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Writing the Breakout Novel (Breakout Novel)

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,719 Ratings  ·  281 Reviews
Take your fiction to the next level!

Maybe you're a first-time novelist looking for practical guidance. Maybe you've already been published, but your latest effort is stuck in mid-list limbo. Whatever the case may be, author and literary agent Donald Maass can show you how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel - one that rises out of obscurity and
Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 15th 2002 by Writer's Digest Books (first published May 10th 2001)
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On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
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On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Stein On Writing by Sol SteinWriting the Breakout Novel by Donald MaassStory by Robert McKee
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4th out of 85 books — 64 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 25, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it
WARNING: The plot formulas exposed and lauded in this book can be toxic. May lead to dizziness, fits of cynicism, and paroxysms. Do not take this product if you harbor unrealistic expectations about what sort of books the American book-buying public actually consumes. Do not read if you are offended by the notion that trite, adolescent writing and conventional morality may be the most sellable commodity in today's literary marketplace. Do not take if you are allergic to any of the following:

Sean Little
Mar 25, 2008 Sean Little rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NO ONE
These books are all the same: Trying to sell dreams between covers. It doesn't work. Here's what does work: Writing...writing a lot...writing every day two or three hours...having an original idea and working it harder than you've ever worked something before...believing in yourself and your idea...and accepting the fact that somtimes, no matter how much you want it, you won't get it.

There's no magic recipe for writing a great novel. Just do it. Make your characters interesting. Make the plot ti
Brent Weeks
Jun 30, 2011 Brent Weeks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-advice
Don is my agent, so let's get that out of the way. However, I heard him speak, and I read this book before I ever signed on with him. One of his questions made me rewrite a book I thought was finished. I'd spent more than a year of my life on that book, and his questions made me spend another nine months at it. That book, The Way of Shadows, hit the New York Times bestseller list. (Low, but #29 is something a lot of writers would kill to hit.) And that's the genius of this book--not that it'll m ...more
Troy Blackford
Dec 27, 2013 Troy Blackford rated it liked it
In the year 2000, Maass says:

"Middle-eastern terrorists are not likely to attack us. This is an implausible plot for a thriller." (Look me in the eye and repeat that at the end of 2001, Donald.)

"A global financial crisis wouldn't affect people enough to be the topic of a thriller. So what if Wall Street has a bad day, or even a VERY bad day." (I'll check back with you when the unemployment and foreclosure rate is skyrocketing in 2008, Mr. Maass.)

"Conspiracies make a bad topic for a thriller - so
Meena Fairoak
May 24, 2012 Meena Fairoak rated it did not like it
As an aspiring novelist, a friend gave me this book thinking I would like it.

I didn't.

First the pros: On one hand, the book gives a few basic pointers about storytelling and the publishing industry. The book offers a few interesting extract from novels. And maybe . . . maybe, you might like this book if you were a complete newbie.

But . . .

On the other hand, the author claims to have found the "magic formula" to write a hit book. And this is where everything goes wrong. The author of this book is
Kari J.
Mar 30, 2010 Kari J. rated it it was amazing

I’m still a few pages from being done with Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel and WOW.

For YEARS, I have been looking for what I consider the “perfect” writing book. And every time I go to a bookstore, I find yet another book on writing (or some aspect) I find to be utterly indispensible. I must have them.

I’m not going to talk about how many writing books I have. Let’s just say… A few.

However, there are only a few books I would recommend to people. A l
Amy  Eller Lewis
Sep 04, 2011 Amy Eller Lewis rated it really liked it
I read based on Marissa Meyer's review, but was skeptical, as I am with most Books About Writing. But this is, without a doubt, one of the only writing books that gives actual *information* on writing a novel that is not obvious ("Novels are made of Scenes!"), condescending ("My advice to new writers? Don't do it.") or just so you-are-a-special-and-unique-snowflake that it turns me off. Donald Maass, a Publishing Veteran, does not think you are a special and unique snowflake. But your book needs ...more
Aug 14, 2013 Kristyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are obvious reasons why adding this title is embarrassing.

But, the book is not what you think.

Maass is a writer and agent with several decades of experience, and he uses that to explain why some books work and some don't. He analyzes both commercial and literary fiction. He's basically interested in any book that reaches a wide audience and why, regardless of its categorization.

This book worked for me because it coalesced a year's worth of reading, writing, taking apart books, and workshop
Jane Stewart
Jul 18, 2012 Jane Stewart rated it liked it
2 stars for generalities, not enough specifics. 4 stars for some good ideas that are probably found in most writing books.

“the past perfect tense and its evil facilitator, the word “had” will always rob a scene of its vital immediacy. Even though we need to learn about events that have already happened, (the author) keeps the action always in the present. It has more impact that way.” (p.143)

Maass encourages combining roles, “as in the lifelong friend who is also a doctor, o
Maas doesn't really say anything that isn't reiterated in countless other books on the subject of writing. He does use a lot of examples of published literature to illustrate his points and he seems to be more versed on the subject of thrillers and crime novels than any other genre of fiction.

The book itself is broken down into easy categories covered by separate chapters - Premise, Pace, Setting, Character, Subplots, Viewpoints, Themes, etc. I found some chapters to be more thought provoking t
Adrian Astur Alvarez
May 12, 2011 Adrian Astur Alvarez rated it it was ok
God, this book was irritating. Every time I read a "this is how you write" book by a non-writer I swear I'll never do it again. Then I end up doing it again because someone will swear "oh this one is different." Nope. Not different. Exactly the same, actually. 260 pages of selling (in this case he's selling the phrase "breakout novel") and about 1 or 2 useful ideas. Nothing new, mind you, just useful to be reminded of them. I suppose actually reading a good novel could have reminded me of those ...more
Dec 30, 2013 Jane rated it liked it
Shelves: shelf-of-shame
Where I got the book: purchased at a conference.

