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How to Start Writing Fiction: The Six Core Elements of Fiction Writing

Jack Smith and Sean Glatch  |  June 14, 2023  |  4 Comments

how to start writing fiction

Whether you’ve been struck with a moment of inspiration or you’ve carried a story inside you for years, you’re here because you want to start writing fiction. From developing flesh-and-bone characters to worlds as real as our own, good fiction is hard to write, and getting the first words onto the blank page can be daunting.

Daunting, but not impossible. Although writing good fiction takes time, with a few fiction writing tips and your first sentences written, you’ll find that it’s much easier to get your words on the page.

Let’s break down fiction to its essential elements. We’ll investigate the individual components of fiction writing—and how, when they sit down to write, writers turn words into worlds. Then, we’ll turn to instructor Jack Smith and his thoughts on combining these elements into great works of fiction. But first, what are the elements of fiction writing?

Introduction to Fiction Writing: The Six Elements of Fiction

Before we delve into any writing tips, let’s review the essentials of creative writing in fiction. Whether you’re writing flash fiction , short stories, or epic trilogies, most fiction stories require these six components:

  • Plot: the “what happens” of your story.
  • Characters:  whose lives are we watching?
  • Setting: the world that the story is set in.
  • Point of View: from whose eyes do we see the story unfold?
  • Theme: the “deeper meaning” of the story, or what the story represents.
  • Style: how you use words to tell the story.

It’s important to recognize that all of these elements are intertwined. You can’t build the setting without writing it through a certain point of view; you can’t develop important themes with arbitrary characters, etc. We’ll get into the relationship between these elements later, but for now, let’s explore how to use each element to write fiction.

1. Fiction Writing Tip: Developing Fictional Plots

Plot is the series of causes and effects that produce the story as a whole. Because A, then B, then C—ultimately leading to the story’s  climax , the result of all the story’s events and character’s decisions.

If you don’t know where to start your story, but you have a few story ideas, then start with the conflict . Some novels take their time to introduce characters or explain the world of the piece, but if the conflict that drives the story doesn’t show up within the first 15 pages, then the story loses direction quickly.

That’s not to say you have to be explicit about the conflict. In Harry Potter, Voldemort isn’t introduced as the main antagonist until later in the first book; the series’ conflict begins with the Dursley family hiding Harry from his magical talents. Let the conflict unfold naturally in the story, but start with the story’s impetus, then go from there.

2. Fiction Writing Tip: Creating Characters

Think far back to 9th grade English, and you might remember the basic types of story conflicts: man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. self. The conflicts that occur within stories happen to its characters—there can be no story without its people. Sometimes, your story needs to start there: in the middle of a conversation, a disrupted routine, or simply with what makes your characters special.

There are many ways to craft characters with depth and complexity. These include writing backstory, giving characters goals and fatal flaws, and making your characters contend with complicated themes and ideas. This guide on character development will help you sort out the traits your characters need, and how to interweave those traits into the story.

3. Fiction Writing Tip: Give Life to Living Worlds

Whether your story is set on Earth or a land far, far away, your setting lives in the same way your characters do. In the same way that we read to get inside the heads of other people, we also read to escape to a world outside of our own. Consider starting the story with what makes your world live: a pulsing city, the whispered susurrus of orchards, hills that roil with unsolved mysteries, etc. Tell us where the conflict is happening, and the story will follow.

4. Fiction Writing Tip: Play With Narrative Point of View

Point of view refers to the “cameraman” of the story—the vantage point we are viewing the story through. Maybe you’re stuck starting your story because you’re trying to write it in the wrong person. There are four POVs that authors work with:

  • First person—the story is told from the “I” perspective, and that “I” is the protagonist.
  • First person peripheral—the story is told from the “I” perspective, but the “I” is not the protagonist, but someone adjacent to the protagonist. (Think: Nick Carraway, narrator of  The Great Gatsby. )
  • Second person—the story is told from the “you” perspective. This point of view is rare, but when done effectively, it can create a sense of eeriness or a personalized piece.
  • Third person limited—the story is told from the “he/she/they” perspective. The narrator is not directly involved in the lives of the characters; additionally, the narrator usually writes from the perspective of one or two characters.
  • Third person omniscient—the story is told from the “he/she/they” perspective. The narrator is not directly involved in the lives of the characters; additionally, the narrator knows what is happening in each character’s heads and in the world at large.

If you can’t find the right words to begin your piece, consider switching up the pronouns you use and the perspective you write from. You might find that the story flows onto the page from a different point of view.

5. Fiction Writing Tip: Use the Story to Investigate Themes

Generally, the themes of the story aren’t explored until after the aforementioned elements are established, and writers don’t always know the themes of their own work until after the work is written. Still, it might help to consider the broader implications of the story you want to write. How does the conflict or story extend into a bigger picture?

Let’s revisit Harry Potter’s opening scenes. When we revisit the Dursleys preventing Harry from knowing about his true nature, several themes are established: the meaning of family, the importance of identity, and the idea of fate can all be explored here. Themes often develop organically, but it doesn’t hurt to consider the message of your story from the start.

6. Fiction Writing Tip: Experiment With Words

Style is the last of the six fiction elements, but certainly as important as the others. The words you use to tell your story, the way you structure your sentences, how you alternate between characters, and the sounds of the words you use all contribute to the mood of the work itself.

If you’re struggling to get past the first sentence, try rewriting it. Write it in 10 words or write it in 200 words; write a single word sentence; experiment with metaphors, alliteration, or onomatopoeia . Then, once you’ve found the right words, build from there, and let your first sentence guide the style and mood of the narrative.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the craft of fiction writing. The above elements are great starting points, but to learn how to start writing fiction, we need to examine the craft of combining these elements.

Jack Smith

Primer on the Elements of Fiction Writing

First, before we get into the craft of fiction writing, it’s important to understand the elements of fiction. You don’t need to understand everything about the craft of fiction before you start keying in ideas or planning your novel. But this primer will be something you can consult if you need clarification on any term (e.g., point of view) as you learn how to start writing fiction.

The Elements of Fiction Writing

A standard novel runs between 80,000 to 100,000 words. A short novel, going by the National Novel Writing Month , is at least 50,000. To begin with, don’t think about length—think about development. Length will come. It is true that some works lend themselves more to novellas, but if that’s the case, you don’t want to pad them to make a longer work. If you write a plot summary—that’s one option on getting started writing fiction—you will be able to get a fairly good idea about your project as to whether it lends itself to a full-blown novel.

For now, let’s think about the various elements of fiction—the building blocks.

Writing Fiction: Your Protagonist

Readers want an interesting protagonist , or main character. One that seems real, that deals with the various things in life we all deal with. If the writer makes life too simple, and doesn’t reflect the kinds of problems we all face, most readers are going to lose interest.

Don’t cheat it. Make the work honest. Do as much as you can to develop a character who is fully developed, fully real—many-sided. Complex. In Aspects of the Novel , E.M Forster called this character a “round” characte r. This character is capable of surprising us. Don’t be afraid to make your protagonist, or any of your characters, a bit contradictory. Most of us are somewhat contradictory at one time or another. The deeper you see into your protagonist, the more complex, the more believable they will be.

If a character has no depth, is merely “flat,” as Forster terms it, then we can sum this character up in a sentence: “George hates his ex-wife.” This is much too limited. Find out why. What is it that causes George to hate his ex-wife? Is it because of something she did or didn’t do? Is it because of a basic personality clash? Is it because George can’t stand a certain type of person, and he didn’t realize, until too late, that his ex-wife was really that kind of person? Imagine some moments of illumination, and you will have a much richer character than one who just hates his ex-wife.

And so… to sum up: think about fleshing out your protagonist as much as you can. Consider personality, character (or moral makeup), inclinations, proclivities, likes, dislikes, etc. What makes this character happy? What makes this character sad or frustrated? What motivates your character? Readers don’t want to know only what —they want to know why .

Usually, readers want a sympathetic character, one they can root for. Or if not that, one that is interesting in different ways. You might not find the protagonist of The Girl on the Train totally sympathetic, but she’s interesting! She’s compelling.

Here’s an article I wrote on what makes a good protagonist.

Also on clichéd characters.

Now, we’re ready for a key question: what is your protagonist’s main goal in this story? And secondly, who or what will stand in the way of your character achieving this goal?

There are two kinds of conflicts: internal and external. In some cases, characters may not be opposing an external antagonist, but be self-conflicted. Once you decide on your character’s goal, you can more easily determine the nature of the obstacles that your protagonist must overcome. There must be conflict, of course, and stories must involve movement. Things go from Phase A to Phase B to Phase C, and so on. Overall, the protagonist begins here and ends there. She isn’t the same at the end of the story as she was in the beginning. There is a character arc.

I spoke of character arc. Now let’s move on to plot, the mechanism governing the overall logic of the story. What causes the protagonist to change? What key events lead up to the final resolution?

But before we go there, let’s stop a moment and think about point of view, the lens through which the story is told.

Writing Fiction: Point of View as Lens

Is this the right protagonist for this story? Is this character the one who has the most at stake? Does this character have real potential for change? Remember, you must have change or movement—in terms of character growth—in your story. Your character should not be quite the same at the end as in the beginning. Otherwise, it’s more of a sketch.

Such a story used to be called “slice of life.” For example, what if a man thinks his job can’t get any worse—and it doesn’t? He started with a great dislike for the job, for the people he works with, just for the pay. His hate factor is 9 on a scale of 10. He doesn’t learn anything about himself either. He just realizes he’s got to get out of there. The reader knew that from page 1.

Choose a character who has a chance of undergoing change of some kind. The more complex the change, the better. Characters that change are dynamic characters , according to E. M. Forster. Characters that remain the same are  static  characters. Be sure your protagonist is dynamic.

Okay, an exception: Let’s say your character resists change—that can involve some sort of movement—the resisting of change.

Here’s another thing to look at on protagonists—a blog I wrote: https://elizabethspanncraig.com/writing-tips-2/creating-strong-characters-typical-challenges/

Writing Fiction: Point of View and Person

Usually when we think of point of view, we have in mind the choice of person: first, second, and third. First person provides intimacy. As readers we’re allowed into the I-narrator’s mind and heart. A story told from the first person can sometimes be highly confessional, frank, bold. Think of some of the great first-person narrators like Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. With first person we can also create narrators that are not completely reliable, leading to dramatic irony : we as readers believe one thing while the narrator believes another. This creates some interesting tension, but be careful to make your protagonist likable, sympathetic. Or at least empathetic, someone we can relate to.

What if a novel is told in first person from the point of view of a mob hit man? As author of such a tale, you probably wouldn’t want your reader to root for this character, but you could at least make the character human and believable. With first person, your reader would be constantly in the mind of this character, so you’d need to find a way to deal with this sympathy question. First person is a good choice for many works of fiction, as long as one doesn’t confuse the I-narrator with themselves. It may be a temptation, especially in the case of fiction based on one’s own life—not that it wouldn’t be in third person narrations. But perhaps even more with a first person story: that character is me . But it’s not—it’s a fictional character.

Check out my article on writing autobiographical fiction, which appeared in  The   Writer  magazine. https://www.writermag.com/2018/07/31/filtering-fact-through-fiction/

Third person provides more distance. With third person, you have a choice between three forms: omniscient, limited omniscient, and objective or dramatic. If you get outside of your protagonist’s mind and enter other characters’ minds, you are being omniscient or godlike. If you limit your access to your protagonist’s mind only, this is limited omniscience. Let’s consider these two forms of third-person narrators before moving on to the objective or dramatic POV.

The omniscient form is rather risky, but it is certainly used, and it can certainly serve a worthwhile function. With this form, the author knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, or will occur in a given place, or in given places, for all the characters in the story. The author can provide historical background, look into the future, and even speculate on characters and make judgments. This point of view, writers tend to feel today, is more the method of nineteenth-century fiction, and not for today. It seems like too heavy an authorial footprint. Not handled well—and it is difficult to handle well—the characters seem to be pawns of an all-knowing author.

Today’s omniscience tends to take the form of multiple points of view, sometimes alternating, sometimes in sections. An author is behind it all, but the author is effaced, not making an appearance. BUT there are notable examples of well-handled authorial omniscience–read Nobel-prize winning Jose Saramago’s Blindness  as a good example.

For more help, here’s an article I wrote on the omniscient point of view for  The Writer : https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/omniscient-pov/

The limited omniscient form is typical of much of today’s fiction. You stick to your protagonist’s mind. You see others from the outside. Even so, you do have to be careful that you don’t get out of this point of view from time to time, and bring in things the character can’t see or observe—unless you want to stand outside this character, and therein lies the omniscience, however limited it is.

But anyway, note the difference between: “George’s smiles were very welcoming” and “George felt like his smiles were very welcoming”—see the difference? In the case of the first, we’re seeing George from the outside; in the case of the second, from the inside. It’s safer to stay within your protagonist’s perspective as much as possible and not describe them from the outside. Doing so comes off like a point-of-view shift. Yet it’s true that in some stories, the narrator will describe what the character is wearing, tell us what his hopes and dreams are, mention things he doesn’t know right now but will later—and perhaps, in rather quirky stories, the narrator will even say something like “Our hero…” This can work, and has, if you create an interesting narrative voice. But it’s certainly a risk.

The dramatic or objective point of view is one you’ll probably use from time to time, but not throughout your whole novel. Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” is handled with this point of view. Mostly, with maybe one exception, all we know is what the characters say and do, as in a play. Using this point of view from time to time in a longer work can certainly create interest. You can intensify a scene sometimes with this point of view. An interesting back and forth can be accomplished, especially if the dialogue is clipped.

I’ve saved the second-person point of view for the last. I would advise you not to use this point of view for an entire work. In his short novel Bright Lights, Big City , Jay McInerney famously uses this point of view, and with some force, but it’s hard to pull off. In lesser hands, it can get old. You also cause the reader to become the character. Does the reader want to become this character? One problem with this point of view is it may seem overly arty, an attempt at sophistication. I think it’s best to choose either first or third.

Here’s an article I wrote on use of second person for  The Writer magazine. Check it out if you’re interested. https://www.writermag.com/2016/11/02/second-person-pov/

Writing Fiction: Protagonist and Plot and Structure

We come now to plot, keeping in mind character. You might consider the traditional five-stage structure : exposition, rising action, crisis and climax, falling action, and resolution. Not every plot works this way, but it’s a tried-and-true structure. Certainly a number of pieces of literature you read will begin in media re s—that is, in the middle of things. Instead of beginning with standard exposition, or explanation of the condition of the protagonist’s life at the story’s starting point, the author will begin with a scene. But even so, as in Jerzy Kosiński’s famous novella Being There , which begins with a scene, we’ll still pick up the present state of the character’s life before we see something that complicates it or changes the existing equilibrium. This so-called complication can be something apparently good—like winning the lottery—or something decidedly bad—like losing a huge amount of money at the gaming tables. One thing is true in both cases: whatever has happened will cause the character to change. And so now you have to fill in the events that bring this about.

