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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely Information for the New Empowered Writers
I loved Donald Maass' last book, Writing the Breakout Novel, and the title of this new one intrigued me. How timely, with the empowerment of writers by self-publishing (more on Maass' thoughts on self-pubs later) and digital book sales blowing past traditional offerings. Data shows a slew of new authors emboldened by a successful novel (success being a relative word) who...
Published on March 23, 2011 by J. Murray

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61 of 66 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars High hopes, not completely realized.
As far as celebrity literary agents go, Donald Maass is number one. His agency is one of the most in-demand groups in the business. He's a highly sought-after speaker, teacher, and authority in the industry. His writing craft book, Writing the Breakout Novel, is on almost every required reading list for authors I have ever seen. Basically, this guy has some credentials...
Published on April 29, 2011 by L. Franklin


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61 of 66 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars High hopes, not completely realized., April 29, 2011
By 
L. Franklin (Southern California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
As far as celebrity literary agents go, Donald Maass is number one. His agency is one of the most in-demand groups in the business. He's a highly sought-after speaker, teacher, and authority in the industry. His writing craft book, Writing the Breakout Novel, is on almost every required reading list for authors I have ever seen. Basically, this guy has some credentials. So when Writer's Digest contacted me to review his latest book, The Breakout Novelist, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, the final verdict for me was more mixed than I would have liked.

The Good: Maass knows what he's talking about. He's guided best-selling careers for decades, and that's the subject matter of this book (as opposed to simply writing a great novel, he's discussing having a great novel-writing career). The last two sections of the book, titled "Achieving Breakout Greatness" and "Building a Breakout Career," are great. The practical tools after parts one and two are worth the price of admission alone. While these tools are available for free download (and Maass tweets them weekly on Twitter), you really need to read the rest of the book to know how to best use them. There is a wealth of valuable information contained here.

The Bad: I barely made it to the good stuff because of the first third of the book. I almost gave up. That is not to say there's not some good information in the first part of the book. I can't completely put my finger on the reason for this. Had I read it all before? Perhaps. Additionally, the examples are stale, though not quite old enough to be considered classics. Great fiction is great fiction, regardless of era, but when you're talking about being a novelist NOW in today's publishing world, I don't find it very helpful to use an example from 1946. That could just be me. The examples do pick up in the latter part of the book. Additionally, I found myself lost several times while reading. We'd have a catchy chapter title, a great intro, then we'd deviate into a subheading that seemed to have very little to do with the chapter. After several pages, I'd stop and frown. What were we talking about again? Not great for a reference book, as this is supposed to be.

I liked Maass' humorous, conversational style, but he seems to have a reluctance to use contractions, which didn't fit his overall voice. And this book has the f-bomb in it. I know, I know, I'm probably part of a tiny minority of people that this bothers, but whatever. If I hardly find it necessary in fiction, you can guess how I feel about it in a writing craft book. But since this has nothing to do with how helpful this book is or isn't, it wouldn't cause me to subtract stars from my review.

The Ugly: I hate to say what I'm about to say. I really do. I have been very pleased with several Writer's Digest books I've read in the past, including Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke and Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and I'm currently loving Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, but I can't write an honest review without going here. The editing in this book is bad. While it's not uncommon to find a few typos in published work, this book is riddled with them. It's ironic to read Maass' comments on editing when there are so many errors in his own work. They're not only in the main sections of text, but also in excerpts from example novels. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that the chapter title at the bottom of the page throughout the whole chapter "Making the Impossible Real" is mislabeled as "A Singular Voice," which is the title of the previous chapter. These errors are just too egregious to be overlooked, in my opinion. I'm sure this book will sell well, and I hope the publisher will correct these flubs in future editions. They were quite distracting.

Bottom Line: Would I recommend this book to authors? Yes, but with some qualifiers. To get anything out of it, you have to be willing to overlook its faults (and a little swearing). You have to push through that first section to get to some better content. I know I will be referencing this book again in the future, if nothing else then simply to use the exercises for manuscript improvement. If you're thinking of clicking that "Add to Cart" button, then proceed. With caution.

Note: Writer's Digest provided me with a copy of The Breakout Novelist for reviewing purposes.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely Information for the New Empowered Writers, March 23, 2011
By 
J. Murray (Laguna Hills, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
I loved Donald Maass' last book, Writing the Breakout Novel, and the title of this new one intrigued me. How timely, with the empowerment of writers by self-publishing (more on Maass' thoughts on self-pubs later) and digital book sales blowing past traditional offerings. Data shows a slew of new authors emboldened by a successful novel (success being a relative word) who want a career in writing. I wanted Maass' thoughts on the viability of that as well as how to do it.

