- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Writers Digest Books; New edition edition (15 Aug. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 158297182X
- ISBN-13: 978-1582971827
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Writing the Breakout Novel: Winning Advice from a Top Agent and His Best-selling Client Paperback – 15 Aug 2002
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A breakout novel is one that rises out if its category - such as literary fiction, mystery, romance, or thriller - and hits the bestseller charts. Maass explains the elements that all breakout novels share and shows readers how to use these elements to write a novel that has a good chance of succeeding in a crowded marketplace. They'll learn to: - Create a powerful and sweeping sense of time and place - Develop larger-than-life characters - Sustain a high degree of narrative tension from start to finish - Weave sub-plots into the main action - Explore universal themes that will interest a large audience
About the Author
Donald Maass is the author of 17 novels. He works as a literary agent, representing dozens of novelists in the fantasy, crime, mystery, romance, and thriller categories. He speaks at writer's conferences throughout the USA.
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In my reading, there are basically three kinds of books for would-be novelists: books that encourage, help or cajole you into actually writing the novel in the first place, books that help you to improve your writing generally, and books that help you to edit, refine and sell your novel. Almost every other book for writer's I've seen is therefore about `doing it at all', rather than `doing it excellently'. Not that the others are about producing dross, but the writers they are aimed at are generally looking for their first break.
Writing the Breakout Novel, by contrast, is all about the next stage -- and especially for writers whose careers have launched well, but are now languishing. There's a particular emphasis, as per the title, on going from being a genre author to becoming a mainstream best seller.
How good is it? Well, like all these books, until there is a string of people who say "I was a mid-list writer and I read this book and now I have a Nobel prize for literature", it's going to be hard to tell. Certainly the author has good credentials in the writers he has personally nurtured.
What I can say is, the things he describes are the same things that get talked about in a literature degree as the marks of great writing. Interestingly, these are generally not the things talked about in the other three categories. I've certainly found the advice helpful.
If you're a wilting professional writer, or an ambitious soon-to-be published novelist, or if you've simply got everything you can out of the other kinds of books, then I would strongly recommend this one. On the other hand, if you are still struggling with completing a book at all, it's probably going to discourage you.
Even so, it will be a useful read for anyone seeking to raise their writing game - though I wouldn't recommend it as the first, or only, book to read (I recommend Sol Stein and Orson Scott Card for your actual "craft of writing" shelf).
What makes this book really interesting is Maass's status as a New York literary agent. When he says what makes him reject a manuscript out of hand, or the sort of thing that makes him reach for the phone, a writer does well to listen!
Some of it seemed a bit padded (personally I get more from direct analysis than from case studies, and he puts a lot of the latter in - and sometimes spends several lines listing example works and authors: not particularly useful unless you're going to look them all up). Elsewhere he excerpts sections from his case study books, which is more usable but, for me, can still be labouring the point.
The most useful sections were on plotting and structure. A thread of "conflict! conflict! conflict!" runs through the book, too - a lesson that many writers would do well to take on board (including this one. And that's what I mean about the limitations of books and humans above: it's easy to know that conflict is important, harder to get the conflict on page after page - and yes, there should be conflict on every page, according to Maass).
Overall, as a writing book, you'd be better off with Sol Stein. This one comes into its own as a glimpse into the mind of a modern literary agent. Definitely worth reading before you submit to the Donald Maass Agency :-)
Cannot recommend it highly enough to the aspiring, or even to the successful, writer.
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