I Want to Be an Author: What Should I Do?

Here’s a question I get a lot when I do writing workshops, “I want to be an author. Have any tips?” I recently got the same question online from Jonathan, and rather than type my answer in the comments where he asked it, I figured I’d put a response here.

I’m not a big fan of writing tips. They’re often confusing and contradictory. Every author will recommend that you do what worked for them, despite the fact that the same thing doesn’t work for everyone. Thus I’ve heard authors say to only write in the morning; others say only to write at night. Some authors say you should write every day; others say it’s fine to take weekends off. Some authors say you should plan your books out before you start writing; others say to just start writing and discover the plot as you go.

Here’s the real answer: figure out what works for you and do more of that.

That said, I do have a few tips. I call these my 4 & 1/2 Stupid Tips for Writers:

  1.  Read a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. I read between 100 and 160 books per year and have for more than 30 years. But I don’t have time, you protest? You probably do. Here’s the easiest way to make time for more reading–quit watching TV. The average American spends 35 hours a week in front of the TV. That’s enough time for even a slow reader (like me!) to tackle three books a week.
  2. Write a lot. You’ll hear different authors say this different ways. Some say you have to write a million words of fiction before you’ll be any good. Others say to write five novels. However they say it, the point is the same: practice. Nobody was born able to write novels; we all learned it. The only way to learn is through practice.
  3. Show your work to people who will give you tough, honest criticism. Your work will suck. Everyone’s does at first. My first drafts still suck septic tank fumes. You need to find people who will tell you exactly how bad your work sucks and why, so that you can improve. That probably means showing your work to someone who’s not your mom or English teacher.
  4. Revise obsessively. My forthcoming novel, SURFACE TENSION, went through 17 major rewrites before I and my publisher were satisfied. That’s not in the least bit unusual.
  5. And here’s the half rule: Marry someone who has great health insurance. It’s a real pain in the ass to get health insurance as a self-employed writer. I frequently call my wife, “Mrs. Health Insurance.” She loves it when I call her that.

Sometimes the next question I get is, “How do I get published?” Unless you’ve written 5 or 10 books already, don’t worry about it. When you’re sure you’re ready, there’s more info here.



Charity Auction for Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of SURFACE TENSION!

I still have a few copies of a very early version of my forthcoming book, SURFACE TENSION. Only about 300 of these will ever be printed, so it’s quite a collector’s item. Plus you’ll get to read my next book SIX MONTHS before everyone else (it releases on 5-8-18). SURFACE TENSION is about a teenager, Jake, who sees a group of terrorists causing a plane crash from the ground. The terrorists notice Jake watching them, and they want him dead.

Want one? I’m holding a charity auction to benefit The Friends of the Danville Public Library. Here’s how it works:

Bid by commenting on this post. Minimum bid is $10, bid in whole dollars only, please. Bidding is open until 6:00 p.m. eastern time on Saturday 11/18. At least one winner will be awarded, but I may award multiple winners. (You may win an ARC even if you’re the second or third place bidder.) If you win, make your donation directly to The Friends of the Danville Public Library here and then email your receipt and mailing address to mike@mikemullinauthor.com. I will sign all ARCs, if you’d like yours personalized to someone, give me the details in your email, please. I will pay shipping costs anywhere in the world for the winner or winners.

I got involved with the Danville Public Library when I moved to Danville, Indiana two and a half years ago, and I’m now the president of their Friends group. We’re running a big deficit this year and next, so I’m hoping some of my fans will chip in to help close it. Thanks! We’re a 501(c)3 group, and ARCs are not allowed to be resold, so I’m pretty sure you can claim the whole donation as a tax deduction. (I’m not a tax lawyer though, so don’t take my word for it.) Good luck!



Win an Advance Reading Copy of SURFACE TENSION!

I just got a few advance reading copies of SURFACE TENSION! It’s my next novel, a young adult thriller about a teenager who sees a group of terrorists causing a plane crash from the ground. He’s the only one who knows how they’re crashing planes, and they want him dead. Check out the box: awesome, am I right?

