Where his Mouth was Full of Sawdust Instead of Grapes


“He is a writer for the ages – the ages of four to eight.”

— Dorothy Parker

When people ask us about the books we are working on, they usually say something like: “That’s nice, but you should really get <insert name here> to write a book. That would be awesome.”

I can tell you most definitely that book is unlikely to be awesome.

After 25 years of writing, ghostwriting and editing authors of all skill levels, I can say that your world-class woodworking skills have little to do with the quality of book you might write. Many people are incapable of organizing their thoughts into words. Their prose is a diarrhea of overlapping and aimless ideas. They prefer to say something in 1,000 words when 10 would do. They never get to the point.

I’ve worked successfully with these people. I interviewed them (sometimes for days) and distilled their thoughts into a magazine article in their voice. It took about a week to create 2,000 words that way. Books are usually about 100,000 words. I don’t even want to do that math.

Even worse – and there is worse – are people who want to write a book yet have no idea what it should be about.

“Can you give me a topic?” they ask.


Truth is most authors at Lost Art Press are burning up inside because of an obsession with some aspect of woodworking. They are already writing a book, but they don’t know the mechanics, or they think that only four people would read it.

Here’s what we ask of these people.

  1. Come up with a title. If you cannot summarize the book into a compelling title, you should be worried.
  2. Write a “high-concept” sentence that can describe the book in one sentence of no more than 12 words. Here’s the high concept for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest”: Buy better, but fewer, tools. Build stuff that defies consumerism. Disobey.
  3. Write a “Table of Contents,” what we call the “TOC.” Write a title for each chapter and a sentence that describes what the chapter is about.

If you can do this and we’re excited about the book, chances are good that we can work together (unless you are an arrogant wiener).

All these thoughts are boiling in my brain right now because I am writing up a contract for our 20th potential project – that’s about five years of work we now have stacked up ahead of us. So trust me when I say there is a lot of unexplored ground in our craft – perhaps even a birdhouse book with your name on it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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24 Responses to Where his Mouth was Full of Sawdust Instead of Grapes

  1. fitz says:

    Seconded (paragraphs three and four, in particular).

  2. That’s pretty much the same, we ask our students to do for their thesis work. If you know, what you want, then you can go on, if not, go home and think.

  3. sirlurkcalot says:

    That is why I buy Lost Art Press books.
    As for future offerings? You buggers are going to bankrupt me!
    Oh well I’ll just have to sell another family member I suppose.

  4. theindigowoodworker says:

    I have no books in me and few organized thoughts. I do however have some titanium lodged deep within.

  5. abtuser says:

    No kidding. I don’t think I could get a pear a graphs down much less get the speling correct. X me off.

  6. Very good advice. Some of the best advice I received was to write everyday, and read twice as much as you spend writing.

  7. Matt Merges says:

    “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.” — Hemingway

  8. Ryan McNabb says:

    Well I can tell you who you SHOULD get to write a book, because it really would be awesome, and that’s Adam Cherubini. He seems to have dropped off the map but a good book on 18th century American case furniture of three or four representative forms, using period tools and techniques, is something I would pay a lot of money for. No damn table saws, no “time saving jigs” for the router…just saws, chisels, and planes making serious furniture. Where is that book?

  9. Years ago I remember suggesting that Peter Galbert write a book. He did, and that book is awesome. I suppose there’s always a rare exception?

    Would you like another guaranteed best-selling idea? Get Peter to write a book (and video series on DVD) about turning. He has developed his techniques into a true art form. He generally favors one tool, the oval skew. He does most of his turnings without putting the skew down, and he has many other unique insights and tricks.

    I’d place an order today, just to help make that happen.

    • Dean,

      Thanks for the offer. Students suggest books *all* the time.

      The desire, will and effort to birth a book doesn’t come from a suggestion, in my experience. If Peter has a book on turning in him, he might write it. He might not. Writing a book and setting aside your core business to do so is a great way for the business to suffer. This is from personal experience.

  10. tsstahl says:

    Completely OT, feel free to ignore.

    Do you enlist the likes of Katie or one of the cats to take the shots with you in them?

    I’m betting on a Roubo influenced Rube Goldberg device to snap the shot. Thanks.

    • I use the timer on the camera. Or, if I can get away with it, a cable release.

      My kids go to school and they frown on pulling them out for step photography.

  11. Eric Key says:

    Do you have an address or online submission for those wanting to submit a formal book proposal?

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