I’m a sucker for “how to write a novel” books and when How to Grow a Novel was on sale, I picked it up as I was interested in Stein’s perspective not just as a writer but also as an editor and publisher.
There’s some good stuff here and the advice is practical and precise, if sometimes contradictory. Stein both advises writers to read their own work aloud–and to not do so (because novels are read, not heard). He offers some genuinely interesting glimpses into how the book publishing business works (or at least worked, as the book was originally published in 1999, predating the rise of self-publishing through e-books).
I enjoyed the use of specific excerpts to underline the points being made but was less enthused with the self-promotion. The book Stein recommends the most is his own. At times he makes Stein On Writing sound better than this book, perhaps hoping to net a few more sales.
By the end, I found How to Grow a Novel more interesting as a reflection on the book publishing industry and less on the actual writing of a novel. A beginning writer could do worse (the stories of six-figure advances may be depressing in a way Stein didn’t anticipate) but could also do better, especially if looking for help that more readily mixes nuts and bolts advice with inspiration.