Yeonsu Oh. Sound Letters. Grade 12, Age 18. 2012 Silver Medal, Art Portfolio.

Yeonsu Oh. Sound Letters. Grade 12, Age 18. 2012 Silver Medal, Art Portfolio.

Leslie Asked:

Hello Mr. Vizzini! I’m writing a story, but a lot of it takes place between messages online. So I am wonder how exactly do I go about that? It’s based on a true story, and it took place first with wall posts, to messages, then to Skype etc. I’ve never written something like this. Any advice on how to go about it? Thanks!

Ned Answered:

Hi Leslie, What you are writing is an epistolary story – that is, a story presented as a series of letters. This kind of story has a long history. The 18th century novel The Dangerous Liaisons, which you might know as the basis for that 1999 movie Cruel Intentions, was written as a series of letters. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, more recently, is structured as a series of letters addressed to an unnamed friend. Read More


Colton Witt. Laughter. Grade 11, Age 16. 2012 Gold Medal, Photography.

Luke Asked:

I struggle with humour. I write fantasies. How do you inject humor so easily into your writing? And is comic relief that important? Thank you.

Ned Answered:

Luke, Let’s take the second part of your question first: yes, comic relief is important. Even in the most serious or scary story, a light moment makes things more real. So you are right to try and inject humor (or humour, however we want to call it) into your fantasy stories.

The problem with humor is it’s like love, or success – it doesn’t just happen because you try really hard. If you are racking your brain trying to write something funny, it probably won’t be that funny. You have to open your eyes to what’s around you. Observe other people. See when they do ridiculous things. Make your characters do those things. Bonus points when you make a character do something stupid that you yourself have done.

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Brandon Bidleman. Music Business. Age 17. 2011 Gold Key, Art Portfolio.

Robert Asked:

What are the laws regarding song lyrics and how does one get permission to use them? I have heard that titles are okay, but not lyrics. If an author wanted to use lyrics, how would one go about asking for permission? Are there legal forms and such to fill out or, after getting permission, print the songs copyright permission?

Ned Answered:

When you’re in the process of writing a book, you shouldn’t worry about any of this stuff, except from an artistic and longevity standpoint. Do you really want to include the lyrics to Rihanna’s “shine bright like a diamond” song in your book? Do you think anybody is going to know or care about those lyrics in 10 years? Books last a long time.

The answer might be yes – and in that case, go ahead and use the lyrics.

Now, if you sell your book to a book company, that’s where the lawyers come in. Read More

Anthony Cairo. His Last Words. Grade 12, Age 17. 2011 Gold Key, Art Portfolio.

Elyssa Asked:

How did you decide to write It’s Kind of a Funny Story? There’s a lot of books on depression, but yours stood out because it’s hilarious, yet also quite touching.

By the way, what’s the longer name for Ned? It’s not Nedward, right?

Ned Answered:

I’m glad you liked IKOAFS. I didn’t choose to write it the way you seem to be thinking. It wasn’t like I looked at all the other books out there about mental illness (of which there were less, in 2006) and went, “I want to write one that’s hilarious and touching!” I was going through some heavy crap where I was convinced that I was going to die and then my life changed.

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Emily Andrews. Overwhelming Books. Grade 12, Age 17. 2011 Silver Medal, Photography Portfolio.

Linda Asked:

You wrote and published your first book when you were a teen. Would you say it was easier in that time vs today for teen writers/everyone to sell, or is the (book) recession only a figment of our creative imaginations?

Ned Answered:

My mother used to tell me, “Every business is a hard business.” If you meet a writer, the writer will often say, “Writing is really hard. It’s impossible to make a living. Books are dead.”

But if you meet a model, the model will often say, “Modeling is really hard. You really have to hustle. And once you turn twenty, you’re done!”

It doesn’t do you any good to listen to these lines of argument. Of course writing is hard. It’s supposed to be. It’s a job.

Now, there are scary statistics. Read More

Annelies Cowan. Letter of a Fallen Female War Hero. Grade 11, Age 16. 2012 Silver Medal, Mixed Media.

Zara Asked:

Do you have any advice for a young aspiring author who is looking at agents and publishing houses to query. How can I narrow down the search and what makes a good query letter? Thanks!

Ned Answered:

Zara, If you’re looking for agents and publishers, get Writer’s Market. It’s a book — I suppose you could get an e-version but it’s the sort of book you want to circle things in and write notes in — that lists all of the agents and publishers in the business. From small independent houses to big-name representatives, if they work in books, they’re in Writer’s Market.

Remember when you use Writer’s Market to be targeted. Specificity is important in publishing. Read More