How do you do that? One way is to write a chapter outline to prevent false starts. But some writers don’t like plotting in this fashion, but want to discover as they write. If you do plot your novel in advance, do realize that as you write, you will discover a lot of things about your character that you didn’t have in mind when you first set pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard. And so, while it’s a good idea to do some planning, do keep your options open.

Let’s think some more about plot. To have a workable plot, you need a sequence of actions or events that give the story an overall movement. This includes two elements which we’ll take up later: foreshadowing and echoing (things that prepare us for something in the future and things that remind us of what has already happened). These two elements knit a story together.

Think carefully about character motivations. Some things may happen to your character; some things your character may decide to do, however wisely or unwisely. In the revision stage, if not earlier, ask yourself: What motivates my character to act in one way or another? And ask yourself: What is the overall logic of this story? What caused my character to change? What were the various forces, whether inner or outer, that caused this change? Can I describe my character’s overall arc, from A to Z?  Try to do that. Write a short paragraph. Then try to write down your summary in one sentence, called a log line in film script writing, but also a useful technique in fiction writing as well. If you write by the discovery method, you probably won’t want to do this in the midst of the drafting, but at least in the revision stage, you should consider doing so.

With a novel you may have a subplot or two. Assuming you will, you’ll need to decide how the plot and the subplot relate. Are they related enough to make one story? If you think the subplot is crucial for the telling of your tale, try to say why—in a paragraph, then in a sentence.

Here’s an article I wrote on structure for  The Writer : https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/revision-grammar/find-novels-structure/

Writing Fiction: Setting

Let’s move on to setting . Your novel has to take place somewhere. Where is it? Is it someplace that is particularly striking and calls for a lot of solid description? If it’s a wilderness area where your character is lost, give your reader a strong sense for the place. If it’s a factory job, and much of the story takes place at the worksite, again readers will want to feel they’re there with your character, putting in the hours. If it’s an apartment and the apartment itself isn’t related to the problems your character is having, then there’s no need to provide that much detail. Exception: If your protagonist concentrates on certain things in the apartment and begins to associate certain things about the apartment with their misery, now there’s reason to get concrete. Take a look, when you have a chance, at the short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” It’s not an apartment—it’s a house—but clearly the setting itself becomes important when it becomes important to the character. She reads the wallpaper as a statement about her own condition.

Here’s the URL for ”The Yellow Wall-Paper”: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/theliteratureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf

Sometimes setting is pretty important; sometimes it’s much less important. When it doesn’t serve a purpose to describe it, don’t, other than to give the reader a sense for where the story takes place. If you provide very many details, even in a longer work like a novel, the reader will think that these details have some significance in terms of character, plot, or theme—or all three. And if they don’t, why are they there? If setting details are important, be selective. Provide a dominant impression. More on description below.

If you’re interested, here’s a blog on setting I wrote for Writers.com: https://writers.com/what-is-the-setting-of-a-story

Writing Fiction: Theme and Idea

Most literary works have a theme or idea. It’s possible to decide on this theme before you write, as you plan out your novel. But be careful here. If the theme seems imposed on the work, the novel will lose a lot of force. It will seem—and it may well be—engineered by the author much like a nonfiction piece, and lose the felt experience of the characters.

Theme must emerge from the work naturally, or at least appear to do so. Once you have a draft, you can certainly build ideas that are apparent in the work, and you can even do this while you’re generating your first draft. But watch out for overdoing it. Let the characters (what they do, what they say) and the plot (the whole storyline with its logical connections) contribute on their own to the theme. Also you can depend on metaphors, similes, and analogies to point to the theme—as long as these are not heavy-handed. Avoid authorial intrusion, authorial impositions of any kind. If you do end up creating a simile, metaphor, or analogy through rational thinking, make sure it sounds  natural. That’s not easy, of course.

Writing Fiction: Handling Scenes

Keep a few things in mind about writing scenes. Not every event deserves a whole scene, maybe only a half-scene, a short interaction between characters. Scenes need to do two things: reveal character and advance plot. If a scene seems to stall out and lack interest, in the revision mode you might try using narrative summary instead (see below).

Good fiction is strongly dramatic, calling for scenes, many of them scenes with dialogue and action. Scenes need to involve conflict of some kind. If everyone is happy, that’s probably going to be a dull scene. Some scenes will be narrative, without dialogue. You need some interesting action to make these work.

Let’s consider scenes with dialogue.

The best dialogue is speech that sounds natural, and yet isn’t. Everything about fiction is an artifice, including speech. But try to make it sound real. The best way to do this is to “hear” the voices in your head and transcribe them. Take dictation. If you can do this, whole conversations will seem very real, believable. If you force what each character has to say, and plan it out too much, it will certainly sound planned out, and not real at all. Not that in the revision mode you can’t doctor up the speech here and there, but still, make sure it comes off as natural sounding.

Some things to think about when writing dialogue: people usually speak in fragments, interrupt each other, engage in pauses, follow up a question with a comment that takes the conversation off course (non sequiturs). Note these aspects of dialogue in the fiction you read.

Also, note how writers intersperse action with dialogue, setting details, and character thoughts. As far as the latter goes, though, if you’ll recall, I spoke of the dramatic point of view, which doesn’t get into a character’s mind but depends instead on what characters do and say, as in a play. You may try this point of view out in some scenes to make them really move.

One technique is to use indirect dialogue, or summary of what a character said, not in the character’s own words. For instance: Bill made it clear that he wasn’t going to the city after all. If anybody thought that, they were wrong .

Now and then you’ll come upon dialogue that doesn’t use the standard double quotes, but perhaps a single quote (this is British), or dashes, or no punctuation at all. The latter two methods create some distance from the speech. If you want to give your work a surreal quality, this certainly adds to it. It also makes it seem more interior.

One way to kill good dialogue is to make characters too obviously expository devices—that is, functioning to provide background or explanations of certain important story facts. Certainly characters can serve as expository devices, but don’t be too heavy-handed about this. Don’t force it like the following:

“We always used to go to the beach, you recall? You recall how first we would have breakfast, then take a long walk on the beach, and then we would change into our swimsuits, and spend an hour in the water. And you recall how we usually followed that with a picnic lunch, maybe an hour later.”

This sounds like the character is saying all this to fill the reader in on backstory. You’d need a motive for the utterance of all of these details—maybe sharing a memory?

But the above sounds stilted, doesn’t it?

One final word about dialogue. Watch out for dialogue tags that tell but don’t show . Here’s an example:

“Do you think that’s the case,” said Ted, hoping to hear some good news. “Not necessarily,” responded Laura, in a barky voice. “I just wish life wasn’t so difficult,” replied Ted.

If you’re going to use a tag at all—and many times you don’t need to—use “said.” Dialogue tags like the above examples can really kill the dialogue.

Writing Fiction: Writing Solid Prose

Narrative summary :  As I’ve stated above, not everything will be a scene. You’ll need to write narrative summary now and then. Narrative summary telescopes time, covering a day, a week, a month, a year, or even longer. Often it will be followed up by a scene, whether a narrative scene   or one with dialogue. Narrative summary can also relate how things generally went over a given period. You can write strong narrative summary if you make it specific and concrete—and dramatic. Also, if we hear the voice of the writer, it can be interesting—if the voice is compelling enough.

Exposition : It’s the first stage of the 5-stage plot structure, where things are set up prior to some sort of complication, but more generally, it’s a prose form which tells or informs. You use exposition when you get inside your character, dealing with his or her thoughts and emotions, memories, plans, dreams. This can be difficult to do well because it can come off too much like authorial “telling” instead of “showing,” and readers want to feel like they’re experiencing the world of the protagonist, not being told about this world. Still, it’s important to get inside characters, and exposition is often the right tool, along with narrative summary, if the character is remembering a sequence of events from the past.

Description :  Description is a word picture, providing specific and concrete details to allow the reader to see, not just be told. Concreteness is putting the reader in the world of the five senses, what we call imagery . Some writers provide a lot of details, some only a few—just enough that the reader can imagine the rest. Consider choosing details that create a dominant impression—whether it’s a character or a place. Similes, metaphors, and analogies help readers see people and places and can make thoughts and ideas (the reflections of your character or characters) more interesting. Not that you should always make your reader see. To do so might cause an overload of images.

Check out these two articles: https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/the-definitive-guide-to-show-dont-tell/ https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/figurative-language-in-fiction/

Writing Fiction: Research

Some novels require research. Obviously historical novels do, but others do, too, like Sci Fi novels. Almost any novel can call for a little research. Here’s a short article I wrote for The Writer magazine on handling research materials. It’s in no way an in-depth commentary on research–but it will serve as an introduction. https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/research-in-fiction/

For a blog on novel writing, check this link at Writers.com: https://writers.com/novel-writing-tips

For more articles I’ve published in  The Writer , go here: https://www.writermag.com/author/jack-smith/

How to Start Writing Fiction: Take a Writing Class!

To write a story or even write a book, fiction writers need these tools first and foremost. Although there’s no comprehensive guide on how to write fiction for beginners, working with these elements of fiction will help your story bloom.

All six elements synergize to make a work of fiction, and like most works of art, the sum of these elements is greater than the individual parts. Still, you might find that you struggle with one of these elements, like maybe you’re great at writing characters but not very good with exploring setting. If this is the case, then use your strengths: use characters to explore the setting, or use style to explore themes, etc.

Getting the first draft written is the hardest part, but it deserves to be written. Once you’ve got a working draft of a story or novel and you need an extra set of eyes, the Writers.com community is here to give feedback: take a look at our upcoming courses on fiction writing, and check out our talented writing community .

Good luck, and happy writing!

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I have had a story in my mind for over 15 years. I just haven’t had an idea how to start , putting it down on print just seems too confusing. After reading this article I’m even more confused but also more determined to give it a try. It has given me answers to some of my questions. Thank you !

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You’ve got this, Earl!

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Just reading this as I have decided to attempt a fiction work. I am terrible at writing outside of research papers and such. I have about 50 single spaced pages “written” and an entire outline. These tips are great because where I struggle it seems is drawing the reader in. My private proof reader tells me it is to much like an explanation and not enough of a story, but working on it.

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first class

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The 30+ Best Living Novelists & Fiction Authors Today, Ranked

The 30+ Best Living Novelists & Fiction Authors Today, Ranked

Ranker Community

These are the best living authors and novelists currently, according to Rankers and bibliophiles. If you’re looking for a book to read for a rainy day, you can’t go wrong by choosing a novel or short story written by someone on this list. After all, the greatest novelists alive consistently get onto bestseller lists and book club recommendation lists. But amongst all these writers currently alive, who are the best?

If you love reading, then vote for your favorite living authors and novelists below. They hail for a wide range of genres and literary styles, from playwrights to novelists. You’ll find your favorite science fiction writers as well as great dramatic novelists. Everyone on the list and everyone that you vote for must currently be alive. We all know that there are plenty of great writers that have left us, but this list is about the ones we still get to cherish.

Don’t see a great living author listed? Then add him or her so that others may vote and discover some excellent novels. If you’re curious where your favorite novelist currently alive is ranked, use the search box at the top of the list. Otherwise, get your votes on, book worms. Vote for who you think is the best living author (or best living authors ) right now!

Stephen King

Stephen King

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon

Philip Roth - Died May 22, 2018

Philip Roth - Died May 22, 2018

Milan Kundera - DEC. July 11, 2023

Milan Kundera - DEC. July 11, 2023

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

J. K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling

Alice Munro

Alice Munro

John Irving

John Irving

Ian McEwan

George Saunders

John Grisham

John Grisham

John le Carré

John le Carré

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates

J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz

David Mitchell

David Mitchell

E. Annie Proulx

E. Annie Proulx

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly

Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson

Alice Walker

Alice Walker

Lists about novelists, poets, short story authors, journalists, essayists, and playwrights, from simple rankings to fun facts about the men and women behind the pens.

Bars Where Famous Writers Hung Out

Fantastic Fiction

Welcome to Fantastic Fiction

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25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter

To celebrate the Book Review’s 125th anniversary, we’re dipping into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.

Damon Winter/The New York Times (Toni Morrison); Henry Clarke/Conde Nast, via Getty Images (Joan Didion); Ulf Andersen/Getty Images (Patricia Highsmith); Andre D. Wagner for The New York Times (Patti Smith); Oliver Morris/Getty Images (Kurt Vonnegut); Ulf Andersen/Getty Images (James Baldwin) Credit...

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Tina Jordan

By Tina Jordan ,  Noor Qasim and John Williams

  • Published Jan. 25, 2021 Updated Oct. 26, 2021

On Oct. 10, 1896, after years of robust literary coverage at The New York Times, the paper published the first issue of the Book Review.

In the 125 years since, that coverage has broadened and deepened. The Book Review has become a lens through which to view not just literature but the world at large, with scholars and thinkers weighing in on all of the people and issues and subjects covered in books on philosophy, art, science, economics, history and more.

In many ways, the Book Review’s history is that of American letters, and we’ll be using our 125th anniversary this year to celebrate and examine that history over the coming months. In essays, photo stories, timelines and other formats, we’ll highlight the books and authors that made it all possible.

Because, really, writers are at the heart of everything we do. Pairing a book with the right reviewer is a challenge, one that we relish. And we’ve been fortunate to feature the writing of so many illustrious figures in our pages — novelists, musicians, presidents, Nobel winners, CEOs, poets, playwrights — all offering their insights with wit and flair. Here are 25 of them.

H.G. Wells | Vladimir Nabokov | Tennessee Williams | Patricia Highsmith | Shirley Jackson | Eudora Welty | Langston Hughes | Dorothy Parker | John F. Kennedy | Nora Ephron | Toni Morrison | John Kenneth Galbraith | Nikki Giovanni | James Baldwin | Kurt Vonnegut Jr. | Joan Didion | Derek Walcott | Margaret Atwood | Ursula K. Le Guin | Stephen King | Jhumpa Lahiri | Mario Vargas Llosa | Colson Whitehead | Patti Smith | Bill Gates

Tell us: Who are the writers who have inspired you?

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On Morley Roberts’s “The Private Life of Henry Maitland”

H.G. Wells, the author of science fiction classics like “The Time Machine” and “The War of the Worlds,” admitted that he had a personal interest in this work about his fellow author George Gissing (who was oddly given the pseudonym Henry Maitland in a book that was clearly about him). “In so far that I have on several occasions encouraged Mr. Roberts to write it,” Wells wrote, “I feel myself a little involved in the responsibility for it.” He must have left Roberts feeling a bit less than grateful for the encouragement when he judged: “It is no use pretending that Mr. Roberts’s book is not downright bad, careless in statement, squalid in effect, poor as criticism, weakly planned and entirely without any literary distinction.”

Vladimir Nabokov

On jean-paul sartre’s “nausea”.