For those of you who don't know Donald Maass, he is a veteran agent, currently the head of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York which represents more than 150 novelists and sells more than 100 novels every year to publishers in America and overseas. By his own count, he receives annually about 7500 query letters, partial manuscripts, and completed novels-99.9% of which disappoint him. This amazing statistic must be the inspiration behind his new book. The authors, he declares, are not incompetent, merely not in command of their technique. This book provides the tools to change that.

It's organized into three parts:

1. Mastering Breakout Basics-how-to-write fundamentals, including exercises for the wanna-be breakout novelist. That's right, homework. There are no shortcuts, but there are quicker ways to do it and he shares those.
2. Achieving Breakout Greatness-factors that vault an author to success. This includes a singular voice, tension all the time, hyper-reality, scenes that can't be cut. If you think you know those concepts, you don't know. Maass even includes a section on how to write humor (Chapter 16), explaining how to ban banal with his `methods of mirth'-like hyperbole, ironic juxtaposition, being extremely literal, and more.
3. Building a Breakout Career, which addresses the nuts of bolts of agents, contracts numbers, and career patterns that work. Most of this material I have not read before though I've read many how-to-write books. His chapter on Numbers, Numbers, Numbers is fundamental to moving beyond the one great novel we-all have inside of us to a successful career. He itemizes:
* What Breaking Out means
* When to write full time and how to do that
* How to build an audience (word of mouth is prominent)
* What distracts you from writing (lectures, short story anthologies-these he considers `distractions' from the real work of writing a novel)
* How to create your voice
* The life cycle of a career writer

But don't skip the introduction. I know-we often do. Agents even recommend against prologues and introductions because so many readers skip them. Don't do it in this case. Here are some snippets:

* I'm looking for writers who can write one great book after another. Commercial novelists frequently feel pressure to manage that feat of strength...
* Intuitive novelists often have markers: moments and scenes that they know must be in the book.
* ...the three primary levels on which novels always must be working: plot, individual scene, and line-by-line-the level that I call micro-tension
* The journey can be outward or inward and, in fact, is best when it is both.
* ...novel has a tension deficit disorder.
* If your fiction is great, then your agent will return your calls.

Donald Maass admits parts of this book are taken from his earlier books-good writing skills don't change. These concepts are presented with passages from successful novels to show (not tell) the point. They cover every genre-memoir, literary fiction, thriller-with not just what's right, but how a good section can go wrong. Thanks to this book, I now have a massive list of new books I want to read.

Here are some of my favorite parts:

* A breakout premise...must have the energy of a uranium isotope...
* Formative reading experiences stay with us, like comfort food
* No breakout novel leaves us feeling neutral
* Every protagonist needs a torturous need, a consuming fear, an aching regret, a visible dream, a passionate longing, an inescapable ambition, an exquisite lust, an inner lack, a fatal weakness, an unavoidable obligation, an iron instinct, an irresistible plan, a noble idea, an undying hope...
* If you truly wish to write the breakout novel, commit yourself to characters who are strong.
* ...as in the oft-attempted-but-rarely-successful `comic relief sub-plot'...
* Breakout novelists hold [backstory] back for just the right moment...
* If your heroine and her sidekick are standing still, it ought to be because they disagree.
* One problem that can keep a novel from breaking out is a failure to draw a clear line between good and bad.
* There is also the decline of editing-fiercely denied by publishers,but widely reported by readers...
* ...many [authors] begin their climb with no support whatsoever from their publishers.
* Two other factors can work against building an audience: jumping genres and changing publishers.
* ...chain stores today only sell 30 percent of trade titles. Online retailers now account for 20 percent of trade sales.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to authors who wish to make a career of writing, making money doing what they love. Isn't that the American Dream? As much as a chicken in every pot, don't we all want paying our bills and loving our job not to be an oxymoron? Donald Maass provides the toolkit. You must provide the energy.

I have only one point of disagreement, and it's the same one I had with his prior book, Writing the Breakout Novel, that (in his words) "the only plan that doesn't work that well for commercial fiction writers is self-publishing". I think that depends upon your definition of the words, `work that well'.

