Writing THE Breakout Novel

Donald Maass has done a great job of packaging his professional insight into a very readable guidebook, showing you how to take your novel writing to the next level. He starts with some dismal advice about the snowballs chance you have of ever getting published in the first place and then piles on disheartening anecdotes of published authors in mid-career, withering on the vine. One presumes they sink into a deep depression and start teaching creative writing at the local community college or adult night school. That would explain many online writing magazines depressing collections of angst and anguish.

By page 32 we have weathered the storm and by showing the pluck and mustard to have read that far we presumably have what it takes to write the breakout novel. We are introduced to the first key to our success, the premise. He reviews the standard writers workshop topics of originality, plausibility, gut emotional appeal, raising the stakes, and conflict conflict conflict. Then he goes a step further and leads us through a brainstorming exercise to develop the breakout premise. You almost feel like you’re in the meeting at the author’s New York City agency. Your last book didn’t sell so well and with Donald’s help you are going to get it right this time. His advice sounds a little like the Seinfeld episode where George becomes a babe magnet. Just take your tired vaguely familiar premise and “do the opposite”!

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The last book I will ever buy! At Borders

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Mass was the last book I ever bought at Borders. It was my piece of the Berlin Wall. Borders was hours from the not-so-long goodbye of our collective memories and I felt a need to hold on to something from our shared past.
I blame myself. I was a regular for a long time. I had the Borders reward card. I had my favorite seat in the cafe. I even bought a Hoobastank CD when the band came to play on stage in the music department. Then I slipped away to the new, shinny book store at the other mall. And now Borders is gone.
On that final day I picked through the 60-80% off shelves looking for a gem. Most of the remaining books had been deservedly passed over. Who would buy a Sarah Palin box set that hadn’t already received two as gifts?
Reading the jacket of the book I was hooked. Donald Maass is an agent and a writer with several non-fiction credits and fourteen novels using pseudonyms. I wonder if he uses just one pseudonym or does he have 14?  I never got the answer to that question but almost everything else I needed to know to write a breakout novel was in the book. I feel ready!

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