Nabokov was not yet a household name in the United States (that would come about a decade later, with the publication here of “Lolita”) when he reviewed Sartre’s philosophical novel about Antoine Roquentin, a French historian troubled by the very fact of existence. “Sartre’s name, I understand, is associated with a fashionable brand of cafe philosophy, and since for every so-called ‘existentialist’ one finds quite a few ‘suctorialists’ (if I may coin a polite term), this made-in-England translation of Sartre’s first novel, ‘La Nausée,’ should enjoy some success.”

Tennessee Williams

On paul bowles’s “the sheltering sky”.

Williams, who had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” reviewed this debut novel by Bowles, which went on to be acclaimed as one of the best of the 20th century. The story mercilessly follows a young married couple from New York adrift in the North African desert. “I suspect that a good many people will read this book,” Williams wrote, “without once suspecting that it contains a mirror of what is most terrifying and cryptic within the Sahara of moral nihilism, into which the race of man now seems to be wandering blindly.”

Patricia Highsmith

On r. frison-roche’s “first on the rope”.

When she wrote this brief review, Patricia Highsmith was the author of one novel, “Strangers on a Train.” She would go on to worldwide fame for that and other thrillers, including the ones that feature Tom Ripley. The author she reviewed, the French mountaineer R. Frison-Roche, is now relatively obscure. “This is exactly the kind of novel one would expect a Chamonix guide to write — blunt in style and treatment, unevenly paced, about mountain climbing, of course, and authentic down to the last piton, the last breathtaking moment before the summit.” More tantalizingly, Highsmith added: “There is a delightful and unexpected chapter about a cow battle that is fully as dramatic as the mountain scaling.”

Shirley Jackson

On red smith’s “out of the red”.

One of the stranger matchups of big names in our archives is this review of the sports columnist Red Smith’s work by Shirley Jackson, the author of “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” Jackson wrote about her enjoyment of watching sports on TV. Though she had “limited knowledge” of sportswriters at the time, Smith’s book won her over. “There are some otherwise modest, sensitive females — I am among them — who are become brazen snatchers of the sports page from the morning paper, and only a book like Red Smith’s shows me what I have been missing by not getting into this field sooner. Reading ‘Out of the Red’ has been, actually, an educational experience unlike almost anything I have known since first looking into Chapman’s Homer.”

Eudora Welty

On e.b. white’s “charlotte’s web”.

Eudora Welty’s review of this timeless tale is a sheer delight, starting from its headline (“Life in the Barn Was Very Good”) and its first sentence (“E.B. White has written his book for children, which is nice for us older ones as it calls for big type”). Unlike contemporary reviews that get future classics “wrong,” Welty — who worked briefly as an editor at the Book Review during World War II — saw this accomplishment clear in the moment. “What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time,” she wrote. “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”

Langston Hughes

On james baldwin’s “notes of a native son”.

In this review, Langston Hughes, an eminent literary figure and chronicler of the Black experience in the United States, took the measure of this first collection of essays by Baldwin. He was impressed: “He uses words as the sea uses waves, to flow and beat, advance and retreat, rise and take a bow in disappearing.” He suggested that Baldwin still had room to grow, but that “America and the world might well have a major contemporary commentator.”

Dorothy Parker

On s.j. perelman’s “the road to miltown”.

To no one’s surprise, Dorothy Parker, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, was funny in this review of work by her fellow humor writer. She begins it: “It is a strange force that compels a writer to be a humorist. It is a strange force, if you care to go back farther, that compels anyone to be a writer at all, but this is neither the time nor the place to bring up that matter. The writer’s way is rough and lonely, and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning out ferryboats?” But while Parker was part of a “vicious circle,” and known for her piercing barbs, she happily praised Perelman, who, she wrote, “stands alone” in his field.

John F. Kennedy

On arthur larson’s “what we are for”.

John F. Kennedy was the author of three books and still a Massachusetts senator when he reviewed this book, an attempt to define for the world what America believed in beyond simply opposition to the Soviet Union and Communism. Larson was a Republican who had worked with labor issues and had been a top speechwriter for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Though the book’s style is somewhat discursive and here and there perhaps a trifle condescending,” Kennedy wrote, “Mr. Larson does succeed very well in portraying the dangers of analyzing American society in terms of class distinctions or rigid economic interests. Though it is not a new theme, he is very successful in reminding us of the ‘kaleidoscope of apparently inexplicable mixtures of political coloration across the landscape.’”

Nora Ephron

On rex reed’s “do you sleep in the nude”.

In this review, the filmmaker, director and writer Nora Ephron marveled at how the young Reed got his show-business subjects to say the things they said to him. Those subjects included Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty and Lucille Ball. Ephron’s opening is a classic: “Rex Reed is a saucy, snoopy, bitchy man who sees with sharp eyes and writes with a mean pen and succeeds in making voyeurs of us all. If any of this sounds like I don’t like Rex Reed, let me correct that impression. I love Rex Reed.”

Toni Morrison

On toni cade bambara’s “tales and stories for black folks”.

Toni Morrison had just one novel under her belt when this review was published in 1971. One of the joys in our archives is to see — in retrospect — the understated descriptions of those who wrote for us. Morrison’s read: “Toni Morrison, an editor in a New York publishing house, is the author of ‘The Bluest Eye.’” “It is a most remarkable collection,” she wrote of Bambara’s work. “Joy aches and pain chuckles in these pages, and the entire book leaves you with the impression of silk — which is so nice because it was made by a living thing that had something on its mind, its survival no doubt.”

John Kenneth Galbraith

On chester bowles’s “my years in public life”.

“Truth, not unconvincing humility, is the grandest virtue and accordingly I may observe that I am better qualified than any man alive to review a book on the public life of Chester Bowles.” The iconoclastic economist and prolific author John Kenneth Galbraith began his review this way because he and Bowles had held some of the same positions of power and had worked together on presidential campaigns. In so doing, they had become friends, which, Galbraith wrote, “is a disadvantage only if the book in question is bad. Only then do you have to consider whether the author should get the truth from you or someone else. This, fortunately, is an extremely good book.”

Nikki Giovanni

On virginia hamilton’s “m.c. higgins, the great”.

The acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni has written verse for children as well as adults, so she was the ideal reviewer for this novel, which was written for young readers but dealt with difficult, mature subjects. Hamilton’s novel, which won a Newbery Medal and a National Book Award, concerns a young boy hoping to save a local mountain from the ravages of strip mining. “‘M.C. Higgins, the Great’ is not an adorable book, not a lived‐happily‐ever‐after kind of story. It is warm, humane and hopeful and does what every book should do — creates characters with whom we can identify and for whom we care. … We’re glad Miss Hamilton is a writer. It makes the world just a little bit richer and our lives just a little bit warmer.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

On tom wicker’s “a time to die”.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. reviewed this account of the 1971 uprising at Attica prison written by Tom Wicker, who was a reporter, columnist and editor for The Times. The book mixed its reportage about the dramatic events at the prison with passages of autobiography. Leave it to Vonnegut to come up with a memorable comparison for what resulted: “The book is designed like a shish kebab, with novelistic scenes from ‘Wicker’s’ childhood and youth alternating with hard‐edged episodes from Attica, and with Tom Wicker himself as the skewer. The materials placed shoulder‐to‐shoulder on the skewer are as unlike as ripe peaches and hand grenades.”

James Baldwin

On alex haley’s “roots”.

The Book Review has always taken pride in finding the right reviewers for the right books, and that is only heightened when a book is a true event, like Alex Haley’s “Roots,” which spent months at No. 1 on The Times’s best-seller list. The great James Baldwin’s piece is something still worth reading and considering today. He wrote of “Roots”: “It suggests with great power, how each of us, however unconsciously, can’t but be the vehicle of the history which has produced us. Well, we can perish in this vehicle, children, or we can move on up the road.”

Joan Didion

On norman mailer’s “the executioner’s song”.

Talk about two heavyweights. On the cover of our Oct. 7, 1979, issue, Didion reviewed Mailer’s epic, genre-defying novel about the infamous Gary Gilmore, who murdered two people in Utah and later demanded that the state follow through with his execution for the crime. Much more than just the story of a crime and a very public death penalty debate, Mailer’s book captured the desperate side of life in the American West. “I think no one but Mailer could have dared this book,” Didion wrote. “The authentic Western voice, the voice heard in ‘The Executioner’s Song,’ is one heard often in life but only rarely in literature, the reason being that to truly know the West is to lack all will to write it down.”

Derek Walcott

On “the glorious flight: across the channel with louis blériot, july 25, 1909” by alice and martin provensen.

The poet Derek Walcott, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, reviewed this book about the French aviator Louis Blériot and his flight across the English Channel, 18 years before Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. “Gaiety and true bravery are close in legend, and this spaciously crafted and modestly presented book is very much in the spirit of its subject,” Walcott wrote. “Fact is turned into magic, very quietly. The return to innocence requires gay and brave strides; the light on the way there is direct, the flight natural and simple, and ‘The Glorious Flight’ has made it.”

Margaret Atwood

On toni morrison’s “beloved”.

Sometimes a book that will become an undisputed classic is met at the moment of its publication with appropriate awe. Such was the case with Morrison’s “Beloved,” a remarkable ghost story set in the years after the Civil War. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and in 2006 was named the best novel of the previous 25 years by a group of prominent writers, critics and editors polled by the Book Review. In her original review of the book in 1987, Margaret Atwood — the author of her own classics, like “The Handmaid’s Tale” — wrote: “‘Beloved’ is Toni Morrison’s fifth novel, and another triumph. Indeed, Morrison’s versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds. If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, ‘Beloved’ will put them to rest. In three words or less, it’s a hair-raiser.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

On j.g. ballard’s “war fever”.

The critic Harold Bloom once said that Ursula K. Le Guin had “raised fantasy into high literature for our time.” In this review of another iconic writer of literary science fiction, Le Guin captured the scope and relevance of Ballard’s themes. “The brilliant, obsessive fictions of J.G. Ballard circle through a round of almost canonical topics of modernist literature and film: the Conradian jungle and its white folk, consumerist America and the ugly American, popular cult figures such as astronauts and film stars, T.S. Eliot’s ‘waste land’ and ‘unreal city.’ Through these and other landscapes of alienation, stock figures move in meticulous patterns toward a predictably shocking conclusion. The voltage is high, but it’s all in the mind.”

Stephen King

On thomas harris’s “hannibal”.

Dark imaginations collide in this review. (If Thomas Harris hadn’t invented Hannibal Lecter, perhaps eventually Stephen King would have?) This was Lecter’s first appearance in a novel in 11 years — and the first since the film adaptation of “The Silence of the Lambs” had made him a household name. “I don’t think many of the Danielle Steel crowd will be rushing out to buy a book in which one character is eaten from the inside out by a ravenous moray eel — but for those who like what Harris can do so brilliantly, no book report is required.”

Jhumpa Lahiri

On mohsin hamid’s “moth smoke”.

We like to keep our eyes peeled for the newest talents here at the Book Review, and here is a vintage example. About a month after this review was published, Jhumpa Lahiri would win a Pulitzer Prize for her debut collection of stories, “Interpreter of Maladies.” And here she was reviewing the debut novel by Mohsin Hamid, who was embarking on his own award-winning career. “Like Fitzgerald, Hamid writes about the slippery ties between the extremely wealthy and those who hover, and generally stumble, in money’s glare,” Lahiri wrote. “Hamid also sets the action over a single, degenerate summer, when passions run high and moral lassitude prevails. And like Fitzgerald, Hamid probes the vulgarity and violence that lurk beneath a surface of affluence and ease.”

Mario Vargas Llosa

On suzanne jill levine’s “manuel puig and the spider woman”.

The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, delivered a sweeping review of this biography of the Argentine writer Manuel Puig. In it, Vargas Llosa considered everything from the influence of the movies on Puig to what made his work so original to whether that work has the “revolutionary transcendence attributed to it by Levine and other critics.” He praised Levine’s own work: “This fascinating book is indispensable for anyone interested in Puig’s work (which Levine, the translator of several of his novels into English, knows to perfection) and in the close connection between film and literature, a defining characteristic of cultural life in the late 20th century; both are described with intelligence and an abundance of information. I found occasional errors, but these in no way diminish the virtues of a book in which rigor and readability walk arm in arm.”

Colson Whitehead

On richard powers’s “the echo maker”.

As we celebrate 125 years of the Book Review, we’ll spend time not just in the distant past but in the vibrant present. Few writers this century are as acclaimed as Colson Whitehead, the author of several novels and the winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for “The Underground Railroad” (2016). In 2019, Richard Powers joined the list of Pulitzer winners as well, for “The Overstory.” But back in 2006, when both were simply very acclaimed authors, Whitehead reviewed this novel about a man who suffers from a rare cognitive disorder after a near-fatal car accident. “Part of the joy of reading Powers over the years has been his capacity for revelation,” Whitehead wrote. “His scientific discourses point to how the world works, but the struggles of his characters … help us understand how we work.”

Patti Smith

On haruki murakami’s “colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage”.

A longtime rock star and poet, Patti Smith became an award-winning memoirist with the publication of “Just Kids” in 2010. We also think she’s a fine reviewer. She brought her deep knowledge of the work of Haruki Murakami to this assessment of his 13th novel. “This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or flawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another.”

On Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

Yes, we love to publish work by prominent novelists, essayists, poets, journalists, historians. But sometimes it’s a thrill to have someone weigh in who is (very, very well) known for something other than books. And who better to review a look at the 21st century than Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, who did so much to shape the world we live in? “Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed, I wanted to keep reading and thinking. All three of his books wrestle with some version of the same question: What will give our lives meaning in the decades and centuries ahead? … It’s no criticism to say that Harari hasn’t produced a satisfying answer yet. Neither has anyone else. So I hope he turns more fully to this question in the future.”

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The graphic novel series “Aya” explores the pains and pleasures of everyday life in a working-class neighborhood  in West Africa with a modern African woman hero.

Like many Nigerians, the novelist Stephen Buoro has been deeply influenced by the exquisite bedlam of Lagos, a megacity of extremes. Here, he defines the books that make sense of the chaos .

Do you want to be a better reader?   Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .

Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .

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40 Writer’s Writers Whomst Readers Should Read

(but what about all the writer's writer's writer's writer's).

Earlier this week, National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas asked Twitter : “Who do you think is widely considered a writer’s writer?” The question inspired no little discussion online, as well as in the Literary Hub office, and so this list—in which I have collected quotes from respectable sources who have doled out the term—was born.

But first, just what  is  a “writer’s writer”? For me, the term suggests a writer who is doing something unusual or extra impressive with their chosen form—something another writer in particular would marvel at, because they would understand firsthand how hard it is. Often this means that said writer is obscure to to general public, but not always. Maybe it’s more mercenary than that, and a writer’s writer is just someone other writers mention to one another whenever they want to sound impressive. Or maybe it’s just as simple as it sounds: a writer that only (or mostly) other writers read. (Which begs the question: do non-writers still buy books at all? Whence the pure reader, sans intention?)