How about `works well enough`? I believe the e-revolution has empowered writers to take charge of their own careers, to be the captains of their own future. No matter that sales may be smaller than if an agent is involved, sales are there and that means bills are paid. Who out there earns hundreds of thousands of dollars? Most people are middle class. The publishing industry is as much about ebooks, digital readers, self-publishing, as the traditional path through an agent. Though one might question the quality of digital books, self-pub makes it possible for Everyman to write books from his soul, sell them to his niche, and make a living-or have a passionate hobby, not unlike skiing, acting or ballroom dancing. Donald Maass admits "the Kindle e-book reader has let loose pent-up frustrations across the spectrum. Authors see them as salvation. Publishers see them as a vein of ore."

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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed with the format, but not with the information, February 24, 2011
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This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
I was so excited to get my copy of The Breakout Novelist yesterday. I have two Donald Maass' books and LOVE them both. But I was a bit disappointed with this one. Not the content; the format, and for that, I gave it only 4 stars. The problem: It has VERY SMALL print (probably 10 pt). I wish the publisher had produced a notebook-size book with larger type. I would have gladly paid the extra cost. As it is, I'm not sure if I'll be able to use this book very much. If you have 20/20 vision, it won't be a problem, but for those of us with "older" eyes, it sure makes it difficult.

The book itself includes information from his previous books: Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, The Fire in Fiction, and The Career Novelist, as well as some updated content. I've been working in Writing the Breakout Novel and have gotten further in my novel writing than I have with any other resource.

Donald Maass is a wonderful teacher, both in his books and in person (I got to hear him at a writer's conference in NYC this year). The Breakout Novelist is broken down into three parts:

Part One is Mastering Breakout Basics. It includes information on premise, stakes, time/place, characters, plot, subplots, pace, endings, advanced plot structure, and theme.

Part Two is Achieving Breakout Greatness: This chapter includes protagonists vs heroes, characters who matter, scenes that can't be cut, the world of the novel, a singular voice, making the impossible real, hyper-reality, tension all the time, and the fire in fiction.

Part Three is Building a Breakout Career: This chapter includes information on publishing: myth vs. reality, status seekers & storytellers, pitching, agents, contracts, numbers numbers numbers, career patterns that work, breaking out, passages in fiction careers, the future of publishing.

At the end of each chapter are practical tools: exercises that will help you learn the craft. You can download and print the exercises (in a larger font!) from the link supplied in the book to the Writer's Digest website. These exercises are what has really helped me in learning the craft.

If you really want to learn how to write, I can't recommend this author enough. I'm not a published fiction writer yet, but I believe Maass' books will help me get there.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of Maass's Fiction-Craft Books, July 12, 2011
By 
C. J. Singh (Berkeley, California, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
.
Reviewed by C. J. Singh

Couple of years ago, I read three fiction-craft books by Donald Maass in the order they were published:
Writing the Breakout Novel (2000),
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004),
The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques (2009)
and posted a review of the latter on amzon.com.

Maass's three fiction-craft books, written over a span of fifteen years, overlapped somewhat in contents. This redundancy he has skillfully excised in the compact three-part new book, beautifully designed with spiral binding. Introducing "The Breakout Novelist," Maass writes: "[It's] a story doctor on call. That is the purpose of this book, I have assembled here the best of my previous books on fiction technique" (p 1).

The first part, "Mastering Breakout Basics," lucidly explains fundamentals such as premise, character, plot, subplots, and theme. He cites numerous examples from novels including Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist," Judith Guest's "Ordinary People," and David Guterson's "Snow Falling on Cedars." The concluding chapter, "Practical Tools," comprises thirty-five exercises.

The second part, "Achieving Breakout Greatness," is a compact version of his acclaimed book "The Fire in Fiction." Examples from novels include E.L. Doctorow's "The March" (2005), Gary Shteyngart's "Absurdistan" (2006), Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (2006), Ethan Canin's "America, America" (2008), and Don DeLillo's "Falling Man" (2008). The concluding chapter, "Practical Tools, " comprises the next set of exercises, bringing the total to seventy-three.

The third part, "Building a Breakout Career," focuses on pitching, getting an agent, contracts, as well as the emerging field of e-publishing. It's an update of his "The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success" (1996).

Every now and then, I receive inquiries from readers of my amazon reviews for specific suggestions. To the new reader, I'd say, "In 'The Breakout Novelist,' Maass delivers the best of his previous books. This is the one. Go to it."

-- C. J. Singh
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy ebook formatting ruins the experience, April 20, 2011
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This is becoming a theme in e-books from the Kindle store, and I suppose in a 99c book it's excusable, but this book is full price and clearly never received a final proof.