Most of these very early ARCs are designated for independent booksellers at the Heartland Fall Forum, but I’d like my other fans to have a shot at them, too. These ARCs are from a short run without the final cover art or even the final text. (I’ve still got a to-do list of edits.) Only 300ish will probably ever exist, so perhaps it will be valuable someday. Anyway, if you’d like to receive this:

Enter the Rafflecopter give-away below. You can get one entry for signing up for my mailing list. If you signed up previously, you get an entry for that! You can also earn one entry per day for tweeting about the give-away and another each day for posting about it anywhere other than Twitter. Most of these entries are on the honor system because I trust my awesome fans! If you win, you get to read SURFACE TENSION about six months before almost everyone else. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Win an ARC of The Diabolic

img_20161003_131517847Last week I got my grubby hands on an advanced reading copy (ARC) of S.J. Kincaid’s latest novel, The Diabolic. I’m not sure why Kincaid sent it to me, but I’m glad she did! She didn’t ask me to write a review, but I’m going to anyway. It’ll be extremely biased because 1) I love her work and 2) my God this book rocked! (It rocked so hard that I just used two exclamation points in one paragraph. I’m pretty sure I’ve written whole books that don’t have many more exclamation points than that.)

Anyway, our heroine in The Diabolic, Nemesis, is an artificially created being, trained for one thing only: to kill. She is imprinted on Sidonia, the heir to the galactic Senate. This means Nemesis is programmed to do anything to protect Sidonia, to kill anyone who threatens her or, if necessary, to die for her. There’s no escape from her programming–her duties will end only with her death. Nor does she want to escape–her programming causes her to love Sidonia. But when the Emperor summons Sidonia to serve as a hostage, Nemesis can only protect her by impersonating her. Thus Nemesis is forced to enter a web of galactic intrigue that she’s woefully unprepared for.

The Emperor and Galactic Senate depicted in The Diabolic are clearly based on ancient Rome, right down to their updated version of sun worship. It’s a fascinating take on the future of humanity, if a depressing one. I’ve always hoped humans would go down the rational path depicted in Star Trek, leaving our old biases and religious prejudice behind on the earth. Sadly though, I found the government in The Diabolic perfectly believable.

Nemesis is a fascinating character. She’s stronger, faster, and smarter than any human. She assesses everyone but Sidonia as a threat, calculating multiple ways to kill anyone who crosses her path, and, in fact, killing at least one person who only appears to be a tangential threat to Sidonia. I love the fact that Kincaid carried her concept through to its logical conclusion and fearlessly depicted a somewhat morally ambiguous heroine. It shows the high regard in which she holds her readers.

As I was reading, I frequently found myself comparing The Diabolic to Graceling by Kristin Cashore. If you’ve ever heard me rave about Graceling, you know what a compliment that is. Nemesis, like Katsa, is supremely gifted at killing. They are both forced to navigate political systems that neither is remotely prepared for. And ultimately, both Nemesis and Katsa find meaning in their lives by protecting another.

The pacing in The Diabolic is crackling fast. I would have read it in a day, but I had a school visit and forced myself to put the book aside and go to bed at eleven. The next day, I carried The Diabolic along on my school visit, hoping (fruitlessly) I’d have time to sneak in a few more pages. I finished it that evening.

img_20161003_131548803The Diabolic will be available on 11/1. But I’ll help you get a copy early! I’m giving away my signed ARC to one lucky winner. It pains me to do this, because Kincaid wrote such a nice inscription to me in the ARC. But I’m going to buy a hardcover when it comes out, and don’t have space on my shelves for both. Why am I buying a hardcover when I already have an ARC? Because I want to read more Kincaid books! And the royalties on an ARC are a big fat zero. But if you’d like to read it ahead of time, all you have to do is sign up for my mailing list via the Rafflecopter below. I’ll mail the ARC to any U.S. address. (Sorry, international readers. I love you, but I’m too cheap to spring for international postage.) Happy reading!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Win One of 14 DARLA’S STORY Audio E-books

I have 14 codes for a free DARLA’S STORY Audio E-book, narrated by Sarah Chevalier. If you like Darla, you’ll really enjoy this. It’s about everything that happens to her between the Yellowstone super-eruption and when she meets Alex. Sarah’s narration is amazing–I chose her because she sounds like Darla to me. You can win an audio e-book with a tweet, a Twitter follow, and/or by signing up for my new mailing list. (I will only email you when I have major new book news or if I’m holding a public event in your area.) You can enter by tweeting once per day. Contest ends on May 18th. Enter via the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway





One of the most common questions questions I get is this: what’s ASHFALL #4 about? Instead of typing a separate answer yet again, I’m going to share everything I’m currently willing to discuss here.

First, yes, there will be a fourth full-length ASHFALL book. So it will no longer be a trilogy. Or a three-and-a-half-ology. Now I think it will be a tetra-logy? Or a four-and-a-half-ology? Anyway, the series order will be: ASHFALL, (DARLA’S STORY is a novelette that can be read before or after ASHFALL), ASHEN WINTER, SUNRISE, and ASHFALL #4. No, I don’t have a title for the fourth book yet. If you’ve got a great idea and don’t care if I use it (you won’t get paid anything), then email me!

