A Story of Writing Success: George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones)

The story of George R.R. Martin (author of A Game of Thrones) as a writer, and as a storyteller, exemplifies a model of success that aspiring authors should study as they progress in their writing careers. Martin's own story of success is one of persistence, ingenuity, and a youthful spirit of opportunity.

A Song of Ice and Fire, sci-fi novel series
Martin is the best-selling author of A Song of Ice and Fire, a 5-volume saga series. He started the novel series in 1991. His first volume titled, "A Game of Thrones" was released five years later. In 2011 HBO adapted Martin's novels into a successful cable TV series called "Game of Thrones." He is currently working on the 6th installment, titled The Winds of Winter.

Born George Raymond Richard Martin, on the 20th of September 1948, in New Jersey and raised in a federal housing project located near Bayonne docks of Bayonne, N.J., Martin lived a fairly poor life. Yet, when you first venture into the story of George R.R. Martin, you find not a young malnourished, unhealthy, and unhappy child struggling to find a better life for himself and his family, but a quirky young boy attending Mary Jane Donohoe primary school, who had a strange affinity for monsters, intrigue, and the art of storytelling.

Where most kids were terrified of "the creatures under the bed" or "the monsters in the closet," Martin fashioned worlds and stories for these denizens of childish terror, and then sold them to neighborhood children for pennies, often including dramatic readings as a package deal. Martin also created a kingdom for his pet turtles, writing stories of sinister plots and suspense that took place in their castle where the turtles plotted and killed each other, as an explanation for why his turtles often turned up deceased in their toy castle.

Fantastic Four Vol 1 #20
Fantastic Four Vol 1 #20
published in November 1963 by Marvel Comics. Edited by Stan Lee.

During high school Martin became an avid fan of comic books, developing an interest in the heroes of the Marvel multiverse. In November of 1963, a letter Martin wrote to the editor of Marvel comics was featured in issue 20 of Fantastic Four. This would be the first of many such letters; what makes this event significant is that it alerted the rest of the Marvel fandom to Martin, who then began sending him letters of their own, thus indoctrinating Martin into the comic fandom of his era. Through these contacts, Martin began to write for various fanzines and magazines created by fans for fans, usually including fan-created spin-offs of their favorite stories.

Powerman vs The Blue Barrier
Martin's story, Powerman vs The Blue Barrier, appeared in an amateur fanzine called Star Studded Comics, published July 1965, Issue 7. Only 1,000 copies were printed. 

In 1965, one such story which Martin sent in, titled, Powerman vs The Blue Barrier, earned him the first award of his writing career, the Alley Award. Until 1969 the Alley Awards were a series of comic fan awards in different categories, granted yearly to specific stories voted by readers at fan conventions. The Award, only four years old at the time, was presented to Martin for Best Fanfiction, with a score of 4.29 out of 5. The Alleys lasted from 1962 to 1970.

Galaxy Science Fiction magazine
A leading science-fiction magazine of its time, Galaxy Science Fiction was published from 1950 to 1980 in the United States. Martin sold his first sci-fi story to this publication, joining the ranks of other notable writers, including Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, Robert A. Heinlein, and Alfred Bester.

In 1970, at the age of 21, Martin earned a Bachelor's of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University, graduating at the top of his class and going on to earn his Master's the following year. In an interesting parallel, that very same year Martin began selling his stories professionally. He sold his first story, The Hero, to Galaxy Science Fiction magazine; it was published in the February issue of 1971, the very year he would earn his M.S. in Journalism. It was the first of many such sales.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Formerly called Astounding Stories (including a handful of other name changes over the years), Analog Science Fiction and Fact (2013 issue shown above) has been publishing since 1930. A 1979 issue published Martin's sci-fi pulp story called With Morning Comes Mistfall.

In 1973, Analog magazine published, With Morning Comes Mistfall, the story which won Martin the first of many Hugo Award nominations. In 1975 Martin earned his first Hugo Award in the category of Best Novella for his story, A Song for Lya. It would be five years before his next one, though he would have countless nominations in-between.

The Hugo Awards
The Hugo Awards, originally conceived in 1953, are awarded annually to the best science fiction and/or fantasy works of the previous year as decided by ballot vote, in which 1,000 or more people vote on their favorite stories. Presented each year by the World Science Fiction Society at the annual World Science Fiction Convention, The Hugo is often regarded as the reward most indicative of reader popularity. Winning books have the official logo embossed on the cover as a promotional tool to boost sales. Because The Hugo is a prestigious award, renowned for recognizing top talent, publishers are more eager to publish an author who has won The Hugo.

Time's 100 most influential people
Martin was named as one of Time's 100 most influential people of 2011.

As the story of George R.R. Martin continues to grow, with each new chapter, we are reminded of the persevering spirit of a young boy selling monster stories in the schoolyard, who followed his dreams and found himself at the doorstep of HBO fame, Time magazine's 100 most influential people list of 2011, and becoming, in the end, a New York Times Bestseller for his novels in the Game of Thrones series.

When asked what advice he would give to budding authors, he advised three things:

1. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Every writer has something to teach you, whether good or bad.

2. Write every day. It doesn't matter how much you write as long as you write. The more you write, the better you'll get. Remember to keep it original, because every writer needs to learn to create his or her own characters and settings.

3. Start with short stories. This has a dual purpose: it accomplishes number two and it's a good way to break into the literary world. Magazines are always looking for short stories.


I welcome your comments, suggestions, or corrections. Use the Comments form below.

Brian Scott