Cynthia Ozick described the phrase “a synonym for obscurity. Every writer understands exactly what that fearful possessive hints at: a modicum of professional admiration accompanied—or subverted—by dim public recognition and even dimmer sales. Yet the writer’s writer is said to write not in hope of fame but out of quiet passion, and is thereby accorded a purity not granted to the household name.”

Or, as Anna Fitzpatrick would have it , “To call someone a “writer’s writer” sounds obnoxious, as in, “This book isn’t for civilian eyes. You have to be one of  us to get it.” I know a better word for people who think this way: assholes.”

Now, fair warning that “writer’s writers”—at least as declared by critics on the internet in places where I could find them—tend to be white men. Shocking! This of course is due to the hegemonic praise structure that still exists in the literary world (though I dare say it’s getting slowly better) and the fact that—at least according to one known male in the Literary Hub office—educated white men often have a strange need to brag about being their high/obscure taste levels. Why they couldn’t brag about reading obscure books by women of color, who knows.

So now, for whatever it’s worth, and for whatever it means, I present 40 “writer’s writers” for your consideration—and a few more as a bonus from us to you at the end.

Jim Shepard

According to Boris Kachka in Vulture :

Jim Shepard is one of the best writers you’ve never heard of. . . . Yet Shepard describes himself as “semi-obscure,” a “writer’s writer,” which he takes as a sort of consolation prize: “It used to mean, ‘ writers like him, anyway.’” He is not happy with his place in literary culture; nor should he be, since his commercial timing has always been a little off.

Richard Stern

According to Christopher Borrelli in the Chicago Tribune :

Other Men’s Daughters was just reissued by New York Review of Books with an introduction by Philip Roth, who writes that the novel is a “microscope” on its place in time, illustrating “a decisive turning point in American mores . . . when the vast assault upon convention, propriety and entrenched belief began to challenge authority, high and low, and of the wreckage that caused.” He also quotes from his own 1973 review, that Stern’s book “is as if Chekhov had written ‘Lolita.’”

Yet, success didn’t take for Stern.

Despite many more novels and essay collections, a medal from the Academy of Arts and Letters (and a 1995 Heartland Prize from the Tribune ), Stern had long settled into a dreaded backhanded reputation: He became a writer’s writer. Meaning, he remained obscure to the public and didn’t sell many books but he had important admirers (among them Norman Mailer, Joan Didion and Anthony Burgess) who delivered hosannas that didn’t sell books, either. His career became somewhat of a literary equivalent to that famous line about the Velvet Underground, that they sold only a few thousand records but every person who bought one started a band.

Henry Green

According to David Lodge in The New York Review of Books :

Henry Green occupies a special but somewhat puzzling place in the history of modern English fiction. That his real name was Henry Yorke is symbolic of the general elusiveness of his literary identity. He seems to stand to one side of his fictional  oeuvre , smiling enigmatically and challenging us to put a label, and a value, on it. He has been called a “writer’s writer,” and even, according to Terry Southern, “a writer’s-writer’s writer.” W. H. Auden, Eudora Welty, V. S. Pritchett, Rebecca West, and John Updike have all described him, at various times, and in various ways, as the finest novelist of his generation, yet he never enjoyed either the commercial success or the literary fame of contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Christopher Isherwood.

He was neither shrewd nor lucky in the development of his literary career. After a precocious and promising debut,  Blindness  (1926), begun while he was still at school, he wrote a brilliant novel about working-class life,  Living  (1929), several years before such subject matter became fashionable, and then took ten years to write his next,  Party Going  (1939)—a work whose concern with a group of narcissistic socialites setting off on a Continental holiday seemed rather frivolous in the encroaching shadows of World War II. In the 1940s he became more productive, and more widely read ( Loving  [1945] even appeared briefly on the US best-seller lists), but just as he was beginning to attract serious critical attention, interest was diverted by a new wave of British writers, the so-called Angry Young Men, with whose coarse, iconoclastic energies he had little affinity. Whether by coincidence or cause and effect, his creativity seemed to suddenly dry up at this time. The latter part of his life, from the publication of his last novel,  Doting , in 1952, to his death in 1973, was a sad story of increasing reclusiveness, alcoholism, and melancholia. His novels went out of print, and his name virtually disappeared from the canon of modern British fiction.

Sergio Pitol

According to Daniel Saldaña París in Literary Hub :

Pitol is one of those authors whom one never leaves. There is always a corner of his work that can be read under a new lens. It is not for nothing, it seems to me, that he is held as a clear example of a “writer’s writer” in recent Latin American narrative. The fact that authors such as Enrique Vila-Matas and Mario Bellatin have turned him into a character in their own fiction only confirms what any reader senses upon reading him: that Pitol is unfathomable; it could almost be said that he is a literature entire of himself.

John Williams

According to Tim Kreider in  The New Yorker :

In one of those few gratifying instances of belated artistic justice, John Williams’s “Stoner” has become an unexpected bestseller in Europe after being translated and championed by the French writer Anna Gavalda. Once every decade or so, someone like me tries to do the same service for it in the U.S., writing an essay arguing that “Stoner” is a great, chronically underappreciated American novel. (The latest of these, which also lists several previous such essays, is Morris Dickstein’s for the Times .) And yet it goes on being largely undiscovered in its own country, passed around and praised only among a bookish cognoscenti, and its author, John Williams, consigned to that unenviable category inhabited by such august company as Richard Yates and James Salter: the writer’s writer.

According to Jonathan Franzen in an interview with PBS :

[Fox] may be more of a writer’s writer, at least in her adult novels. After getting a late start– after an utterly chaotic childhood, two early marriages, and child-rearing– she was very prolific, but much of her output was YA literature (a term she disliked, preferring “books for children”). And for most of the time she was writing, she lived in a male-dominated literary world. Contrast all this with Updike, who came out of Harvard, burst on the scene in his twenties, wrote about the melancholies and sex lives of affluent American suburbanites, and fit the pattern of a male writer having a full and long career. I don’t care for lists myself, so I won’t make a long one here, but I think in general great writing by women is more often overlooked than its male counterparts. I wonder if you’ve read Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River , or Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children , or the stories and novels and essays of Joy Williams. If you haven’t, you should!

James Salter

According to Terry McDonnell in Literary Hub :

The immense depth of that was in his descriptions of the intimacies of love and the details of disappointment and loss and regret, and it made reading him an ecstatic experience. You read to see what would happen, sure, but you read every word to savor the meaning and balance of each sentence—it was a way to look at life as it passed.

Perhaps that’s why critics called him a “writer’s writer,” a label that annoyed him and, I suspect, everyone else. Jim’s friend, Bruce Jay Friedman, told a story about a weekly writers’ lunch he was part of in the Hamptons that included Mario Puzo ( The Godfather ), Joe Heller ( Catch-22 ) and Mel Brooks ( The Producers ). The group was looking for a new member to liven things up but decided not to ask Salter because, as Puzo put it, Jim was “too good of a writer.”

If you’re an editor there is no such thing, but the implied problem with being a writer’s writer is that it goes with semi-obscurity and lack of commercial success. Not that Jim didn’t do fine; it was just so obvious that his talent outweighed his notoriety and his paydays. Of course Jim never talked about any of this. Then, in late 2012, with the novel  All That Is,  he was poised for the hit his talent had been promising for so many years.

Stephen Wright

According to Deidra McAfee in  New York :

Fully American and fully literary as few are, he is a writer’s writer—but also a reader’s writer who deserves a wider audience.

Maggie Nelson

According to The Millions :

Maggie Nelson is known best for her non-fiction. Often described as some combination of “lyrical” and “philosophical,” Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction have won her a steadfast following. She might be described as a “writer’s writer.” The evidence is in how often her books are named by other writers in our annual Year in Reading series. Bluets , a meditation on the color blue, won praise from David Shields (“utterly brilliant”), Stephen Elliott (“excellent”), Haley Mlotek (“I read Bluets twice in the same plane ride.”), Leslie Jamison, Jaquira Díaz, and Margaret Eby. Meaghan O’Connell wrote of Nelson, “She is one of those people for me, writers who I want to cross all boundaries with, writers from whom I ask too much. She makes me want more than, as a reader, I deserve. She already gives us more than we deserve. It isn’t fair.” Many of the above writers also praised Nelson’s more recent The Argonauts , “a genre-bending memoir,” as did Bijan Stephen, Olivia Laing (“It thinks deeply and with immense nuance and grace”), Karolina Waclawiak (“I found myself underlining on nearly every page”), and Parul Sehgal. Nelson herself appeared in our Year in Reading last year, shining light on books by Eileen Myles and Ellen Miller, among others.

Lydia Davis

According to Ali Smith in The Guardian :

In the UK at least, until the 2010 publication of her Collected Stories (Penguin), it was quite hard to track down copies of her four collections: Break It Down (1986), Almost No Memory (1997), Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2001) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007), though a couple of these and a lone novel, The End of the Story (1995), were published in the 90s by Serpent’s Tail. She was hard to find, but held in such regard among those who read her that from the beginning she had the reputation of being a writer’s writer.

But she’s such a reader’s writer, this daring, excitingly intelligent and often wildly comic writer who reminds you, in a world that likes to bandy its words about, what words such as economy, precision and originality really mean. It’s all about how you read and about the reflorescence of what and how things mean with Davis, who works in an understated, concentrated way and in a form that usually slips under the mainstream radar. So look again, because this is a writer as mighty as Kafka, as subtle as Flaubert and as epoch-making, in her own way, as Proust. As a translator, she has recently produced magnificent English versions of classics by the latter two, but it’s the short-story form that she’s made her own, and even changed the potential of, over three decades of honing a style whose discipline is a perfect means of release of hilarity, myth, merciless sharpness, and, most of all, of a celebration of the thinking, vital, fertile mind.

David Markson

According to Corey Messler in Popmatters :

David Markson is a national treasure. He is championed by many, including young turks like David Foster Wallace. It is often said he is a writer’s writer. The implication is that he might be the one of the best  unread  writers in America, even though early in his career one of his books was made into a big Hollywood movie ( Dingus Magee ) and Ann Beattie said of him, “Markson is as precise and dazzling as Joyce.”

Eimear McBride

According to Gabrielle Bellot in Literary Hub :

The prose of Eimear McBride’s brilliant first novel,  A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing , recalled many a Modernist writer, from Gertrude Stein to James Joyce—so much so that she’s tired of being compared to Joyce. And her success story is also one both old and new: her novel took nearly a decade to be picked up and acknowledged, at which point it won both the Bailey’s and Goldsmiths Prizes. Her next novel,  The Lesser Bohemians , moves to London in the 1990s, featuring a tempestuous love story between a young Irish girl studying drama and an older actor. It “nearly killed” her to write, McBride told the  Guardian  in August.   McBride is the kind of writer’s writer who I’m always excited to read more from.

Barry Hannah

According to Michael Bible in Literary Hub :

Barry’s status as a writer’s writer bothered him, I think. He always wanted to have Kurt Vonnegut numbers. But I’m glad he never reached that level in his life. Fame is a disease that infects all those who encounter it. From the outside it seems like the pinnacle of a career, the end goal of creative work. But the writing world is littered with those whose fame overshadowed their work and destroyed them from the inside out. People like Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger, who are thought of as eccentric for shunning the public. But in retrospect retreat from fame looks to be the more sane route. I think often of Carson McCullers typing out the  Ballad of the Sad Cafe  with one finger after a series of strokes. She was famous at the age of 22 and died at 50.

Lucia Berlin

According to Nadja Spiegelman in  The New York Times :

The day Lucia Berlin was born, in Juneau, Alaska, in 1936, an avalanche wiped out a third of the town, or so she later wrote. Mythic stories gravitated to her, and in death she acquired one more: that of a writer who died too young and went unrecognized in her lifetime. In truth, when she died, at 68 in 2004, she had published 76 stories and six collections, for which she received several prizes. And yet, just as in her writing, the myth is truer than the truth. She should have written more. She should have been more celebrated. In 2015 Farrar, Straus & Giroux published A Manual for Cleaning Women , a 400-page volume of her re-collected tales .  It was rapturously received: Here was a writer’s writer who, at the same time, had tremendous popular appeal. The book made the New York Times best-seller list. She was canonized alongside Richard Yates and Raymond Carver, and her own heroes, William Carlos Williams and Chekhov.

Joy Williams

According to Claire Burgess in The Rumpus :

After ten long years without a new story collection from Joy Williams, we are finally rewarded this week with The Visiting Privilege , containing thirteen new stories and thirty-three stories collected from across Williams’s career. Williams is a writer’s writer, a storysmith of the highest caliber whose creations are studied and beloved by the greatest in her field. The back of Visiting Privilege bears acclaim from the likes of Raymond Carver, George Plimpton, and James Salter. A wonderful profile of Williams in the New York Times Magazine last week contains George Saunders praising her comedy, Karen Russell calling her a “visionary,” and Ann Beattie exclaiming over her use of exclamation points. A reviewer at NPR called her “quite possibly America’s best living writer of short stories.” And the stories in Visiting Privilege are worth every inch of the praise.

Paul Horgan

According to Beth Kephart in Literary Hub :

Horgan died within days of my mailing that letter. Cardiac arrest. He was 91 years old—“the writer’s writer, the biographer’s biographer,” in the words of David McCullough; “that rarest of birds,” said Walker Percy; the story finder and teller often compared to Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, and Thomas Hardy. In memoriam, I filled my library with more Paul Horgan. I searched for others with whom I might light the Horgan flame.

Richard Yates

According to Don Lee in Electric Literature :

When I bleat into this kind of self-pitying state, though, I think about a writer who was probably the most miserable person I have ever met: Richard Yates. His work is familiar to quite a few readers now, thanks to a retrospective by Stewart O’Nan in  The Boston Review  in 1999, Blake Bailey’s biography,  A Tragic Honesty,  in 2003, and the film adaptation of Yates’s first novel,  Revolutionary Road,  in 2008, but at the time of his death in 1992, he was largely forgotten, and all his books quickly fell out of print.

Even within his lifetime, he was a writer’s writer, meaning he had a small following among literati but otherwise was almost completely unknown. I came across his work by pure chance in my early twenties. I was in Burbank, California, living in my parents’ condo, which was sitting empty at the time, working odd jobs, and waiting for grad school in Boston to begin. I spent a lot of weekends in a vast used bookstore in downtown Burbank, roaming the aisles and picking out battered paperbacks, almost at random, for fifty cents a pop. I happened to buy Yates’s first collection,  Eleven Kinds of Loneliness  (how could I resist that title?), got hooked, and read everything else I could find by him.