I have until December 31st, 2017 to deliver the manuscript for ASHFALL #4. I hope to get it done a lot sooner. But I’ll take as long as I need to to write a great book. I know it’s hard to be patient, so thank you.

I outline my books before I write them, but while I’m writing I often change the outline. Or scrap chunks of it completely. So the information I’m about to share may change. With that said, here’s what ASHFALL #4 is about: It starts two years after SUNRISE ends. Alex and Darla are the proud parents of an 8-month-old girl named Gloria, after Darla’s mother. Speranta is incredibly prosperous. In terms of technology, standard of living, and food storage, they’re years ahead of all their much larger neighbors. One of those neighbors wants Speranta’s riches for itself. And they’ll stop at nothing to get them.

Thanks for your continued support and all the questions you’ve emailed me. I love my fans! –Mike


Win One-Of-A-Kind ASHFALL & ASHEN WINTER Manuscripts

I’m in the middle of moving and have to empty out my closet of doom. The one that vomits on me anytime I open the door. Part of the closet of doom is 14 old manuscripts of ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER.  I could recycle them, but maybe some of you would be interested in seeing just how bad my writing is before it’s edited? Or reading the original ending to ASHFALL or ASHEN WINTER (both of which sucked, by the way)? These are unique manuscripts that may have editing marks and comments from me, my wife, my publisher, or various beta readers. Some of them may not be complete. Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win. If you live in the United States, I’ll spring for shipping. If you have a non-U.S. address, you’ve got to pay for shipping. (Sorry, but international shipping on 14 manuscripts would be expensive!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the stack of manuscripts I’m giving away:


I’ve also got an extra copy of In Real Life, an awesome young adult novel about a teen struggling to make it in big-league Korean professional video gaming:

In Real Life Cover

And finally, a copy of Eleanor and Park:

Eleanor and Park Cover

It’s signed to Mike (I met Rainbow twice and had a copy signed to me both times, because I’m a ditz):

Eleanor and Park Signature

Good luck!


Teachers: You Make a Difference

I occasionally get depressed about the state of the teaching profession. This past month, for example, it seems like my wife (who teaches in an elementary school) hasn’t been able to do anything but administer tests. First it was LAP tests (not sure what that stands for, something about English as a new language). Now they’re moving straight from that into ISTEP practice tests (that’s Indiana’s version of the high-stakes test), then they actually have to give the ISTEP itself, which will take them well into April. So from February to April basically nothing happens but testing. How can any teacher be effective in that kind of environment?

There was an education rally at the statehouse in Indianapolis earlier this week. I put it on my calendar but I felt totally unenthusiastic about attending. As I tried to figure out why, I realized that the rally was to support a Democrat who supports a ridiculous excess of high-stakes testing against a Republican who also supports a ridiculous excess of high-stakes testing. What’s the point?

Not all is lost, however. The same day of the rally, an email hit my inbox that reminded me that there are still teachers out there achieving great things despite the best efforts of our politicians to undermine them. So I asked for and received permission to share it with you here:

Dear Mr. Mullin,

My name is Lexi and I am 13 years old. Until I was 12 I hated reading and everything that had to do with it. I would never independent read or follow along in classroom reads. Last year, my class went to our school library to learn how to classify different book genres. My group was given Sci-fi. As we were classifying I saw the title Ashfall and read the back page. After reading the page I knew that I would love the book. I was very nervous because I didn’t think I could finish or even read a chapter from the book. I told myself that I will try to read it so I checked it out. Later that night I decided to put my computer down and read the book. Little did I know that I had been reading over an hour. I couldn’t believe that I read a book and actually enjoyed it! Everyday I just kept reading and reading until I finished the series. Ever since that one night I haven’t been able to stop reading. I am writing you this for a couple reasons. One reason I am writing to you is to thank you. Thank you so much for getting me into reading. I have seen improvement on many things in my English class. You are a very talented writer and I hope to be like you one day. A final reason that I am writing to you is for an autograph saying to Lexi From: (your autograph) I would love to hang it up in my room for a great memory to have forever from my favorite author.

Thanks so much for taking your time to read this email. You are a very talented writer! My address is:


Thanks Again!

Lexi [Redacted]

Some wonderful teacher marched her/his class down to the library, exposed them to books, and allowed them to make a free choice of what to read. Some brave librarian put ASHFALL in a middle school library (not all can or will due to its content).

