The Successful Novelist

Title: The Successful Novelist
Published by: Sourcebooks
Pages: 218
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David Morrell, bestselling author of First Blood, The Brotherhood of the Rose and The Fifth Profession, distills forty years of writing and publishing experience into this single masterwork of advice and instruction that has been praised by authors as famed as Peter Straub and Dean Koontz. Its central theme is that writers should be first-rate versions of themselves rather than second-rate imitators of other writers. Along with extremely practical advice about how to make fiction instantly better, this book powerfully motivates authors to find what Morrell calls ”the ferret” in them and to satisfy the reasons they wanted to be authors in the first place.

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"Distinctions are often made between writers of 'literature' and writers of popular fiction. The two seem to come together in David Morrell, author of The Successful Novelist. Morrell writes thrillers—lots of them—including First Blood, which gave the world Rambo. But Morrell was also a longtime literature professor. He is as likely to quote E.M. Forster as he is Lawrence Block; Steve McQueen appears on the same page as Henry James. The Successful Novelist is a lovely examination of writing and the writing life. To read it is to put oneself in the company of a writerly raconteur. Toward the beginning of the book, he discusses Hemingway's bizarre upbringing, wartime experiences, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Toward the end, he reveals the secret to bribing the dispatchers and drivers who supply airport bookstores (a hint rarely, if ever before, reported in a writing book). With chapters devoted to plot, character, research, structure, viewpoint, and dialogue, Morrell covers all the basics. But this is less a how-to book than a written rendition of an intimate university writing workshop. 'There are no inferior types of fiction,' Morrell implores, 'only inferior practitioners of them.'"
–Jane Steinberg

This is the best guidebook to both writing and the business of writing that I’ve ever read.”
Peter Straub 

"Like listening to a beloved brother. I found the acute observations and his narrative philosophy more valuable for the new writer than the contents of any 100 other texts."
—Dean Koontz 

"If this book had been available when I started writing, I could have saved myself some miles, some heartache, and a lot of typewriters ribbons. The Successful Novelist is the vehicle you want if you plan to drive your way to successful fiction."
—Joe R. Lansdale 

“David Morrell’s not just a fine writer; he’s also a great and generous teacher. This book’s a keeper.”
Lawrence Block


In the late 1990s, I was asked to contribute an essay about dialogue to a guidebook called Writing Horror. (Many of my novels can be classified as “psychological horror”.) Writing about writing was a new thought for me, even though I’d been a literature professor for 16 years.  I found an engaging tone that I thought would entertain readers while they were being informed, so I decided to move from an essay to a book that summarized my many years as a published writer. One of my goals was to put the reader in my mind, to help apprentice writers develop the instincts and attitudes that usually come only with a lot of experience. The book (originally published as Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing) is filled with stories that make this an autobiography as much as it's an advice book. Even if you’re not a writer, you’ll learn a lot about me and my work. The book is also very funny, especially in its “The Business of Writing” and “Rambo and the Movies” sections.