Category Archives: Writers on Writing Links

Jim C. Hines’ Terrific Survey on How Novelists Broke In

Writer Jim C. Hines has done a very helpful survey of 246 novelists to explore the following questions:

1) Do you have to sell short stories first to sell a novel?

2) Is self-publishing the way to go to sell a first novel to a publisher?

3) Are most first sales of a novel an overnight success story?

4) Do you have to have personal connections to the publishing industry to sell a first novel?

I’m not going to tell what the answers are, because I think it’s important to visit Jim’s website to read his detailed answers and analysis there.

Here’s what Jim says on his website about his survey:

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was for a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.

The first part of the survey is Novel Survey Results, Part 1 (answers questions 1 & 2).   Second part has just been posted today as Novel Survey Results, Part 2 (answering questions 3 & 4).  There will be a third part next week.

SCBWI Master Class DVD Series on Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has released two DVDs in their Master Class series.  I’ve found that people often have the misconception that writing for children is easier than for adults.  It’s the opposite.  Kids won’t put up with confusing or boring writing.   And the shorter the book, the more every word counts, just like in poetry.

Each Master Class DVD involves an in-depth interview on a topic about writing and/or illustrating children’s books with a foremost artist in the field. So, for the topic of “On Creating the Picture Book,” illustrator & writer Tomie dePaola is interviewed. For “On Writing the Novel for Young Readers,” writer Richard Peck is interviewed.

The interviewer is SCBWI Executive Director  Lin Oliver, and her professional experience as a writer herself makes listening in on her talks with dePaola and Peck fascinating.  She asks questions that artists often long to ask other artists.

These DVDs are called “Master Class” for a reason, for they are in-depth interviews about craft.  If you don’t already know the basic craft terminology like point-of-view and plot arc, you may find yourself confused at points.  The interviews go quickly and cover a lot of ground.

For those who don’t know, Tomie dePaola has over 200 books to his credit as illustrator and/or writer.  He has earned both Newbery and Caldecott Honor Awards.  During the interview he and Oliver get into a wonderful discussion about how to develop and harness one’s creativity, and the dangers of ignoring a creative gift.

Richard Peck is a writer who has been awarded a Newbery Honor and Newbery Medal.  He has also been the first writer for young readers given a National Humanities Medal.   His interview includes an intense discussion on characterization and setting and their importance in the novel.

So if you want to write for children, I highly recommend these two DVDs.

Storytelling Insights from Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens

Nuggets of storytelling wisdom can be learned from Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens by listening to their interviews about the process of creating the LORD OF THE RINGS screenplays.   These interviews can be found in the appendices of the Special Extended DVD Edition sets for each film.

Peter Jackson has provided invaluable information to fiction writers and screenwriters by having these long appendices created, which document in loving detail the making of each film from idea to film release.  There are also short documentaries on J. R. R. Tolkien and his experiences as a writer.  You’ll get the most out of watching these interviews and documentaries if you have seen all three LORD OF THE RINGS  films and read J. R. R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS.

Just to give you an idea of what there is, here’s a list of parts that pertain directly to fiction writers:

FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING Special Extended DVD Edition, The Appendices, Part One

*  J. R. R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle-earth

* From Book to Script

THE TWO TOWERS Special Extended DVD Edition,  The Appendices, Part Three

* J. R. R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-earth

* From Book to Script:  Finding the Story

THE RETURN OF THE KING Special Extended DVD Edition, The Appendices, Part Five

* J. R. R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth

* From Book to Script: Forging the Final Chapter

If you want to write screenplays or direct, watch all of these appendices from start to finish (there are six discs in all).  You’ll get a crash course on the realities of filmmaking from some of the best people in the business.

Interviews with Ray Bradbury, Anne Lamott, and more

I was exploring YouTube, feeling a bit of self-pity over not having the money to go to various out-of-state writer’s conferences this year, and discovered an amazing collection of recorded interviews and speeches done at the yearly writer’s conference “Writer’s Symposium by the Sea” run by Point Loma Nazarene University.

The symposium has recordings of two of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury and Anne Lamott.  I’ve always longed to go to a writer’s conference to hear them speak about the craft of writing (I have their advice books on writing).   I felt like a huge present had just been dropped in my lap.

Here’s a link to the speech by Ray Bradbury, the interview with Ray Bradbury, and the interview with Anne Lamott at YouTube.

You can use search terms like “Writer’s Symposium by the Sea” or “Point Loma Nazarene University” to try and find out what is out there.  So far I’ve discovered talks by: Anne Lamott, Ray Bradbury, Donald Miller, Barbara Bradley, Bill Moyers, Gary Hart, Phillip Yancey, Gay Talese, Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and more.

Good luck exploring!

Stephen King interviewed in-depth by Mark Lawson on BBC4

I just discovered this in-depth interview with Stephen King done by Mark Lawson on BBC4.   No matter what your opinion about King’s work, this is a useful in-depth exploration of what it’s like to be a fiction writer.  King talks about a writer’s life and how much of it goes into fiction, about the desperation of wanting to be a writer, blunt commentary on his first published book CARRIE, the struggle of being a novelist when you’re a teacher, the marketing labels put on writers, the difference between how genre writers are treated in America versus England, etc. etc.

This was a lot of fun to watch with a big mug of tea. Sort of like visiting your successful Uncle and his guest, and listening to them chat about the writer’s life before dinner.