Less Than Zero was Ellis' first attempt at a proper novel, following much roman à clef juvenilia. Its first draft was, reportedly, incredibly emotional and overwrought, and in the third-person. Ellis' creative writing teacher, novelist Joe McGinniss, advised that he return to the first person style of roman à clef (which Ellis was hesitant to do) and Ellis stripped it back, from there evoking the minimalist style for which it became famous.
The author on his own novel:
- "I read it for the first time in about 20 years this year—recently. It was so great. I get it. I get fan mail now from people who weren't really born yet when the book came out. I don't think it's a perfect book by any means, but it's valid. I get where it comes from. I get what it is. I know that sounds so ambiguous. It's sort of out of my hands and it has its reputation, so what can you do about it? There's a lot of it that I wish was slightly more elegantly written. Overall, I was pretty shocked. It was pretty good writing for someone who was 19. I was pretty surprised by the level of writing."
In the former child actor Danny Bonaduce's 2002 autobiography, Random Acts of Badness, Bonaduce notes the striking similarity between the fictional high school in Less Than Zero and the now-relocated California Preparatory High School The Buckley School in Encino, California, where Bonaduce, recording artist Michael Jackson, film actor Christian Brando, and other children of wealth and celebrity went to school together. In commenting on the novel, Bonaduce notes, "When the book Less Than Zero came out, all my classmates were pissed. Not because it was an exact portrayal of our school - but because we failed to get any royalties."