The publishing house should be embarrassed and the author should be furious.

Every few words there is an extra space inserted in a word. I can only assume it's the hyphenation breaks from the press version translated as spaces in the e book. It's distracting and ruins the experience.

Once or twice it was dismissible but it just keeps going and I have to stop and reformat it as I read (mentally) which yanks me out of the reading experience. if they plan to charge as much for the e version as the print version they really need to respect their readers and give it it's own pass at formatting. Not treat us as a tertiary revenue stream, because I for one will never buy from this publisher again until I know this is addressed.

Writers Digest Books, as an insider publisher, really needs to be more professional. It looks like amateur hour to me.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book! (But fix the typos . . .), March 2, 2012
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This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
This is a great book by a literary agent/author who is clearly passionate about writing. His material dealing with the art and craft of fiction writing is presented in a logical, helpful way, and in my opinion this work will prove an excellent resource for writers who want to add tension and emotional impact to their stories, while at the same time improving their writing skills. I reluctantly withheld one star because of the sloppy formatting and numerous typos present in the Kindle version I just read. From scanning several other reviews posted on this site, I see I'm not the only one distracted by this issue.

Mr Maass, THERE IS GOOD NEWS! Any and all errors in an eBook like your Kindle Edition can be corrected in your original document, a new file submitted for conversion, and no more errors! The best part is, it's easy! Within a few days of uploading your corrected file, your new electronic version shows up online. You can even have Amazon notify everyone who has purchased the old eBook (with errors) that there is a corrected version they can download for free. (I have dealt with this problem myself -- unfortunately, more than once.) True, at some point you have to stop messing with revisions, but there is really no reason for having these kinds of easily rectified copyediting mistakes in an eBook.

So . . . talk with your publisher, get this issue fixed, and eliminate this small but significant smudge on what is otherwise a well written and informative book. In the meantime, anyone who is interested in becoming a better writer/storyteller and who can overlook some (temporary) formatting and typo problems, buy this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jam packed with useful info & tools, October 26, 2011
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This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
This is my first Donald Maass book. I decided to buy it after following him on Twitter, where he was giving abbreviated tips from the book. I found this book to be incredibly useful & thought provoking. After applying some of his strategies & concepts, it took my manuscript to places I would have never imagined it would go. Much stronger now, more layered. I recommend this to anyone writing fiction--it can only strengthen what skills you already have.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Summary of Maass's Other Books, September 8, 2013
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This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
Maass is an extremely good writer. But he has a problem: he has published several books on writing (Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, The Career Novelist, and now this one) but only has enough information to fill a single volume. That leaves him saying the same thing over and over, using only slightly different wording. He writes extremely well but has nothing new to say. I recommend writers get his earlier book, Writing the Breakout Novel, and ignore the others.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should become the Bible for novelists, January 30, 2012
By 
Tom Bruce (East Moriches, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
In this instructional book, Maass has updated and combined the essential materials from his three previous tomes, "Writing the Breakout Novel," "The Fire in Fiction," and "The Career Novelist." As I have said in earlier reviews of his work, this book is not for beginners, but for those who have a completed novel and wish to make it the very best book it can be. Not that Maass makes it easy by any stretch of the imagination. In this book he offers 73 exercises for you to use to improve what you have written. For example, picked at random, Exercise 15: Building Plot Layers; Exercise 42: Empowering Antagonists; Exercise 71:The Common in Uncommon Experience. It will take time, it will take effort, but if you really want to be a successful novelist, this book of craft and strategies for writing fiction is just what the book doctor ordered.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-Have, May 18, 2011
This review is from: The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers (Spiral-bound)
Wonderfully helpful. The exercises are also useful for analyzing and improving aspects of your novel.

At first I was disappointed with the spiral binding. The print is also pretty small. But after reading the book, I have found the content so valuable that I don't care about format. The spiral form will actually be handy when doing the exercises.

I had previously read the first half the author's earlier book, Writing the Breakout Novel. This version includes that, along with other books. A great bargain.

I should say that I'm very much a newbie aspiring writer, and have not yet started writing my first novel. But this book has been very helpful. Intimidating, but very helpful.

The section on the current state of publishing was also valuable to someone like me who is just getting started. It's good to know what you're up against, without illusions.

I have read several other books about writing, and this one seems like a must-have.
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The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers
The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers by Donald Maass (Spiral-bound - March 14, 2011)
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