Review: “The Book in a Box Method” by Tucker Max & Zack Obront

Try to get this around your head: A book on how to write a book by Tucker Max.

If you do not know who Tucker Max is, here is his self-introduction from TuckerMax.com:

My name is Tucker Max and I am an asshole. I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead. But, I do contribute to humanity in one very important way. I share my adventures with the world.

His best selling book, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, is a memoir chronicling his frat boy antics. You can read some of the stories in his book on his website. He published three more books in the same vein, before writing the book I am reviewing here.

Before you bulk at the thought of getting writing lessons from the same man who tried to secretly video tape having anal sex with his girlfriend (yes, you can read that story on his website too), you have to understand that this man is also the mentor to Tim Ferriss, of The Four Hour Workweek fame.

The Book In A Box Method explains how busy professionals can write non-fiction books about their professional expertise with minimal effort through a combination of efficient outlining and dictation. Max currently runs Book in a Box.com, a full service book production firm that helps busy people publish non-fiction books by having them dictate over the phone. The client is asked to talk on the phone for a total of about twelve hours and the firm does the rest. This book explains how the firm operates and instructs would be writers (who may or may not be able to afford their services) how to efficiently write non-fiction books the Tucker Max way.

With a little imagination, the book can be useful for the fiction writer as well, although the overall efficiency may bog down somewhat. I classify all books on writing on a three dimensional graph with three axis, plotter-pantser, inspirational-instructional, beginner-advanced. This book is all about outlining in advance, and highly instructional, but is hard to place on the beginner-advanced scale. If you want to take this book at face value and use it to write a non-fiction book on, say, how to build a canoe, the book is very easy to understand, the principles are straightforward, the application is relatively simple, and the book, a slim volume of 129 pages, is a quick read. If you want to apply the principle to writing fiction, however, you would have to be an experienced and knowledgeable writer who has done a lot of writing excercizes and is thoroughly familiar with plotting and outlining fiction. You would also have to have a somewhat detached attitude toward your fictional world, which is a rare attribute for story tellers. So if you are to use this book for writing fiction, I would have to say that this book is for advanced writers only.

Dictating books, both fiction and non-fiction has been tried in the past with varied rates of success. Max succeeds by acknowledging that the spoken transcription is a different language from written text, and that editing process is more of a translation. He proposes writing the edited text directly on top of the transcribed text or, as a translator would do, write the edited text side by side on the screen next to the transcribed original. You do not delete and correct the transcribed text as you would a written text. For anyone who actually spent any time translating, this makes a lot of sense.

It is not the same thing as Hemmingway’s dogma “First drafts are always shit.” You do not treat the transcription as a first draft, but as something in a different language.

The rest is quite familar. You start out with a focussed objective of what you want to write, for what audience, to what effect. You create a detailed outline punctuated with questions that need to be answered. You insert good openings, transitions, and conclusions to every section, large and small, of your book.

The book is, of course, partly a promotion for his business. As such, it is generous with its secrets, but candid about the problems of doing it alone. If I were to write a non-fiction book about my professional expertise (of my day job, that is), I might employ his services (with the added benefit of being able to brag that I wrote a book with Tucker Max).
Depending on his rates, of course.

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