Also note from this email that Lexi had never done reading assignments, which brings up an important point. Teachers can assign “classics” or “challenging reading” all they want, but if the students don’t want to read the material, they wont. They’ll read the Wikipedia article on the book and fake it. If students are to become competent readers of long works, teachers have a far more challenging job than ordering them to read: teachers must inspire their students to want to read. In Lexi’s case, a teacher did exactly that. I don’t know who Lexi’s teacher is, so I’ll just offer kudos to all the teachers out there who are doing great work connecting kids with books. Thank you.


A Valentine’s Day Post

Didn’t get enough romance on Valentine’s Day? (I did, my wife and I went shopping for a washer and dryer!) Well, I’m here to help. Kaylie Corban told me part of this story on Twitter, and I just had to know the rest. Writing can be a lonely profession, (not that I’m complaining, I make up lies and get paid for it!) but sometimes I wonder if what I do really matters–does it make a difference in anyone’s lives? Well, here’s the true story about how ASHFALL and a ridiculously long signing line helped Kaylie meet her boyfriend. I loved the story so much that I asked Kaylie to share it with you in honor of Valentine’s Day. –Mike

Sadly (for me), the line wasn’t quite this long.

There I was, at the book signing that would make my year. Mike Mullin,  the man that wrote the ASHFALL trilogy, my favorite book series, was standing right in front of me! Well, about thirty feet across the school auditorium because of the infinitely long line I’d been in for the past half hour. I felt like a stalker with how long I’d just been staring at him, waiting for the line to shorten, but I had nothing else to do! It had already been so exciting, but I was bored, egregiously. Bored enough to tear my hair out! Why hadn’t I brought another book? I would have read my copy of Ashfall again, but I’d read it three times in the past week alone!

There was, however, a remarkably cute guy in line ahead of me. At least he looked like he might be cute. All I’d seen was his back.

It was a hard decision, but I knew what I had to do. I tapped on his shoulder, and said, “Hello.” My heart was racing like a driver in the Indy 500. I hate introductions with a passion, but this one was an exception. He turned around, and I inspected his face. Yep, cute. He had adorable green eyes and big bushy eyebrows that I just couldn’t get over.

Crap! I’m staring!

I immediately looked down at my shoes.

“Hi.” He replied quietly.  His whispery  tone made me want to hear more so I kept asking questions.

“What’s your name? I don’t think I’ve met you before.”


“David who?”

“Just David,” and for a second, just a second, I saw him smirk. It was incredible. I’d later find out that it was because it was a book reference that I didn’t quite get. Which baffled me, because I thought no person in the world read more than I. But he had. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one that had a really close friendship with the school librarians.

Our hour long conversation about Ashfall spilled out. I was so nervous, more than I usually would be, but at the same time I felt a sense of comfort at the soft sound of his voice.

By the time we got to the front of the line, I was so absorbed in him, I had forgotten where I was! I got my book signed by the Mike Mullin and left both him and “just David” to themselves. That was the start of the best and longest relationship of my life, and it’s still ongoing. I fell in love with David thanks to Mike Mullin’s ridiculously long signing line. It would’ve been the perfect day… if someone hadn’t stolen my newly signed copy of Ashfall fifteen minutes afterward. –Kaylie Corban


Aww, my heart is melting. Thanks for the inspiring Valentine’s Day story, Kaylie. As a thank you for your bravery in letting me post this on my blog, I’d like to send you a signed set of hardcover first printings of the ASHFALL trilogy. These are collectable editions you can’t buy in stores anymore. I think I should sign them to Kaylie Extraordinary and Just David. –Mike



Calling All Librarians and Teachers in Des Moines and Philadelphia

I’m speaking at the Iowa Association of School Librarians (IASL) conference on April 12th in Des Moines. I’d love to stay over on Monday the 13th and Tuesday the 14th to visit schools and/or libraries in the area. Since IASL is paying my airfare, any events scheduled Monday or Tuesday would be significantly cheaper than normal. Full information on my school and library visits can be found here.

I’ll also be speaking at Garnet Valley High School near Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 21st. I’d love to do other events on Monday, April 20th. (I’m already booked in Indianapolis on Wednesday.) Garnet Valley is  paying my airfare, so a visit on Monday the 20th would be significantly cheaper than normal.

If you’re interested in either of these opportunities, please email me at mike@mikemullinauthor.com before February 15, 2015. Thanks, and happy reading!

*I guess I won’t be taking a Romanian airline to either Des Moines or Philadelphia, but I wish I could. It can’t be any worse than the U.S. companies!