Friday, February 04, 2011

Are You Writing a Breakout Novel?

First of all, what is a Breakout Novel? Agent Donald Maass, who's been reading unpublished manuscripts for over 30 years, wrote this book (How to Write a Breakout Novel), and his workbook (Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook), close to ten years ago.

At that time, a breakout novel was a work that was bigger and better than typical midlist fiction. Since that time, and especially in the past couple of years, I've noticed a distinct and sweeping difference in the quality of Young Adult novels that are being published.

As a librarian who buys almost everything that's published each year, I would have to say that there are very few, if any, "middling" books anymore. If a book was published by any of the big-six New York publishers, they are all quite astonishing in concept and/or quality.

Perhaps what was considered a Breakout Novel in 2004 is the new norm.  Anyway, if you haven't read How to Write a Breakout Novel or The Breakout Novel Workbook, they are well worth your time, as well as Maass's more recent, The Fire in Fiction

I'd bought Maass's How to Write a Breakout Novel Workbook back in 2004, but wasn't writing at that time. I never got around to reading it, although I did read How to Write a Breakout Novel. After a reader commented recently that she was using the workbook to revise her WIP, I pulled it off my shelf and started reading it.

Maass shows the writer many ways to make his or her work stand out from the crowd. In fact, if you were to do all of his suggestions, it's something like 503 ways to improve your manuscript, which he issues as a checklist challenge on the last page. Do them all, and you will have a breakout novel on your hands. I think I just might take him up on his challenge, or a close approximation ...

How about you? Have you read one or both of these books? Are you interested in pursuing his suggestions with your current manuscript?


  1. Nope - haven't read them - but they are going on the TBR list at this very moment! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I knew you would like it. I finished going through my wip with the characterization section and have already noticed a difference. Next week I start on the plotting section. :D

    I've also read his fire one. It's good, but I find the excerpts boring because they're taken out of context. My favorite parts are the end of chapter summaries and the questions that you can apply to your ms. I'm not sure, though, if it's really different from the workbook since I haven't read the entire workbook yet.

    He also has a new book that was recently released. I doubt it's going to have anything new that isn't covered in the other books.

  3. Donald Maass is my hero! I've read them all, and I just heard yesterday that he has a new book coming out. If you pre-order from Writer's Digest, you get some free workbook type exercises to accompany the book. Anyway, I will agree with your thoughts here, though. I'm thinking the breakout novel of 10 years ago is today's standard. Only the best of the best are being published.

  4. Donald Maass's breakout novel book is on my To Buy list! A checklist sounds exactly like what I need.

    I agree with you that the YA/MG books that are coming out nowadays are (generally) pretty wonderful. I've loved the last five that I've read! That used to never happen to me.

  5. Looks like I need to get my hands on Maass's book :-) Thanks for the information...

    Of course, I've got to finish Nancy Lamb's The Art and Craft of Storytelling, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird first!

  6. Hey there, fellow crusader :-)

    Haven't heard of this book before, though it sounds pretty useful.

  7. This is one of my all time favorite books on writing! I haven't heard of the workbook, but I may just have to look into it :)

  8. Hi from a fellow Crusader. Thanks for the book recommendation - I have to say your years as a librarian make me trust your opinion more, as you'd have a good understanding of what readers really enjoy and what they come back for time and again...

    Best of luck with your own writing, and I hope you can put all your experience to good use!

  9. Catherine,

    Nice to meet you! I'm excited to get to know you better. Love your blog. Very helpful tips by the way.

    Hope you have a super good day!



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