. The first is a sort of wayward discursiveness that can drive the reader to distraction. This manifests itself in the folksy "advice" and "stories" offered by the author as a means of encouragement to the writer. While they make for enjoyable reading, they seem out of place in the context of a book whose primary goal is reference. Although Gach may have intended his work to achieve some other purpose, this reviewer found its strengths to be as a pure reference source. Writers.net will not teach one how to be a better writer. It will give one the tools to pursue one's craft in an on-line environment. In this light, Gach's use of erstwhile "literary" quotes at the beginning of each chapter is unnecessary. However, as Internet/Web literature goes, this informal style is quite the norm, having been influenced by the generally informal atmosphere of the Net.

The second and more troublesome shortcoming is one that, unfortunately, the author has little control over: the rapid pace of change on the Web. Sites are notorious for "coming and going." Although this can be the case with smaller, "one-person-show" sites, it can occur with larger sites, too. Perhaps the most prominent example is the "Politics Now" site, a joint operation of ABC Television and the Washington Post. Upon its initial launch, "Politics Now" was praised for its content and organization. Nevertheless, it suffered from the vicissitudes of life on the Web and folded. The transitory nature of both the Web and its technology places even the most thoroughly researched book at a distinct disadvantage. In other words, writers.net, for all of its thoroughness as a reference resource, has the potential of having a limited, if quite useful, shelf life.

Perhaps the most cogent and logical criticism that can be made of writers.net is that the book is more suited as a Web site than a printed text. His research is quite thorough and, quibbles as to his literary style aside, his text informative. This reviewer, however, could not help but wish that the reader could actually surf through writers.net, and use the links provided to find out more about the writing resources available. This lacuna only emphasizes the inherent problems raised when older modes of reference (i.e. books) attempt to embrace new and emerging concepts of communication (the Web).

Will Winton:
Will Winton is an artist. He earned his master's degree in American studies from the University of Maryland.  <wcwinton@hotmail.com>

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