Elmore Leonard

According to CrimeReads :

Elmore Leonard was “the Dickens of Detroit,” “the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers,” and above all a master craftsman. Ever a writer’s writer, Leonard honed his craft meticulously over a career that spanned sixty years and nearly as many books, from westerns to era-defining crime novels like  Get Shorty  and  Out of Sight  to short story collections that still infuse the pop and mystery culture to this day. Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in the  New York Times  in 2001, has become gospel for many a writer, including such timeless gems as “[t]ry to leave out the part that readers tend to skip” and, most famously, “[i]f it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Leonard was also renowned for his opening lines. (In his “Rules,” he warns writers to skip prologues and never to start by describing the weather.) Rightly, he’s now remembered as one of the greatest lead writers in the history of crime fiction, able to engage a reader, capture a mood, and establish a world in a few brief words.

According to Gail Godwin in  The New York Times :

Ward Just is both a writer’s writer and an astute tracker of human souls under duplicity and duress. He writes incisively, with striking imagery and with deep knowledge of how people in power behave, from ambassadors coping with the world’s hot spots to Midwestern community leaders suppressing a local crime. Like many distinguished novelists, Just was a journalist first, covering Washington, London and Saigon before the release of his first novel in 1970. American Romantic , his 18th, is one of his finest. It has all the qualities Just’s regular readers look forward to, yet it’s an equally good place to be introduced to his work.

Frederick Busch

According to Mary Rourke in  Los Angeles Times :

He was often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” and his work was compared to that of such literary masters as Raymond Carver and John Cheever. Busch received a number of prestigious awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters fiction award in 1986 and the PEN/Malamud prize in 1991. Busch once said his goal was to be “a really honest, minor writer of the 20th century.”

According to Hillary Kelly in Vulture :

Critics, especially those who are also novelists, have always liked her work: “If we’re lucky, [ Person of Interest ] may turn out to be a prototypical 21st-century novel,” Francine Prose wrote in the New York Times . Of her most recent novel, My Education , Meg Wolitzer wrote, “I felt like I was in an obsessive relationship with it. I wanted to read it all the time.” Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, first came to Choi’s work while reviewing American Woman . The two are now friends and neighbors in Fort Greene. “She’s really an original,” Egan says. “She’s following an internal rudder to territory that’s always fascinating.”

Which is to say, Choi is a writer’s writer: “A lot of people that I have a high opinion of have a high opinion of her,” says another friend, the author Sigrid Nunez. But the public has never quite sunk its teeth into Choi’s work, and she knows this. “By the time American Woman was getting critical accolades,” she says “it was underperforming already.”

According to Roxane Gay in  The Nation :

Paul Yoon’s slender novel  Snow Hunters  is exquisitely written—the kind of book that makes you think, this is the work of a writer’s writer.

Sigrid Nunez

According to Emily Bobrow in 1843 :

Why aren’t more people familiar with the work of Sigrid Nunez? At 66, she seems doomed to be a writer’s writer, beloved by a loyal few for her clear, incisive prose, but regrettably overlooked by almost everyone else. Perhaps The Friend – her seventh novel – will change this. The book is an intimate, beautiful thing, deceptively slight at around 200 pages, but humming with insight. After the unexpected suicide of her best friend, a woman becomes the caretaker of the hulking, melancholic Great Dane he left behind. In another writer’s hands this might seem too slim a premise, but Nunez has made her book into an artfully discursive meditation on friendship, love, death, solitude, canine companionship and the life of an aging writer in New York. Far from being heavy going, this novel, written as a letter to the late friend, is peppered with wry observations, particularly those of a writer stuck teaching undergraduates. (Why, for example, do students always describe characters by their eye and hair color, “as if a story is a piece of ID like a driver’s license”?) Like a magpie, Nunez’s heroine plucks wisdom from writers, philosophers and films to weave a story about the search for meaning in dark times.

Karl Ove Knausgaard

According to Hermione Hoby in  The Guardian :

[Zadie] Smith also wrote: “Everywhere I’ve gone this past year the talk, amongst bookish people, has been of this Norwegian.” And Knausgaard does indeed seem to have reached a “writer’s writer” status, like that of Marcel Proust, to whom he is most often compared. (Knausgaard has said: “I not only read À la recherche du temps perdu , but virtually imbibed it.”)

Janet Malcolm

According to Sarah Nicole Prickett in Bookforum :

One afternoon I was in the office of a psychoanalyst I know, scanning the alphabetical shelves for a book by Melanie Klein on envy and gratitude, when I glimpsed old copies of Janet Malcolm’s  Psychoanalysis (1981) and  In the Freud Archives (1984) and saw a chance to get some perspective. Malcolm is a magazine writer’s writer: No journalist of her stature is so frequently discussed among people I know who write “pieces” while being undiscussed by people I know who don’t.

W. G. Sebald

According to Arthur Lubow in  The New York Times :

When The Emigrants , his first book to be translated into English, came out in 1996, it won the critical esteem he already enjoyed in German and established him in the English-speaking world as a writer’s writer. Susan Sontag called it “an astonishing masterpiece” that “seems perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read.” In his next book, The Rings of Saturn , he composed a phantasmagoric travelogue across southeastern England. The biographer Richard Holmes, who lives in Norwich and is the author of Footsteps , itself a hybrid of biography and travel writing, calls The Rings of Saturn “a brilliant book and very, very original, with this almost deadpan humor and these wonderful shifts—it’s rather magic.”

David Huddle

According to Rebecca Makkai in an interview with  BOMB :

He is indeed a Southern Gentleman, one of the best. And a writer’s writer. When I find another writer who loves David Huddle, we tend to embrace on the spot.

Alice Munro

According to Joyce Carol Oates in  The New Yorker :

A wonderful writer, whom I first began reading in the nineteen-sixties, when I lived in Ontario, Canada. Alice Munro has always been, among her other attributes, “a writer’s writer”—it is just a pleasure to read her work. And how encouraging to those of us who love short stories that this master of the realistic, “Chekhovian” short story is so honored. In a world so frantically politicized and partisan, the achievement of Alice Munro is truly exceptional.

Mavis Gallant

According to Chris Power in The Guardian :

No living author seems to me less deserving of the term “writer’s writer” and its implication of remote obscurity than Mavis Gallant. In Michael Ondaatje’s words, “among writers she is a shared and loved and daunting secret”, and it seems a telling detail that while she remains too little known, those who read her tend to move, as I did, from ignorance to devotion with uncommon haste.

Breece D’J Pancake

According to Jon Michaud in The New Yorker :

It’s not hard to see why Pancake has become a sort of secular saint for some writers. Writing is an act of faith. Writers face endless rejection, constant self-doubt. For many writers, practicing their art requires a vow of poverty or, at the very least, a vow of doing without. Pancake suffered through all of this and more, and yet he was delivered to the afterlife of publication and acclaim.

Nevertheless, Pancake deserves to be more than a writer’s writer. In his stories, objects are constantly being unearthed: fossils and coal from the earth, skeletons and arrowheads from Indian burial grounds. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake is a sharp, flinty object, an arrowhead left behind by a talented and tragic young author. It would be easy to allow his one collection of stories to be buried under the landslide of books published every year. But it’s worth doing a little excavating to dig it up. The past few years have seen late-in-the-day and posthumous revivals of interest in writers such as Renata Adler, Elena Ferrante, and John Williams. Get out your pickaxes. It’s high time for a Pancake revival.

Patricia Hampl

According to Jennifer Brice in  Ploughshares :

Although her work is widely read, Patricia Hampl is also a writer’s writer—lyric, cerebral, a boon companion at any stage of the writer’s journey. The arc of her career parallels the rise of personal writing in America in the past half-century. It may be that the genre most closely associated with memory—“that captivating mystery,” she calls it—chose her, not the other way around. Indeed, she uses the language of surrender to describe her writing process. “I conscripted myself to be the protagonist of these books,” she told National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm in 2007. “As memoir began gaining ground, I realized I was riding this strange tiger.”

According to Amy Hempel in an interview with Antenna :

That talk that Gary Lutz gave a couple of years ago is every bit as important as Diane said. Gary has been an extraordinary “writer’s writer” for years, and as more people read and listen to him, his influence grows. Gary Lutz sounds like nobody else. He is one of the most precise and daring writers I can think of. There are no half-measures in his stance regarding fiction. You can set a course by some of the things he said in that talk, which I think was also  published in the  Believer . He is always worth reading, and re-reading!

Robert Walser

According to Joe Winkler in Vol. 1 Brooklyn :

There’s something of the writer’s writer status in Robert Walser. Read by few since his death, but adored by the right people (Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, W.G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, J.M. Coetzee and, more recently, Ben Lerner, Rivka Galchen and Benjamin Kunkel) there’s something of an in-the-know feel about reading Walser. As his writings become almost completely translated, more and more writers discover this often meek, playful, and secretive artist and feel in the presence of found genius.This status of a writer’s writer speak not only to the act of discovery, the gift of stumbling upon this unknown brilliant person, but also to the nature of the enjoyment. Walser, like other writer’s writers can do so much in one sentence as to floor anybody who values words, sentences, and the basic building blocks of literature.

Daniel Woodrell

According to Benjamin Percy in  Esquire :

Woodrell has long been considered a world class prose stylist and storyteller: a writer’s writer. Yet despite his acclaimed novels—among them, the darkly brilliant  The Death of Sweet Mister  (about a deeply troubled mother and son living in a graveyard) and the PEN West–winning  Tomato Red  (about an out-of-control criminal who tries to make right but always ends up wrong)—he has somehow remained one of American literature’s best-kept secrets. It was not until  Winter’s Bone , published in 2006, was adapted into the 2010 Oscar-nominated film about the poor, desperate, and unforgettable Ree Dolly on a mission to save her family and find her meth-cooking father that Woodrell received widespread attention.

Donald E. Westlake

According to Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Review of Books :

When the final volley of bullets arrives in  The Comedy is Finished , one of the kidnappers tells Koo: “It sounds like the critics found you.” And while it is likely that critics might not have found or appreciated a novel this good even had it been published back in the time it was written, Westlake clearly didn’t care too much about being taken “seriously,” continuing to produce serious-even-when-funny great books in a remarkable career that never ended until he died. Over several decades of calm, passionate literary production, he never wrote a bad sentence or a bad scene, and he produced so many good books that he needed a filing cabinet of pseudonyms just to keep up. Which, come to think of it, may qualify him as that rarest beast of all: the writer’s writer’s writer. There was always too much of him to go around—which means the rest of us have plenty of time to catch up.

According to Alexander Helmintoller in Zyzzyva :

Lerner, who is first and foremost a poet, is a writer’s writer. His first novel,  Leaving the Atocha Station , came out to great acclaim in 2011. He is constantly experimenting with form and the limits of plausibility—and breaks these literary conventions by fictionalizing nonfiction—frequently employing apostrophe to blend fiction and nonfiction and to reveal the mechanisms at the writer’s disposal. It is as if we have been invited into a space much more intimate than the writer’s studio: In  10:04 , we observe his relationships, his travel to shameful fertility appointments in which he must provide a “sample” for testing in order that his best friend Alex be able to move forward with intrauterine insemination. We are with the writer as he washes his hands again and again after worrying that his pants (which have touched the D-line train seats) and the remote used to navigate the clinic’s digital library of “visual stimuli” will contaminate his sample. We pass through his life in New York, his residency in Texas, back in time to meet his mentors, and even leap forward into multiple projected futures. So while the novel is largely defined by its lack of unity of plot, the scenes, however far removed they are from each other, stand alone, and are striking in their humor and wit.

According to Charles McGrath in the New York Times :

Thanks in large part to Charles Bukowski, who rediscovered Fante in the late ’70s and helped get him back in print, Bandini’s transparent neediness as a writer has endeared him to generations of younger authors, who turned Ask the Dust into a cult book—a writer’s writer’s novel—though it sold no more than a couple of thousand copies when it first came out.

Elizabeth Hardwick

According to Michelle Dean in  The New Republic :

it must have been very hard to actually be Elizabeth Hardwick. Her marriage to Robert Lowell in 1949 brought her both transcendent passion and abject disaster. She spent many years playing his nursemaid, as he was repeatedly committed to mental institutions, and bearing his infidelities as a function of his madness. Perhaps worse, she was in her professional life that double-edged thing, a writer’s writer. She lived in a welter of literary gossip, surrounded by people who managed, by most measures the world cared about, to do more than she did: to write more books, win more awards, attract more readers. Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion, and Susan Sontag all counted as her friends, though she did not become as famous as they did. She managed, somehow, to present her secondary status as evidence of more seriousness. There is always something slightly vulgar, to intellectuals, about worldly success, and Hardwick benefited from the idea that the best fiction, the best criticism truly thrive at a slight remove from the masses.

Steven Millhauser

According to Jonathon Sturgeon in Flavorwire :

The quintessential American writer’s writer, or critic’s writer, or whatever, Steven Millhauser has long excelled at the three major forms of fiction. In 1997 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Martin Dressler, a chimerical 19th century study that discovers Modernist ennui under the turtle shell of the American dream. He has been praised, too, for his novellas, by Jim Shepard and others, who rightly imply that he has more or less mastered the American incarnation of the form—even if, as Millhauser wryly explains it, the novella isn’t a form but a length.

Denis Johnson

According to Christian Lorentzen (sort of) in Vulture :

A tempting answer to the question of what happened to Fuckhead is that he became his author, who died on May 24, 2017, at age 67, of liver cancer. Sometimes the biographical fallacy isn’t a fallacy, and we know that Johnson spent a lot of his 20s in a haze of alcohol, heroin, and whatever else came his way. He quit drinking in 1978, at age 29, and his first novel,  Angels , appeared in 1983. By the time of his death, he was the author of 19 books of fiction, plays, poetry, and reportage—one of which, the Vietnam War novel Tree of Smoke , won the National Book Award in 2007. He’s called a writer’s writer, but his audience is in fact legion. There are people walking around who know his books by heart. You probably know somebody like that.

And since, as we’ve established, the definition of “writer’s writer” is subjective at best, here are still more suggestions from Lucas’s Twitter thread and the writers and readers of the Literary Hub office:

Clarice Lispector, Bruno Schulz, Marie NDaiye, Rachel Cusk, John Keene, Penelope Fitzgerald, Annie Dillard, Marguerite Duras, Marguerite Yourcenar, Violette Leduc, Roberto Bolaño, Carole Maso, William Maxwell, Angela Carter, Oakley Hall, Chester Himes, Elizabeth Tallent, Mary Robison, Tom McCarthy, Lidia Yuknavitch, Vasily Grossman, Sara Gran, Ryu Murakami, Charles Baxter, Andre Dubus, Joseph Roth, James Lasdun, Alexander Chee, Toni Cade Bambara, Georges Perec, Fernando Pessoa, Gayl Jones, Anna Kavan, Kathryn Davis, Kiese Laymon, Amy Hempel, Donald Antrim, Renee Gladman, Anne Carson, Helen DeWitt, James Alan McPherson, George Saunders, Gene Wolfe, Stephen Dixon, Geoff Dyer, Eileen Chang, Muriel Spark, etc. etc. etc.

