Top Writing and Publishing Tips from Acclaimed Novelist Warren Adler

By Warren Adler

IAdler_photos_recentheadshot’ve spent the best part of my life writing, thinking about writing and publishing, and, lately, more and more about the dramatic, revolutionary changes that are taking place in the way we communicate with each other and how it impacts on our future as writers.

The fact is that all those who aspire to write, also aspire to be read. Writing, after all, is a communications system. Mastering one’s craft is only one half of the equation. The other half is finding one’s way to an audience, meaning being published.

In the end, of course, the words, the writing, the images, the plot, the characters, the elegance and irony conveyed through the miracle of the writer’s art and craft, will determine the work’s success.

Here are my tips to you.

The secret of great writing is rewriting.
I rewrite constantly, over and over again until I am reasonably satisfied. I usually can’t tell if I got it right until I’ve written one hundred pages or so. It is at that point that I either abandon the book or slog on.

Read newspapers. Many great novels have come out of newspaper stories.
My third novel, The Henderson Equation, was inspired by The Washington Post’s relentless pursuit of President Richard Nixon, which became the political scandal of the century known today as Watergate. It made the careers of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and brought lifetime laurels to the publisher of The Washington Post, then-editor Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee, and a host of writers, who have since analyzed, parsed, recounted and fictionalized the episode ad infinitum in hundreds of books and media, including the Academy Award-winning film, “All the President’s Men.”

Reread your favorite novels, the ones that once inspired you to be a writer
This is one thing I usually always find myself doing when I am on the verge of experiencing writer’s block. One of my favorite books is “The Red and the Black” by Stendhal, not surprisingly, it makes an appearance in my new novel,Treadmill.”

Endless paragraphs were okay for Proust, but more and more readers of today want their portions in smaller gulps. Use lots of paragraphs.
The Internet has forced many of us to compress the way we communicate. The young are now addicted to brevity and abbreviation, and many turn away in frustration when confronted with anything to do with longer forms of communication. Faced with this reality, many authors might take such compression seriously and in self-defense concentrate their talents on short stories and novellas.

I am a heavy practitioner of these shorter forms as well and love reading them, but I hope they don’t become so commonplace as to supersede the novel. We would be greatly bereft if we did not have the long novel by the great novelists who composed them, e.g. Tolstoy, Dickens et al.

9781590061015Listen carefully to conversations. Don’t shut off contacts with friends and acquaintances.
I am always writing a story in my head and I never pass up the chance to listen in on a good conversation (even bad ones). The idea for “The War of the Roses” came to me at a dinner party in Washington in 1979. One of our female friends was dating a lawyer, who was her guest at the party. At some point, he looked at his watch and announced that he had to get home or his wife would lock him out of the house. When asked why, he said he was in the process of getting a divorce and was living under the same roof and sharing facilities and that part of the agreement was a strict set of rules on coming and goings and the division of living quarters.

The dilemma expressed by this dinner guest might be called the “eureka” moment. The story quickly formed in my mind and, with the exception of a brief conversation with a judge who was an expert in domestic law, I did no other legal research on the subject of divorce. Oddly, many people have become convinced, including said dinner guest, that somehow I had burrowed into the legal files of their various divorce actions. I cannot tell you how many times, over the years, people have accused me of “stealing their divorces.” I tried countering this accusation by explaining that a novel’s story grows out of a novelist’s imagination and the amalgamation of his or her observations and experiences, but to little avail.

It never hurts to attempt to find an agent. 
Getting an agent is a tough chore but can help tremendously. My advice has always been to get a copy of “Literary Market Place” (you can get it at any library), write a one-page letter, beginning with “Are you interested in a finished manuscript (or book)?” and then spell out the theme and idea. Send it to every agent listed and see what comes back. There are several other books and websites with agent information and contacts. For the independent or aspiring writer also thinking about the possibility of having your book made into a movie, resources such as can be useful in helping to track down an agent. Review profiles and see who would be a good fit for the type of subject matter your work is premised on. I receive many questions everyday pertaining to how to get books made into movies so I put together a forum here. 

