25 Women to Read Before You Die

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores


Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Writer

It's never been a better time to be a writer. Hold on buckaroos — I can almost hear your protests and long-held-in sobs. Now it's true that a handful of ginormous conglomerates have swallowed up many American publishing companies. In fact, five publishing conglomerates control about 80% of book sales. This means traditional channels are shrinking, few mom and pop shops exist any more, and gentlemen editors are as outdated as fins on cars. And lots of shakedowns and even more downsizing have happened in the face of our current recession. Thus, it's not easy to break into publishing. In fact, industry insiders wonder if edgy, experimental writers like Annie Proulx or Jack Kerouac would have problems breaking into print in today's corporate culture. But wouldn't the world be a dimmer, duller place without The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain, and On the Road?

Perhaps instead of worrying about how the old publishing model is disappearing, accept that the book business is evolving and there are many more ways to deliver stories and content to readers: e-books, digital books, web books, podcasts, print on demand, iPhone apps, and cell phone novels.

It's a great time to be a writer because of all the resources available to make you a better writer and a collective interest in stories and storytellers. No matter how much the world changes, people everywhere are ready to sink into a soft pillow or airplane seat and whisper to the story gods, "Take me somewhere that I've never been before."

But on to the subject of this blog post: I receive a lot of emails from writers soliciting advice and inquiring about what they should read to make them better writers. So here's list for a writer's bookshelf, although I'm not keen on creating lists because as soon as I post this, doubtless I'll remember 10 more books I wish I'd mentioned. But you should buy these and copies for your writer friends.

Okay, now I feel like I'm having a hard time slipping off the stage here, but I want to toss out a few more shards of advice to writers or want-to-be writers. I wish there was a secret handshake that would whisk you into the world of published writers, but I guess if there is one it would be called professionalism. So in everything you do, act as grown up as possible because if you behave like a jerk it will come back and bite you.

Writing is hard. Write from your heart, do your best, learn all you can. The majority of books sell fewer than 100 copies — oops, oops, is this supposed to be encouraging? If so, maybe I should erase that last sentence. The point is don't write to get rich, write because you must, because stories burn inside you. Because you'll burn up if you don't transpose them.

If you get a book published, you will somehow need to pimp it. Finding balance in life as a writer is difficult because of the pimping, the need to make a living until you break out and other factors. However, the successful authors I've met are some of the happiest, healthiest and loveliest people I've ever run into.

Cultivate your voice. Collect words. Get rid of your lame modifiers. Watch the sky and live with a lot of awareness. Write about the quality of light. Ask yourself constantly "what does this remind me of?" Drift toward your soul in all you write. If you write fiction, create outrageous people you would never invite to dinner or bed. Make your story people speak resounding truths, but don't make it obvious that they're speaking resounding truths. And of course don't give up and never stop learning and appreciating the wonderful world of stories.

Thanks to Powells.com for this opportunity — I truly enjoyed posting here and may thousands of readers and shoppers come your way.

÷ ÷ ÷

Jessica Page Morrell is the author of Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction and The Writer's I Ching: Wisdom for the Creative Life. She works as a developmental editor and was formerly the writing expert at an online magazine. Morrell teaches writing at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and leads a series of workshops in the Northwest.

Books mentioned in this post

Jessica Page Morrell is the author of Thanks, But This Isn't for Us: A (Sort Of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected

3 Responses to "It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Writer"

    Liam Rooney August 29th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I am bummed that this is the end of your week as Powell's guest blogger. Terrific posts.

    Liam Rooney August 29th, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Another thought: I would love to find material and social success as a writer, but as you've pointed out in this post, a writer must write for some reason other than getting rich. Or at least writers who read blogs on Powell's books must have a motivation stronger than money.

    I would, however, guess that the vast majority of writers who want to achieve wealth want it because the money in turn support their writing careers. That is certainly nobler motivation than writing to earn enough bucks to maintain a country club membership. I think it's healthy to admit that you want success, even if it feels crudely capitalistic. But at the end of my days it won't be the money, nor the fame, that would be sufficient rewards.

    I'm thinking of my mother who passed away five years ago, who was a lively, intelligent, and creative woman. She had wonderful stories of growing up in Chicago - losing her own mother who died in a train accident while working as a conductor during World War II; being dragged to Shirley Temple look-alike contests; knowing Dorothy Lamour who was an elevator operator at the time; and struggling with her Greek and Irish heritage. She did a little writing, but never got around to putting those stories in an enduring format. On her deathbed, she lamented that she never completed her writing. Forget about the money, that's the hellish kind of regret I want to avoid!

    Jessica, I believe you're correct when you say there has never been a better time to be a writer. The paradigm shift from the stagnating New York publishing world to a dynamic, colorful, and technically robust media is thrilling. As a nonfiction writer, I'm done with agents and publishing house "editors" and looking forward to capturing my own writing in whatever medium will make it accessible to my future grandkids. If anyone else wants to read those words, all the better. But I'm not looking to New York for a Nero-like thumbs-up or thumbs-down on my potential as a writer.

    Thank you for your encouraging and informative posts. I have ordered "Writing Through the Storm" (can't even write that title without imagining Jim Morrison singing it) and plan to buy and read your other titles as well.

    God bless.

    Cascade Lily September 5th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    A big hear, hear on your Robert McKee 'Story' recommendation. I am ploughing my way through it - as often as my baby will let me, but I digress. It's fabulous, inspiring and didactic all at once. I wish I'd had the $$$ and time to go to one of his famous workshops during his recent final tour of Australia, but the book is the next best thing. Great post. Thanks for the top tips.

Post a comment:

Get Your Gravatar

  1. Please note:
  2. All comments require moderation by Powells.com staff.
  3. Comments submitted on weekends might take until Monday to appear.
PowellsBooks.Blog uses Gravatar to allow you to personalize the icon that appears beside your name when you post. If you don't have one already, get your Gravatar today!
  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.