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The Books List

The World’s 20 Best Fiction Writers

Curating a list of 20 of the world’s best fiction writers is no easy task.

Which of the many thousands of great and famous writers had the most influence on the world as a result of what they wrote?

How have their writings changed the world?

And then, particularly if we are including Shakespeare as one of the influential writers, we need to look at what kind of writing we are talking about. Our list of the greatest writers are all fiction writers – poets, novelists, and dramatists. They are all writers who had a significant influence on the writers who came after them.

So who are the greatest writers of all time? Here is our pick of the top 20. It would be an impossible task to rank them, so they are listed in order of their date of birth:

Homer, about 850 BCE

Homer was an unknown poet the ancient Greeks named ‘Homer.’ Scholars have raised the question of whether there was ever a single author rather than a collection of oral stories . His main works are The Iliad and The Odyssey . The adventures described in these two epic poems have shaped our thinking about the ancient Greeks – their religious and social structures. Those epics have had a profound influence on subsequent writers,

Sophocles, 496-406 BCE

Sophocles was, an ancient Greek dramatist. He wrote plays that have stood as a model for tragic plays throughout time, up to the present. He dramatically changed the tragic form by adding a third actor, thereby eroding the role of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He was the first playwright to present the fully realized psychological characters, thus providing a model for playwrights who came after him.

Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), 70 BCE – 19 BCE

Virgil was a Roman poet, best known for his epic, Aeneid .  It is the mythical tale of the founding of Rome, a story that has given us our idea of that event and the history of Rome .

The Evangelist, Mark (identity unknown)

The identity of Mark is unknown. The Gospel of St Mark was written in about the years 70 – 75 and has had the greatest influence on the world of any book. It is the first written story of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus has been taken as a historical person and worshiped by increasing numbers, and still worshiped as the God, creator of the universe, by Christians around the world.

Dante (Durante degli Alighieri), 1265-1321

Dante was an Italian poet. The Divine Comedy is the story of the narrator’s journey through hell, purgatory, to paradise. It creates a picture of what hell is like, with ice and sulphurous fire, where sinners are tortured in the most horrific way.

Geoffrey Chaucer,  1343- 1400

Chaucer was a poet, civil servant and diplomat who wrote one of the most influential poems ever, The Canterbury Tales . It’s a rounded, often amusing picture of a group of pilgrims, who range from a knight, a monk, a merchant, a carpenter, a miller and many others, each telling a story.

Francois Rabelais, 1498-1553

Francois Rabelais was a French monk and doctor who wrote a huge novel, The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel , in several volumes, a story about a giant and his son. Satirical, amusing, it has influenced the style of writers like James Joyce,Lawrence Sterne and Shakespeare.

Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Cortinas), 1547-1616

Cervantes, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was a Spaniard. He is the most important writer in the history of the modern novel. His novel, Don Quixote , has not been surpassed in its influence by later novels, and is a model for postmodern fiction writers.

William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616

William Shakespeare, one of the world's best fiction writers?

Shakespeare is the foremost among the best fiction writers. His plays can be held up like mirrors in which we see ourselves as human beings clearly, and come to an understanding of many of the things that make us human. His poetry has had a profound effect on the English language: the way we use English today has been fashioned by his words and phrases and his poetic lines. It is almost impossible to say anything in English without using some construction from the poetry of one of Shakespeare’s plays.

John Donne, 1572-1631

John Donne was a Jacobean poet and clergyman (Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral). He wrote poetry using images of state-of-the-art technology, science, the new geography, and astronomy. Donne stands out as a metaphysical poet in that he uses such metaphors and strong arguments to express the most profound and moving emotions.

John Milton, 1608- 1674

Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost , is a fiction whose subject is the Creation, the Fall, and the cosmic politics between God and his great enemy, Satan. Several modern  novelists, like Philip Pullman, have been inspired by Paradise Lost .

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), 1694-1778

French philosopher, poet, pamphleteer, and fiction writer. His novel, Candide ,  is widely taught in French schools. The British literary critic, Martin Seymour-Smith, named it as one of the hundred most influential books ever written.

Jane Austen, 1775-1817

Jane Austen is one of the most widely read novelists of all time and taught in schools throughout the world. . She is regarded as one of the top English comic writers, right alongside Shakespeare and Dickens. Heroines like Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse are as familiar in Western culture as the characters of Shakespeare and Dickens. Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins are among the finest comic characters in all of English literature.

Hans Christian Andersen, 1805-1875

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish playwright, travel writer, poet, novelist and story writer. His fairy tales, written basically for children, transcend age barriers because of the universal nature of the stories. Each story demonstrates something profound about what it means to be a human being. The Emperor’s New Clothes , is perhaps the best short story ever written because of the way he uses the form to sum up a universal truth in a few words.

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870

Charles Dickens is the top English comic writer. There are few other writers with such a large body of acclaimed fiction works. His novels’ titles are household words: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby , etc. His characters are equally instantly recognisable.

Dickens was a campaigning writer, using themes of poverty, prison horror, legal corruption, child labour, to criticise those aspects of Victorian England.

Leo Tolstoy (Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy), 1828-1910

Tolstoy’s two great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina are among the greatest novels of the 19 th century.

Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Emily Dickinson is regarded as the most potent voice of American culture. Her poetry has inspired many other writers. In 1994 the critic, Harold Bloom, listed her among the twenty-six central writers of Western civilisation.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896-1940

F Scott Fitzgerald was an American novelist. Apart from writing some of the most beautiful prose in all American literature, Fitgerald wrote what is sometimes called ‘the great American novel’ The Great Gatsby . It is a short novel depicting a self-made millionaire’s quest to follow a dream of love and a criticism of the ‘American dream.’

Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

This Argentine writer wrote short fictions which have inspired countless writers, none of whom have come close to capturing the magic of his work. His fictions have been called ‘postmodern,’ because they depart from the conventions of modern short fiction forms.

George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), 1903-1950

George Orwell’s prose is clear, sharp and sparkling.  He is best known for his two political novels. Animal Farm and Nineteen eighty-four. In the latter novel Orwell invented a new language to express the features of the world he creates, and words and phrases have become everyday terms to describe those features in the world we live in today It’s known as ‘newspeak.’  

And that’s our pick for the 20 best fiction writers of all time. We appreciate it’s a list that almost no one will agree with, but would love to hear your thoughts on who else should be included – or perhaps who shouldn’t be on the list! Let us know in the comments section below.

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Has It Ever Been Harder to Make a Living As An Author?

Those who are trying (including Tom Perrotta, Ayad Akhtar, and more) tell us what it's like.

In early August, after Andrew Lipstein published The Vegan, his sophomore novel, a handful of loved ones asked if he planned to quit his day job in product design at a large financial technology company. Despite having published two books with the prestigious literary imprint Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Lipstein didn’t have any plans to quit; he considers product design to be his “career,” and he wouldn’t be able to support his growing family exclusively on the income from writing novels. “I feel disappointed having to tell people that because it sort of seems like a mark of success,” he said. “If I’m not just supporting myself by writing, to those who don't know the reality of it, it seems like it's a failure in some way.”

A few years ago, a literary agent told me that “writing books is not a career,” which didn’t quite compute in the moment. Of course writing books is a career! I thought. What this agent meant was: writing books is not the kind of career that’s also a job . Without any other revenue streams, it’s highly unlikely that someone could make ends meet or support a family by writing novels. Most novelists have day jobs, and the majority of those who don’t are either independently wealthy or juggling a handful of projects at once, often in different mediums like film, journalism, and audio.

“Especially after an author sells their first book, we always caution them against quitting their day job, even if it’s a big advance,” said longtime Knopf editor Jenny Jackson, who herself hit the New York Times bestseller list with her debut novel Pineapple Street earlier this year. “It's not necessarily a life-changing amount of money. If you hear somebody gets $300,000 for their book, that sounds amazing. But realistically, did it take them five years to write that book? Do they need to pay off an MFA?”

There are two schools of thought about full-time jobs for writers: the first is to find one that doesn’t drain your creative reserves, Jackson said, citing her author Emily St. John Mandel , who booked corporate travel while writing Station Eleven . “And then the flip side,” she added, “are the writers who teach because they’re engaging all day in something that uses the same bits of their brain as their writing.” Paul Yoon, the author of The Hive and the Honey, teaches at Harvard; he said that classroom discourse allows him to “slip in and out” of his fiction headspace “and to be able to turn it on faster.” Teaching writing at a high level also offers health benefits and a sense of community with other writers who teach. (But of course, those jobs are highly competitive; many academic and publishing-world jobs are poorly paid, making them inherently exclusionary.)

Still, some writers do quit their jobs—like Vanessa Chan, whose novel The Storm We Made is poised to be a breakout debut of 2024. She took a gamble by leaving her role as Senior Director of Communications at Meta in order to give herself two years to write and sell her book. “I had enough savings to be able to fund myself for a year or two before I got this advance that was significant enough for me to write full-time,” she said. If she couldn’t do it in two years, she would have returned to corporate communications.

A book “advance” is an advance against royalties, so that author who receives a $300,000 advance won’t see another check (aside from selling film options or subsidiary rights) until they sell enough copies of the book to “earn out.” For most hardcover books, the royalty is three or four dollars (while ebooks are two dollars and paperbacks are one dollar), so that writer who gets a $300,000 advance—a rarity these days—would have to sell roughly 40,000 copies before royalty checks start landing in their bank accounts. Plus, every subsequent book deal will be measured against their previous books’ selling power. “The vast majority of books do not earn out,” Jackson said. “And so a writer won't be able to get that $300,000 the second time around.”

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The myth of The Writer and their comfortable financial life has likely never been the reality for most, according to Dan Sinykin, the author of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed Publishing and American Literature. “There's no Golden Age story here,” he said. In 1907, W. T. Larned wrote a complaint in Life Magazine that the average successful writer might make $20,000 off the book in today's money. And in 1981, per Sinykin, studies showed that most writers in the United States filed taxes below the poverty line. (Today, the vast majority of book advances come in under $50,000.) As for benefits, authors are considered independent contractors (a.k.a. very small businesses), so they are unable to unionize without violating antitrust laws. As a result, The Authors Guild is a professional organization and not a union. “That also means we cannot provide health insurance,” said Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger, because under the Affordable Care Act, associations cannot offer health benefits to members; only unions can. Full-time authors either purchase their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act or receive coverage through their domestic partners.

These days, it seems the only way for a full-time novelist to ensure financial stability and a comfortable life is to write a Big Book—a reality that’s almost entirely outside their control.

Today’s Big Books are gigantic . The sales impact of an Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Good Morning America , or Jenna Bush Hager book club selection ranges from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Sometimes, the impact approaches the millions when audio, ebooks, and paperbacks are taken into account. (During the 2022 Penguin Random House vs. Department of Justice trial , it became public knowledge that 4% of books earn 60% of profits.) Still, although overall book sales ticked up in 2020—and are still sky-high—the increased costs of printing, shipping, and paper are crushing publishers. So, while there’s a massive public appetite for books, many imprints are operating at a deficit.

This returns us to today’s business climate, where most titles, according to Sinykin, sell less than 5,000 copies. “Depending on who's doing the counting, only somewhere between 2% and 12% of books, as of today, sell 5,000 copies,” he said.

Amid these budgetary issues, with publishing houses devoting the bulk of publicity muscle to a handful of titles, writers are now expected to become the spokespeople for their books. Jackson estimates that the full-time authors on her roster spend 20 hours per week writing op-eds, doing panels, communicating with their fans on social media, participating in PR campaigns, and taking meetings with Hollywood execs. That’s why the ones who have day jobs—the industry majority—must treat publishing their book like a second job. And it’s also partly why someone like Chan (who has a background in public relations in addition to writing beautifully) is so well-positioned to break out.

When the department heads of a publishing imprint meet to discuss a submission, Bogaards explained, one word is top-of-mind: platform. “That's a seismic difference in the world today, this question of platform: What is the author going to bring to the table?” he pointed out. Remembering when he started working in publishing in the 1980s, he said, “You know what the author brought to the table? The work itself.” As Bogaards remembers that era of publishing, more writers supported themselves from writing alone. Authors didn’t have the added job of self-promotion, either; for instance, he recalls that John Updike “was generally a reticent participant in the arena of public relations.” Other writers like Cormac McCarthy shunned new media altogether. “I don't know that you can be Cormac McCarthy in the world that we live in today,” Bogaards said. To be clear, he added, “The absence of a platform will not preclude publishers from acquiring good books.” Still, platform is an inevitable part of the conversation today in a way that it was not during the 1970s and 1980s.

During that time, writers reached readers through more conventional means. According to Sinykin, the 1970s and 1980s saw chain bookstores and shopping centers sprout up in the suburbs, effectively boosting book sales. (Before the 1970s, most Americans consumed fiction in magazines like Harper’s, The New Yorker, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Atlantic .) “In the 1950s and 1960s, you had writers like Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, and Truman Capote being cultural figures in a way that's hard to imagine now,” Sinykin said. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, writers could become national celebrities via magazine covers and talk show appearances. Today, with the attention economy increasingly splintered, novelists must compete for eyeballs on our small screens, in the hope that some of those eyeballs will buy their book. Now, authors primarily reach readers by way of social media, where email newsletters and retail promotions are the primary drivers of book sales.

The last 50 years have brought writers the same structural stresses as every other laborer in America, Sinykin said, namely “the combination of inflation and wage stagnation.” So how is it that so many writers seem to be living comfortably?

They’re moonlighting as screenwriters, bylined or not. For decades, Hollywood has been the place where fiction writers could not only make a living, but receive healthcare and benefits through the WGA. Even screenwriters who’ve never had scripts produced have Writers Guild of America health insurance and own homes in Silver Lake or the Hollywood Hills. “Unless you have a big, huge hit play or a lucky best-selling novel, you’re probably paying your bills with a TV or movie gig,” said Lowell Peterson, the executive director of the Writers Guild of America East.

Before the film adaptation of Election changed his life, Tom Perrotta was a “classic version” of his generation of writers, he said, graduating with a master’s degree in creative writing from Syracuse in 1988, when he was in his mid-twenties. In the decade following, he taught as an adjunct professor at Yale, Harvard, and Brooklyn College; worked as proofreader and advertising copywriter; and ghost-wrote a teenage horror novel. In 1999, after Election became a smash big-screen hit, everything changed for Perrotta. “I got the opportunity to write some TV pilots, because people were really interested in the voice of Election ,” he said. “I got paid to learn how to become a screenwriter. I got paid three times what I was making as an expository writing instructor at Harvard.”

There was a moment in the 2010s when pedigreed writers from fiction MFA programs would graduate directly into television writers’ rooms. “When we were working on The Leftovers , by the third season, half of our writers had come from MFA fiction writing programs,” said Perrotta, who was at once novelist, screenwriter, and showrunner. “It felt like a really interesting moment of these two literary cultures that had been separate for a long time converging.”