Find out where passion lives. 
For self-published authors this is a crucial one when it comes to publicity and connecting with potential readers. There are pockets of interest everywhere and constantly springing up via book clubs, social networks and blogging. These various reading circles may not intersect but there will be many serious novelists who will be more than satisfied with attracting a smaller but devoted and passionate audience for their work. If you’re a mystery writer, for example, there are a countless number of blogs and groups to choose from when it comes to making friends within the community. Mystery Writers of America, for example, has a comprehensive list of resources for writers. Find out who your demographic is and connect with them. People who are true to reading culture don’t just hang out on NYT, they are building communities elsewhere.

Treadmill Cover (A10)Book reviews are the way to an author’s heart. 
Never overlook the crucial endeavor of finding reviewers for your work. I’m currently in the middle of a “Page-to-Screen Book Review Bonanza,” which is meant to give any and everyone passionate enough about fiction the chance to read some of my original novels before they hit the silver screen. Be creative about giveaways and ask yourself what you would respond to if you saw a giveaway listed somewhere. The more reviews you accumulate, the more curiosity is built around your book – sparking curiosity is the key to making any work attractive to potential readers.

Combine visual and text. Take multiple steps toward enhancement.
Visual communications and the astounding revolution in digital imagery have vastly multiplied the ways stories are delivered so get creative with it. I transformed my novel “Trans-Siberian Express” into an illustrative and interactive storytelling experience and contextualized the unique and exotic culture of Russia for a Western audience. I created a glossary and selected hundreds of images to accompany it. This required searching through hundreds of images both in the public and private domain of the Trans-Siberian Express, the Siberian landscape, the major players referred to such as General Chiang Kai Shek, Tsar Nicholas II (who had personally inaugurated the construction of the Trans-Siberian Express), exotic locations such as Lake Baikal, and the various cultural curiosities and personalities of this great culture that travelers would encounter on the 7,000 mile journey. Finding the right image that would evoke exactly, the ambience in the story was probably the most time consuming editorial process.

Take advantage of e-book self-publishing platforms
There are a wide variety of self-publishing platforms to choose from today, just don’t become paralyzed from having too many choices. Visit Publishers Weekly on a consistent basis and keep abreast with what’s going on in the self-publishing world – a simple search for “How to Self-Publish an E-book” will find you a wealth of helpful articles that give reviews of the best self-publishing platforms today. From Wattpad to Smashwords, try them out yourself and see how you like them. The process of self-publishing is more straightforward today than it has ever been before. Best of all, you control your own destiny.

Never give up so easily and remember what writing is about in the first place
I have been lucky as hell making writing a career. But then, one must consider that I did suffer through endless rejections of my work until I was 45 years old, when I was finally able to interest publishers. I have written extensively about rejection and trying to get past it in On Rejection and Renewal: A Note to Aspiring Novelists.

When I got my big break I immediately quit my business interests to concentrate on my writing career exclusively with single-minded devotion. I can only give advice to a “real” writer who puts his or her work above all other forms of activity. For him or her, the issue is not necessarily making a living but it is in the artistry, satisfaction and joy of the process. I do not agree with Samuel Johnson about only writing for money. Real writers write because of their artistic need above all. It is a great and miraculous calling and its pursuit deserves all of one’s energy and imagination. I hope these few tips can help you in some way.


Warren Adler is best known for “The War of the Roses,” his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler’s international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2015-2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including “Random Hearts” (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas) and “The Sunset Gang” (produced by Linda Lavin for PBS’ American Playhouse series starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts). Also in recent development are “The War of the Roses – The Children” (Grey Eagle Films and Permut Presentations), a feature film adaptation of the sequel to Adler’s iconic divorce story; “Target Churchill” (Grey Eagle Films and Solution Entertainment), “Mourning Glory,” to be adapted by Karen Leigh Hopkins, and “Capitol Crimes” (Grey Eagle Films and Sennet Entertainment), a television series based on his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series. Warren Adler’s newest thriller, “Treadmill,” is officially available.