Are most self-help books works of fiction?


According to Paul Collins, regarding a popular book published in London in 1895

a whole new kind of book: How To Write Fiction. Published under the pen name “An Old Hand,” How To‘s anonymous author was a “well known novelist”—a man who, the Herald assured readers, might open “a new prospect for those would-be novelists who are annually rejected in their thousands.” The introduction to the book promised to give readers the clarity of long experience—not some youth whose “work will appear like a picture in a stereopticon that is out of focus.”

The guide’s creator certainly had a talent for fiction: Despite his claim that “all young persons are more or less unbalanced,” author Sherwin Cody was just 26 years old. His only previous volume was a self-published poetry chapbook. With Cody’s aptly fictive How To Write Fiction, the raffish business of creative-writing instruction was born.


Though Cody went on to hawk correspondence courses, when the “well known novelist” published his first actual novel in 1896—the Horatio Algeresque tale In the Heart of the Hills—creative writing’s first guru met with a twist worthy of fiction itself.

His novel tanked—and he never wrote one again.

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