But in the late 2010s, when streaming shortened the length of television seasons, writers suddenly faced shorter periods of employment, longer periods of unemployment, and fewer opportunities to climb the career ladder. As it stands now, members of the WGA East can maintain active membership if they do any Guild-covered work in a year, but they must earn a certain amount of money to qualify for a year of healthcare coverage. In recent years, some writers have struggled to meet that minimum, given the way that writers’ rooms have changed with streaming.

“I'm so aware now of how much being in that union saved me as a writer,” Perrotta said. He cited how the Writers Guild provided healthcare, contributed toward a pension, and set salary minimums for certain kinds of work.

“I'm so aware now of how much being in that union saved me as a writer."

Ayad Akhtar , the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and President of PEN America, believes the idea that writers must spread themselves increasingly thin to make ends meet “speaks to the lack of value that we place on the arts, in general, in our culture.” While there are advantages to the “intense, competitive nature” of the arts, “fueled by American capitalism, there are also significant disadvantages,” he said. Ultimately, because writers are juggling so many projects at once, they learn to treat stories as commodities. According to Akhtar, this affects which stories are told in Hollywood. “Writers are figuring out how to fit into a system where executives who are ultimately non-creative—and I don’t mean that as a pejorative, just as an observation of fact—are making determinations about what’s going to work on a platform,” he said.

In the years and months preceding this summer’s writers’ strike, creative executives at streaming companies were increasingly replaced by tech executives, who drove the industry toward making production decisions based on data sets about the kinds of stories that hold audiences’ attention. Akhtar has a close friend (a creative executive) who has been using artificial intelligence to write scripts for the last six months. “I read a script they had outputted about two and a half months ago. It was hands-down the most compelling TV script I’ve read in a long time,” he said. Not because it was good , but because, he said, “It had my number in the same way that the iPhone has my number. I was turning the pages even though I had no real understanding of why I cared.”

The Writers Guild agreement reached on September 27th addresses the use of artificial intelligence and other concerns about the viability of screenwriting as a job. “If anything, this is a sort of future-proofing strike and contract,” Peterson said. The protections regarding artificial intelligence (but also minimums, benefits, development rooms, and episodic employment) will remain in effect through 2026, and “they’re going to be the foundation on which we negotiate more.” Writers making the transition from novel-writing or playwriting to television are “among the main beneficiaries of this contract,” Peterson added. “Maybe not immediately, but the idea is to preserve this as a viable career going forward.” He hopes that the WGA has “shored up” screenwriting as a viable career. However, he continued, “I hope that book writing and journalism and playwriting get more viable so that people can express themselves in all these ways.”

As for the Authors Guild, which cannot bargain collectively because it is not a union, Rasenberger said it’s exploring ways for members to take collective action within their rights as independent contractors in book publishing, as covered by the The Norris-LaGuardia Act and the Clayton Act. “We don’t want to push the boundaries too much because we don’t want to get sued,” she said, “but we do believe that gives us the right to take certain types of actions without forming a union. Unlike the Writers Guild, we can’t have a collective bargaining agreement.”

Many authors have made peace with the idea that writing novels is a “career” but not a “job.” Yoon defines writing as “this vocational thing that I do,” while “teaching is my job.” Chan defined a “job” as “the thing that you do to survive, the thing to make money and to make rent.” But, she continued, “The career is where you find the sense of fulfillment, and hopefully achievement, and then the money is nice to have.”

Lipstein, meanwhile, considers writing an art; as he described it, “It's a form of expression, and it's something that I feel compelled to do.” He wrote not one, not two, but five manuscripts before getting published, and he didn’t see a dime for any of them. “If you're going to make it as a writer today, you have to be compelled to write regardless of how much money it's going to earn you,” he said, “because it's probably not going to earn you enough to only do that.”

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Understanding the Market for Fiction Writers

Fiction writing seems to be something that everyone and his dog is engaged in these days. Firstly, about twenty-five years ago, the arrival of the word processor meant that anyone could two-finger type out a novel, print it and send it off to unsuspecting agents and publishers.

Secondly, the establishment of the Internet has spawned a plethora of journals, zines and communities full of people writing fiction. This has produced a polarization in the fiction market. At one end – the most densely-populated end – are the non-subsidized print and Internet literary journals. Despite their best efforts, the vast majority of these seem to exist for the sole benefit of writers – there are precious few people who subscribe to these zines just to read them. For the most part, they are filled with writing by promising beginners and intermediate writers. At the other end of the spectrum lurk the subsidized literary and American University journals. They have deliberately striven to dissociate themselves from the ‘writers’ journals and have been criticized for being elitist, narrowly “MFA-Literary” and nigh on impossible to get into.

The problem is, there seems to be nothing in the middle: nothing to cater for fiction that is neither safe and rule-abiding on the one hand, nor elitist and establishment on the other.

What does this mean for fiction writers first entering the market? Initially, they develop fast. There are so many resources available to them. Developing short-story writers move swiftly from beginner level to intermediate by joining on- or off-line writing courses, or getting peer reviews in well-established writing communities such as EditRED.com, and often go on to enjoy plenty of success. The non-subsidized journals publish a lot of new fiction, but they answer to the needs of all the other developing writers of fiction.

The irony is that as these writers, encouraged by their initial success, start to believe in themselves and hone their skills. They begin to dig deeper and reach for other ways to express themselves through their writing, only to discover that they have outgrown the market that nurtured them through their development. They have simply become too good, or too challenging for the majority of online journals. However they may not yet be good enough, or well-connected enough or “MFA-Literary” enough to be picked up by the top literary journals, which are ultra-competitive. So even though their fiction is of a much higher quality, the rejection letters start flooding in.

What options are left to this ever-growing group of fiction writers? Should they dampen their literary ambitions, prune their “heavier” stuff and return to the safety of the journals they began with? Or do they continue trying to get their best work into the elite journals and accept the struggle with zen-like determination knowing they could spend years trying to place their best stories, while the ones they churn out as a matter of course garner publishing credits with relative ease?

The explanation given by many magazine editors of magazines not supported by grants or universities, is that they depend on their subscribers – the aspiring and intermediate fiction writers themselves – and stand to lose subscriptions if they print more challenging fiction.

For many developing writers, bland, safe, forgettable writing represents the peak to which they can aspire. Writing courses reinforce this approach, since it produces significant short-term results, so more and more writers end up producing more of the same in a mind-numbing fiction, and the whole cycle picks up momentum and plummets into an ever-descending spiral.

How Can Fiction Writers Further Their Careers?

First of all, the problem has to be articulated, recognized and discussed. The obvious place is in the writing communities that are full of writers who have the opportunity for the first time in the history of fiction writing to voice their grievances, share their experiences and collectively do something about it. They can demand more of their peers. Communities are raising the standard of short fiction published in online zines because the writers that use them have been given an extra forum in which to develop their craft on a much faster track than submitting blindly to zines until they start getting accepted. If you want to read beginner’s fiction now, there are plenty of opportunities to do so for free in a writing community, and you get to interact with and learn from the authors as well. Just as the techie online forums help web designers to keep up with the latest developments in Javascript or Google algorithms, the writing forums are full of information about writing, publishing and promoting fiction.

Secondly, literary editors will be forced to raise the game and acknowledge the need for greater diversity if their publication is to stand out from the burgeoning crowd of zines. Perhaps an editor’s job has changed. It is no longer to give writers what they want but to show them the range of possibilities in truly great fiction. At the same time, as more people are using the Internet for the purposes of entertainment and education, the great prejudice against reading off the screen is fading into background noise. Genuine readers are beginning to appear. At last editors are beginning to reach the audience for which their zines were always intended.

Finally, following the lead from the most successfully marketed publications on the web, zines will have to mark out their own territory by identifying their specific niche and demanding only the very best fiction that fits the bill. This might sound narrow-minded, but due to the extreme proliferation – we’re talking thousands of literary journals, zines and online projects – the best way to differentiate your zine from the hoards is to create a strong, tightly-defined identity for your publication and demand the highest quality writing that fits into its niche.

Writers of fiction often seek publication as affirmation. If avoiding the deeper, more challenging fiction means you are more likely to “place” it, your development as a writer might well grind to a halt, but at least you’ll get published. If, on the other hand, you are challenged to meet the high demands of a range of tightly-defined fiction journals, which all have their own loyal, hardcore following, you will be challenged to experiment with your idiom, range and approach to writing fiction. This means, writers could go ahead and write something they know will be challenging, in the knowledge that they will be able to find a niche, and a readership, for it.

These niches exist in the literary world; they are just not represented in the literary journals. As Alex Keegan, author and editor of ‘7th Quark’ magazine says, we are left with “barely-readable journals at one end (boring and bland) and barely readable journals at the arts-subsidized end (heavy and elitist). There should be journals out there that have real quality without ivory-tower attitudes.”

Short fiction is a dynamic art form, and the Internet is a quickly-evolving forum for artists to develop their craft, experiment and push the envelope. As we enter the Web 2.0 era, the days of hegemony and elitism enjoyed for so long by subsidized literary journals are numbered.

About the Author: Chris Lee Ramsden is the managing editor of Edit Red and ScribblE ResourcE. He is passionate about contemporary fiction and fascinate by the new avenues of expression available to the modern writer. Check out the latest Writing Resources for articles, interviews with editors, agents and authors, all aimed at helping writers

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The Fiction Writer: A Novel

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Jillian Cantor

The Fiction Writer: A Novel Hardcover – November 28, 2023

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About the Author

  • Print length 304 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Park Row
  • Publication date November 28, 2023
  • Dimensions 6.3 x 0.96 x 9.2 inches
  • ISBN-10 0778310833
  • ISBN-13 978-0778310839
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Park Row; Original edition (November 28, 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0778310833
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0778310839
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 14.7 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.3 x 0.96 x 9.2 inches
  • #3,979 in Gothic Fiction
  • #30,004 in Contemporary Women Fiction
  • #58,864 in Suspense Thrillers

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About the author

fiction writer

Jillian Cantor

Jillian Cantor has a B.A. in English from Penn State University and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona, where she was also a recipient of the national Jacob K. Javits Fellowship. The author of several books for teens and adults, she grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Visit her online at www.jilliancantor.com

Photo credit: Galen Evans

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How to become a fiction writer

Is becoming a fiction writer right for me.

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

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Still unsure if becoming a fiction writer is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer career test to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a fiction writer or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

How to become a Fiction Writer

Becoming a fiction writer requires dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to learn and improve your craft. Here are some steps you can take to become a fiction writer:

  • Read extensively: Reading is essential for writers because it exposes you to different styles, techniques, and voices. Reading also helps you understand the elements of storytelling and how they work together to create a great story. Make a habit of reading every day, and try to read widely and across genres.
  • Practice writing: Writing every day, even if it's just for a few minutes, is essential for improving your writing skills. Set aside a specific time each day to write, and commit to it. You can start with free writing exercises, where you write without any particular goal or direction. Over time, you can start working on specific writing projects, such as short stories, novellas, or novels.
  • Learn the craft: Learning the basics of storytelling is essential for becoming a good writer. Take classes or workshops on writing, read books on writing, and join writing groups or communities. You can also learn by analyzing the work of other writers you admire.
  • Formal education: Formal education can be beneficial if you are looking to improve your writing skills and gain a deeper understanding of literary techniques. A Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing or English provides students with access to experienced professors and workshops.
  • Find your voice: Your writing voice is what sets you apart from other writers. Experiment with different styles and techniques until you find the one that suits you best. Don't be afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • Get feedback: Getting feedback on your writing is essential for improving your craft. Join a writing group or workshop, or hire an editor or writing coach to help you improve your work. You can also share your work with trusted friends or family members who can give you constructive feedback.
  • Submit your work: Once you feel confident in your writing, start submitting your work to literary journals, magazines, or publishers. Be prepared for rejection, but don't give up. Keep submitting and keep improving your craft. You can also consider self-publishing your work.
  • Keep learning and growing: Writing is a lifelong process of learning and growing. Continue to read, write, and learn new techniques to improve your craft. Attend writing conferences and workshops, and seek out feedback and advice from other writers. Remember, the more you practice and learn, the better writer you'll become.

Associations There are many different associations and organizations that fiction writers can join, depending on their specific interests and goals. Here are a few examples:

  • The Romance Writers of America (RWA): This is a professional association for writers of romance novels and other romantic fiction. Members have access to networking opportunities, educational resources, and contests and awards.
  • Mystery Writers of America (MWA): MWA is a professional organization for writers of crime and mystery fiction. Members receive access to networking opportunities, industry events, and resources such as webinars and newsletters.
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA): This organization is for writers of science fiction and fantasy, as well as related genres such as horror and magical realism. Members receive access to networking opportunities, resources, and advocacy efforts on behalf of writers.
  • International Thriller Writers (ITW): This is a professional organization for writers of thrillers and suspense novels. Members receive access to networking opportunities, educational resources, and industry events.
  • Authors Guild: The Authors Guild is a professional organization for writers of all genres. Members receive access to legal resources, advocacy efforts on behalf of writers, and networking opportunities.
  • Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI): This organization is for writers and illustrators of children's literature, including picture books, middle grade fiction, and young adult novels. Members have access to networking opportunities, educational resources, and industry events.

Online Resources There are many online resources available for fiction writers, ranging from websites and blogs to online courses and workshops. Here are some examples:

  • Writer's Digest: Writer's Digest is a well-known resource for writers, with a wealth of articles, tips, and resources on all aspects of fiction writing, from craft to publishing.
  • Reedsy: Reedsy is an online platform that connects writers with editors, designers, and other publishing professionals. In addition to its marketplace, Reedsy offers a free writing course, blog posts on writing and publishing, and a podcast featuring interviews with industry experts.
  • The Creative Penn: The Creative Penn is a website and podcast run by Joanna Penn, a successful indie author. The site offers articles, courses, and resources on writing, self-publishing, and book marketing.
  • The Writers' Workshop: The Writers' Workshop is a UK-based writing school that offers online courses in fiction writing, as well as manuscript assessment services, editing, and coaching.
  • Coursera: Coursera offers a wide range of online courses on writing and literature, including courses on creative writing, poetry, and screenwriting.
  • Gotham Writers Workshop: Gotham Writers Workshop offers online classes in fiction writing, as well as a variety of other writing genres and topics.
  • NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a yearly event that challenges writers to write a novel in a month. While the event takes place in November, the NaNoWriMo website offers resources and support for writers year-round.

108 New Romance Recommendations for (Nearly) Every Kind of Reader

The Fiction Writer

Jillian cantor.

304 pages, Paperback

First published September 26, 2023

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Author Interviews

Police raided george pelecanos' home. 15 years later, he's ready to write about it.

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Writer George Pelecanos reads The Washington Post every morning in his home. Keren Carrión/NPR hide caption

Writer George Pelecanos reads The Washington Post every morning in his home.

