Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel

Writing the Breakout Novel was the first writing book I purchased. The cover is hanging open, and won't stay shut. The page corners are bruised and stained.

All signs of a great book.

Written over ten years ago by uber-agent Donald Maass, the book is currently #15 on Amazon's extensive list of fiction books. I hope my books do as well after a decade.

What is a breakout novel? If an author has a few books published, and then a subsequent one sells far more than expected, or appears on the bestseller lists, they are said to have written a "breakout novel".

Can you have a breakout novel on your first try? Maass says yes. But there are key elements that need to be in place in order for your book to resonate to the level of stellar sales.

In the eleven-chapter book, Maass explains from his thirty-year perspective as an agent, what those key elements are. When you've seen great and not-so-great books come and go, you tend to get a feel for what works (The Donald Maass agency sells more than 150 books to publishers each year).

Here's a quote from Maass:

"Novels are written one word at a time, and the choices made along the way can as easily produce a mildly engaging midlist novel as a highly memorable breakout. I believe that the difference lies in the author's commitment to great storytelling. But that commitment cannot be realized without the necessary tools. Giving you the necessary tools is my purpose in writing this book. Over the last twenty years, I have learned a lot about what lifts a novel out of the ranks of the ordinary and into the realm of the breakout."

If you're curious about Donald Maass, you can find links to his website and a few interviews here. And if you ever get a chance to attend a Maass workshop in person, don't think twice. Do it.

Next week, I'll review the companion volume, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.


  1. A friend suggested the workbook that goes along with this book and I'm so glad I bought it. I scratched all my notes all over that workbook. Great reads!
    ~ Wendy

  2. Hi Wendy-
    I'll be reviewing the workbook next week, but I forgot to mention that in the post! I'll add that in. Thanks!

  3. Maass's books on writing are all excellent and well worth the read.

    I thought I'd pass along this link to a Kidlit online conference. It's not my field so I can't recommend it, but it looks worth a look for those of you who are.

  4. Thanks, Marilynn. I posted a couple of times about WriteOnCon, and plan to attend next week. It seems like a fair amount of attendees are not children's writers, but are joining in for the workshops.


  5. I read this book and it is terrific. The workbook is even better.

  6. This one, the workbook, and The Fire in Fiction are some of my most dog-eared writing books.




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