Friday, 3 July 2015

Jolly School of Wordsmithery: The dangers of using "writing phrases" books or "sentence lists" books

The dangers of using "writing phrases" books or "sentence lists" books

Recently I have ran across a few books by various authors containing lists of sentences, similar to writing prompts. These books are being sold as writing aids for other authors, claiming that they will make the author's own writing skills better by encouraging the aspiring author to use the phrases or sentences in the book within their own works.

Here is an example of one such book. Feel free to look at the free sample that Amazon provides to get a quick idea of the content of these books:
Link (Click)
However, having analysed a few of these books and discussing them with some of my friends who are award-winning authors, I have come to the conclusion that these books are very dangerous for an author seeking to be published. This article will explain why.

Similarities and plagiarism accusations

First of all, the most obvious danger of using these types of books is the chances of another author using the same phrases as you.

If you choose to use some particular phrases from these books in your own book, and another author uses the same phrases in theirs, both of your books will sound very similar. Too similar in fact, that readers of the genre who have read both authors will absolutely notice it.

This will lead to accusations of plagiarism against the author who published last, as the readers will believe the accused author stole content from the book which was published first. An accusation of plagiarism is a stain upon an author's name which lasts even if the author has been cleared of it. The accusations may continue to float through the internet, being picked up and shared over and over by thousands of people.

Unoriginal content

Meanwhile, some readers are aware of phrase books. As soon as the reader notices that you have been using phrase books, or notices that your writing style has massively changed then discovers you are using phrase books, they will lose interest in you. Because this is no longer your own work. You are taking lazy steps by using someone else's sentences rather than using that noggin of yours to come up with something unique.

Publishers are also normally very aware of these types of books. Once it has been established that the writing is not your own and is unoriginal, they may refuse to publish the book and might even cancel your contract with them for being dishonest about your writing skills.


Every single one of these writing phrases or sentence list books encourage the author to use the phrases. However all of these books also had something else in common. Look at this image below:

That's right. They are copyrighted and all the rights are reserved to the author of the book. That means you are actually not allowed to use the content of these books in your own. If you use the phrases within these books, the author has every right to sue you for copyright violation. In none of these books have I seen a written agreement that the author will not sue other authors for using the content in the book.

If you're thinking "nah, the author won't sue me, they published this book to help me", then you clearly do not understand that the human race, to put it bluntly, are a bunch of backstabbing arseholes. If the author is short of money or decides they don't like you, they may sue you for copyright breaches. Because the book you got your phrases from is copyrighted and there is no written agreement that the author will not sue you.

Lack of creative commons

A creative commons licence allows people to use certain content under certain creative or artistic circumstances, such as books. These type of phrase books lack a commercial creative commons licence. A creative commons licence will allow you to use the content of such books without the risk of being sued, as long as you state very clearly in your own copyright notice that you used the self-help book and to acknowledge the author of it.

So, why won't these authors release such books under a commercial creative commons licence?
Well, because works and materials released under a Commercial Creative Commons licence are free, so the licence holder gets nothing or very little, however people who use the commercially licensed works may make a profit as long as the terms of the licence are met.
If these authors truly wanted to help other authors, they would release the works under a commercial creative commons licence and gain praise and recognition in the form of web traffic to their website, rather than profiting from it while putting you at risk.

Some other things I have noticed about these so-called "help" tools are:
  • They are usually overpriced. A book of this type, for some reason, costs on average £3 to £8 more than a full length novel or any other kind of self-help book. This is because these books are probably verging on a scam. Not all of them are, but many are. These exist purely to gain the author a profit, not to help you as they claim. In fact, this article has made it clear that they will do more harm than good, and the author is profiting from the harm it could cause you.

  • They are not usually written by established authors. Most of these types of books are written by obscure authors who have still not proven themselves in the publishing world. Taking advice from award-winning and best-selling authors is advised. But taking advice from an obscure and unknown author should be avoided. The obscure/unknown author should be listening to the award winners and best sellers too, not pretending to be one by writing such "writing aid" books.

  • Authors who publish serial "writing aid" books are mostly just re-writing themselves over and over. The exact same phrases as book 1 can be found in book 2, but the sentences have been twisted around a bit to look different.
    For example, book 1 might offer you the phrase "he hurled the axe, desperate to strike". And then book 2 may offer you the phrase "desperate to strike, he hurled the axe". They are the EXACT SAME sentences, back to front. Again taking us back to the first bullet point about these books being nothing more than a borderline scam purely to fill the pocket of the "author".

  • The copyright information is sometimes on the last pages rather than behind the cover where it normally would and should be. Why is this? Possibly so that potential buyers will not see the copyright information in the free preview of the book that many book markets, such as Amazon and Smashwords, provide. People will then buy this book believing it is not copyrighted and that they can freely use all the content in the book, only to find that it is copyrighted when they reach the end.


Anybody looking to become a successful author should steer clear of writing phrase or sentence lists books. Although they claim they will improve your writing skills, they will not. The only way you can improve your writing skills is to read, write, read more and rewrite. You do not gain skills by using ideas that came from someone else's head, in the same way that you cannot learn how to be a doctor by having someone else sit your exams for you. To develop your skills, you need to use and nurture your own brain

Study award-winning and best-selling authors such as Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. Look at the way they write. Take notes about your favourite parts of their books and how they made you feel when you initially read those parts. The more you read, the more your brain unconsciously takes on board what makes a good story.
Consider taking a creative writing course or join a writer's community to learn new skills.

An author is someone who has an amazing imagination and the ability to put that imagination into words. Not someone who copies other people. Anybody can write, but not everyone is an author. If you feel the need to use writing phrase books rather than using that amazing, complex and wonderful organ of yours that we call a "brain", then maybe it is time to put the pens away and look for another job?

Did this article help you? Did you learn something new today?
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This article is in no way intended to slander, defame or insult authors of writing phrases books or sentence lists books. This article exists solely to educate authors about the dangers that the job entails. Any feelings of slander, defamation or insults are purely personal opinion, unintended and a matter of personal perception. This article was published in accordance with international freedom of speech and freedom of expression laws.

1 comment:

  1. Just when you think you've seen all the scams the internet has to offer! Really helpful article; I'm sure a lot of authors will benefit from reading this. :)


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