It was August 2009 when the police raided writer George Pelecanos' home in Silver Spring, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., with a no-knock warrant.

He was performing his daily ritual of sitting on the couch reading The Washington Post when he saw cars enter the driveway. "I saw these guys wearing black and holding automatic rifles and battering rams," he said in an interview at his home. The police broke down the door overlooking the driveway, and the basement door, too. Pelecanos said they put him on the floor and zip tied his hands.

The police were looking for his then 18-year-old son, Nick. The younger Pelecanos was a part of the robbery of a weed dealer, with a gun involved. So, the cops executed the no-knock warrant looking for evidence of guns or drugs.

After not finding anything, George Pelecanos said the officers started needling him about his liquor cabinet, his watch, his home. "One of the SWAT guys was looking at my books, and he goes 'maybe you'll write about this someday.' And he laughed," Pelecanos said. "And right then I knew that I would write about it. He challenged me."

No knock warrants have been banned in multiple states

Pelecanos is known for his gritty, realistic crime stories. For television, he co-created The Deuce , about the burgeoning porn industry in 1970s New York City, and We Own This City , the mini-series detailing a real-life corrupt police ring in Baltimore. As an author, he's known for his deep catalog of stories set in the streets of Washington, D.C.

His new short story collection is titled Owning Up . And it features characters grappling with events from the past that, with time, fester into something else entirely. There's a story about two guys who knew each other in jail, crossing paths years later. Another has a woman digging into her own family history and learning about the 1919 Washington, D.C. race riots.

fiction writer

Many of Pelecanos' crime fiction book are set in Washington, D.C. Keren Carrión/NPR hide caption

Many of Pelecanos' crime fiction book are set in Washington, D.C.

But Pelecanos said he wanted to write about the August 2009 incident because he wanted to further show the effects of no-knock raids. The Montgomery County police department confirmed they executed the warrant but they didn't immediately provide any additional details. Pelecanos did share a copy of the warrant, which states: "You may serve this warrant as an exception to the knock and announce requirement."

The practice of issuing no-knock warrants has been under increased scrutiny since the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in 2020, and Amir Locke in Minneapolis in 2022. They're banned in Oregon, Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.

"They don't accomplish anything except mayhem and violence," Pelecanos said.

The story "The No-Knock" starts with a journalist named Joe Caruso drinking his coffee and reading the morning paper when the vehicles pull up. The same beats follow — the guns, the zip ties, the pinning down on the floor. Pelecanos writes like he remembers every sensation from that night, because, he said, he does.

It deviates further into fiction from there. Caruso wants to write about it, but he can't. He's too close. He starts drinking heavily, instead. Pelecanos, on the other hand, knew he could write about it, easily. But he waited for over a decade on purpose. He wanted his son's permission, first.

"I wanted my son to grow up," he said. "And so that I could say to you today – he's fine."

Owning Up to the past

"He allowed time for me to grow as a man, and develop myself as a responsible person," said Nick Pelecanos in an interview. He now works in the film industry as a director and assistant director. He got his start working on jobs his dad helped him get. So he's attuned to his father's storytelling style — how he favors details and facts over sepia-toned nostalgia.

"When he writes something, you know that it's technically correct," he said. "And has come to his objective, as non-biased as possible opinion."

fiction writer

In Owning Up , Pelecanos writes about a non-knock incident inspired by real events. Keren Carrión/NPR hide caption

In Owning Up , Pelecanos writes about a non-knock incident inspired by real events.

As personal as "The No-Knock" is, Pelecanos calls the title story in the collection his most autobiographical. It's about a kid in the 70s named Nikos who works a job where he gets in with a bad crowd, and eventually gets talked into breaking into a guy's house.

"It's just the way my life was in that era and on this side of Montgomery County," Pelecanos said. "It was about muscle cars, playing pickup basketball, drinking beer, getting high."

Listening to Pelecanos talk about this story, it sounds familiar. You get the sense that history does repeat itself. That the same lessons get taught again and again. But that's O.K., because some lessons bear repeating.

"I got in trouble occasionally," he said. "But I always came home to the warmth of my family, you know? That's all you need."

Meghan Collins Sullivan edited this story for radio and the web.

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RF Kuang sits on a stone bench outdoors. She is wearing a dark blue dress

Authors ‘excluded from Hugo awards over China concerns’

Leaked emails reveal organisers of leading science fiction and fantasy awards flagged works of a ‘sensitive political nature’

Leaked emails from the organisers of the prestigious Hugo awards for science fiction and fantasy suggest several authors were excluded from shortlists last year after they were flagged for comments or works that could be viewed as sensitive in China.

In January the Hugo awards published the statistics behind the 2023 awards , which were held as part of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in the Chinese city of Chengdu in October. The data showed that the New York Times bestseller RF Kuang and the young adult author Xiran Jay Zhao were among authors who had received enough nominations to be on the ballot in their respective categories but were deemed “not eligible” by the award’s administrators, without further explanation.

The news sparked consternation in the science fiction community, with many fans and authors expressing concern that the awards had been tainted by censorship. Now emails leaked from the 2023 awards committee appear to have confirmed those fears, with a member of the 2024 Worldcon committee resigning as a result.

In an email on 5 June 2023, Dave McCarty, the head of the 2023 Hugo awards jury, wrote: “We need to highlight anything of a sensitive political nature in the work. It’s not necessary to read everything, but if the work focuses on China , Taiwan, Tibet, or other topics that may be an issue *in* China … that needs to be highlighted so that we can determine if it is safe to put it on the ballot or if the law will require us to make an administrative decision about it.”

McCarty did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

The emails were leaked by another member of the 2023 Hugo administration team, Diane Lacey, to Chris M Barkley and Jason Sanford, science fiction writers who are also journalists. Barkley and Sanford published a report about the controversy on Wednesday.

In a statement to Barkley and Sanford, Lacey said: “We were told to vet nominees for work focusing on China, Taiwan, Tibet, or other topics that may be an issue in China and, to my shame, I did so.”

In the emails, Lacey had flagged one of Zhao’s books as being “a reimagining of the rise of the Chinese empress Wu Zetian”, adding: “I don’t know if that would be a negative in China.”

Zhao said: “I cannot believe the western members of the admin team chose to willingly participate in this instead of upholding the integrity of the awards.”

Another of the writers affected was Paul Weimer, who was excluded from the fan writer category. One of the several points raised about him in the emails is that he had previously travelled to Tibet. But Weimer said he had only been to Nepal, not Tibet. “It’s not even competent political censorship – it’s haphazard bullshit,” he said.

The chair of the organising committee of the 2024 Worldcon, which will be held in Glasgow in August, said in a statement that Kat Jones, who had researched Weimer, had resigned from the committee.

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“I acknowledge the deep grief and anger of the community and I share this distress,” Esther MacCallum-Stewart said. She said the committee would be taking steps “to ensure transparency and to attempt to redress the grievous loss of trust in the administration of the awards”.

The incident prompted discussion among the science fiction community in China. One commenter on Weibo wrote: “Diane Lacey’s courage to disclose the truth makes people feel that there is still hope in the world, and not everyone is so shameless … I can understand the concerns of the Hugo award staff, but ‘I honestly think that the Hugo committee are cowards.’”

The Hugo awards are the premier accolade for science fiction and fantasy. They are administered by the World Science Fiction Society, a loose collective of fans who vote for their favourite works or authors across more than a dozen categories before the annual conference, Worldcon, which is held in a different city each year. Last year’s event was the first time it had been held in China.

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Leading science fiction writer Ted Chiang explores technology's impact on writing

Author whose novella was adapted into movie 'arrival' delivers 2024 humanities institute distinguished lecture.

A man sitting in front of an audience smiles

Science fiction author and futurist Ted Chiang smiles during Thursday evening's Humanities Institute Distinguished Lecture at Armstrong Hall on ASU's Tempe campus. Chiang explores complex relationships between science, technology, religion and philosophy in unconventional and insightful ways through his writing. He posed the question about the advancement of communication, starting with the spoken word, progressing to the written word, and evolving into what is next. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Science fiction author Ted Chiang spends a lot of time thinking about language and writing. It’s his livelihood — his work has earned four Hugo and four Nebula awards, among other accolades — but one might argue that language is also a special focus.

His novella “Story of Your Life” — adapted into the 2016 movie “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner — has at the core of its worldbuilding an alien language that, well, no spoilers, but there’s more to this language and how it affects its users than first appears.

So it wasn’t a surprise that language was the focus of Chiang’s remarks Thursday evening at Arizona State University as the 2024 Humanities Institute distinguished lecturer.

He spoke at Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus about the evolution of speech to writing, calling written language a form of technological breakthrough. First there was speech — a natural biological function — but writing had to be invented and purposefully taught. No one spontaneously learns to read on their own, Chiang said. Writing changed how we use language.

“The bards of ancient Greece used patterns like (rhyme and meter) to improvise their way through thousands of lines of verse,” he said. “... Nowadays, we think of rhythm and meter as primarily decorative features. They’re an important part of pop music, so much so that we have come to associate them with a lack of seriousness, which may be why their role in modern poetry has declined.

“But before writing was widely used, rhyme and meter were essential mnemonic tools. There was no way anyone could have remembered the Iliad and the Odyssey if they consisted of ordinary prose. But now, because we used the written word instead of our memories, rhyme and meter exist mostly for fun.”

He doesn’t think language is done evolving.

“What is the next step beyond writing itself?” he asked, wondering how technology will influence written language in the future.

“What is the cognitive technology that will succeed writing? Suppose it’s 100 years from now or maybe 1,000 years from now, and you are going to give a presentation. What kind of technology are you going to use to help you figure out what you’re going to say?

“I don’t mean a replacement for word processing software. Is there some sort of cognitive technology similar to writing, but better than writing that will help you articulate your thoughts and choose the words you will actually say when you give your presentation? A successor to writing that can only exist in a digital medium?”

Two men on stools speak in front of an audience

A conversation with Matt Bell , director of ASU’s Worldbuilding Initiative and a professor in the Department of English, followed the lecture. Chiang told Bell that he was skeptical about the role of artificial intelligence in creative writing.

“The question of conscious machines is one that I think is super interesting and raises a lot of philosophical questions, like what kind of respect do we owe to conscious machines that we make?” Chiang said.

“… Right now, we’re just dealing with these autocomplete on steroids, and the fact autocomplete on steroids is kind of spookily good is really weird and interesting, and it might be very useful. … But right now, it seems like they’re pretty terrible at every use that people are proposing.

“They’re definitely interesting in terms of what they reveal about the statistical properties of text … but they do not deserve respect. Anyone who tries to claim differently is trying to sell you something.”

Chiang said he hopes technology’s future influence on the written word won’t “dehumanize” its art.

“A lot of people feel that technology is dehumanizing, and there are plenty of situations where I feel that is accurate,” he said.

“But if there is any technology that is humanizing rather than dehumanizing, it is the written word. The written word helps us to be creative, and it helps us to be, and it helps us to reason. And those are the most human of activities.”

About the program

The Humanities Institute’s Distinguished Lecture program brings to ASU a prominent scholar whose work highlights the importance of humanities research. While on campus, speakers discuss humanities trends and participate in informal sessions, allowing ASU colleagues and students to share related research interests. In Chiang's case, his visit included a screening of "Arrival" and film discussion  on Friday, co-sponsored by ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. 

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    You'll find your favorite science fiction writers as well as great dramatic novelists. Everyone on the list and everyone that you vote for must currently be alive. We all know that there are plenty of great writers that have left us, but this list is about the ones we still get to cherish. Don't see a great living author listed?

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    Michael Woodson Mar 17, 2023 Readers and writers tend to have pretty big feelings about literary fiction one way or the other. The general consensus is you either love it or loathe it. It has something of a reputation of being a snobbish, dense, out-of-touch form that is unwelcoming to genre fiction. I understand why people would feel this way.

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    "Juicy, suspenseful, and irresistible, The Fiction Writer is a thrilling examination of the fine line between telling and retelling, and the impossibility of claiming ownership to any story. Daphne du Maurier herself would stay up late into the night, turning pages to discover all the delicious and surprising twists in this wonderfully inventive novel."

  19. Octavia E. Butler

    Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 - February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction author and a multiple recipient of the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.. Born in Pasadena, California, Butler was raised by her widowed mother.Extremely shy as a child, Butler found an outlet at the library reading ...

  20. How to become a fiction writer

    Writer's Digest: Writer's Digest is a well-known resource for writers, with a wealth of articles, tips, and resources on all aspects of fiction writing, from craft to publishing. Reedsy: Reedsy is an online platform that connects writers with editors, designers, and other publishing professionals.

  21. The Fiction Writer

    The fiction Writer A December 2023 Indie Next Pick! "Juicy, suspenseful & irresistible."— Nina de Gramont, New York Times Bestselling author of The Christie Affair "Sultry and mesmerizing…" — Katy Hays, New York Times bestselling author of The Cloisters "Sexy, sinister and smart…"

  22. The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor

    The Fiction Writer Jillian Cantor 3.25 1,551 ratings376 reviews The Fiction Writer follows a writer hired by a handsome billionaire to write about his family history with Daphne du Maurier and finds herself drawn into a tangled web of obsession, marital secrets, and stolen manuscripts.

  23. What Is a Fiction Writer and How to Become One

    A fiction writer's job is to write books, stories, plays, and other content to be published in a variety of mediums. While this role is most commonly associated with novel writing, authors also write fiction for other mediums like video and roleplaying games. Fiction writers often have varying titles based on the industry in question; common ...

  24. Clare Beams, 2023-24 Walton Visiting Writer in Fiction, to Read in

    The U of A Program in Creative Writing and Translation in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is proud to welcome author Clare Beams as its 2023-24 Walton Visiting Writer in Fiction.. Beams will read from her work at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, in the Home Economics Auditorium (HOEC 0102) on campus. The event is free and open to the public, and a book signing with Beams will follow the ...

  25. Neil Gaiman, Paul Weimer among writers excluded from Hugo Awards over

    The Hugo Awards, one of the most prestigious literary awards in science fiction, excluded several authors last year over concerns that their work could be offensive to China, leaked emails show ...

  26. Crime writer George Pelecanos on 'Owning Up' in his new story ...

    Crime fiction author and screenwriter George Pelecanos is known for his gritty realism. His latest short story collection takes that same unsparing look at his own past.

  27. Authors 'excluded from Hugo awards over China concerns'

    The news sparked consternation in the science fiction community, with many fans and authors expressing concern that the awards had been tainted by censorship. Now emails leaked from the 2023 ...

  28. Leading science fiction writer Ted Chiang explores ...

    Science fiction author Ted Chiang spends a lot of time thinking about language and writing. It's his livelihood — his work has earned four Hugo and four Nebula awards, among other accolades — but one might argue that language is also a special focus. His novella "Story of Your Life" — adapted into the 2016 movie "Arrival," starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner — has at the ...