There's a lot of solid advice in Maass's book, so as books aimed at encouraging/guiding writers go, it's not all that bad. BUT hoo boy, it's looking a bit dated. When you start by telling your audience that e-readers will never take off and that the way to success is still going to look pretty much the same in ten years' time, a new edition is definitely in order.

And most of his examples seem to date from the 80s and 90s. He REALLY likes Anne Perry
May 15, 2013 Celina rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
I read Gardner's On Becoming A Novelist at the same time I was reading this book. No contest: Gardner's book was authoritative and inspiring. The advice given in Writing The Breakout Novel was contrived, hollow, and in some instances simply cringe-worthy in comparison. If you're an aspiring writer looking for solid, truthful instruction on how to craft a novel, stick with Gardner (or Stephen King's On Writing, or James V. Smith...there are better options). If you're curious as to what a literary ...more
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Oct 17, 2013 Maurice Carlos Ruffin rated it really liked it
Despite it's legendarily cheesy title, it's one of the best how-to books on writing out there, respected by both commercial and literary fiction writers. I first read Breakout when I returned to writing as an adult , just before I met the author in person at the BEA conference in NY in 2005.

In rereading this book for the first time in the better part of a decade, I realized two things: 1) Stephen King's On Writing, Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and Robert McKee's Story (s
Aug 04, 2012 Jo rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
Everyone who's anyone in writing circles raves about this book, so I started reading it with a little trepidation. (Yes, I know that doesn't make much sense.) I really wanted to like it, but didn't want to set my expectations so high that I was disappointed.

I didn't really need to worry. The book was fantastic. It's a book that is clearly not designed for a beginning writer so much as someone who wants to improve their writing in a current or subsequent novel. It covers a broad range of topics i
Oct 16, 2010 Jacqui rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
I have a library of books on how to write, each supposed to rocket me to the next level, morph me from mid-list writer to best-seller. Each of them provided some tidbit that is now integral to my writing style, something I remember and use every time I sit down at my computer and unleash my muse.

Well if I'm honest, some of them were a waste of money. Those, I tossed so they don't remind me how I wasted my hard-earned money.

But Writing the Breakout Novel is one I keep as a reference. Donald Maas'
J. Aleksandr Wootton
Jan 03, 2012 J. Aleksandr Wootton rated it it was amazing
I took a break from fiction to read this a second time - my first reading was almost ten years ago, and I was writing a different novel then. I felt it was time for a refresher, considering where I am in my current project (20k words into the first draft and still outlining).

Maas' title is corny. It's so corny that I might never have ordered it in the first place if I hadn't had a gift certificate for Writers' Digest books. It may sound like a hack's how-to book; but I assure you, it's anything
Bethany Michaels
Dec 27, 2013 Bethany Michaels rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-read
I know a lot of authors who LOVE this book.

I thought there were some good points worth thinking through, especially for the plotting phase of writing a novel, but there was nothing groundbreaking here. Maass suggests that a breakout novel is simply the sum of its parts and if you just follow the advice between these covers, you'll be cashing that six-figure advance check in no time. Any author who has been out there a while knows there are too many variables in the market for anyone to guarante
Apr 28, 2015 Solange rated it it was amazing
I found the organization and content of this book workable and usable. It was a very fast read, well broken out. So if I was having a problem with plot I could just go to that chapter, no funny names for things. I really recommend thins and the book "Story" which is a much denser reading for aspiring authors.
Apr 06, 2013 Mandy rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. Yes, you can learn a lot by constant writing and that is important. It is also important though to continue learning through other means too. I thought this book had a lot of positive advice and points that can help you with writing a good novel. It is good to get information from people who have dealt with published authors. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is writing even if you don't follow everything written in its pages. I believe it gives you a lot to ...more
Oct 29, 2011 Jyv rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
I didn't enjoy this book much. It was offputting more than anything. When reading some of his advice I thought of numerous books which used these methods and found them all so cliched. I imagine a lot of books that have won the Booker prize etc, don't follow them at all. Also, I found the examples of writing he used rather tedious. They were all, I think, examples from Amercian authors and there are a lot of American novels I just don't enjoy. I think I'll try and find a 'how to' book by a Briti ...more
Jul 14, 2016 Kimberly rated it it was amazing
I am a novice writer who happens to love books and I write in my spare time. I have a great concept rolling around in my head and after writing for a bit and then realizing it was rubbish, I turned to this book prior to sitting down to rewrite. This is not the only book I've read of late on writing but it is the standout. I must tell you that as a wannabe novelist this book charms me, but it also charms the reader in me as well. The author includes excerpts from published works that get me excit ...more
Sarah Lea Stories
Jun 25, 2016 Sarah Lea Stories rated it liked it
Honestly, I had a hard time getting into this, but I kept at it, and managed to finish it. I can't even say why I had such a hard time--it just didn't catch me, which is ironic, considering it's about how to write an amazing book. That said, I was sold on at least trying a few of the books he referenced as examples of a "breakout book".

Mr. Maass highly recommends getting an agent, but says that a bad agent is far worse than no agent at all. He also says that being a self-published author is a ma
David Andrews
Mar 17, 2016 David Andrews rated it liked it
Some of the material in Writing the Breakout Novel is a bit dated, as other reviewers often note. And sure, Donald Maass may not be your cup of tea in terms of reading recommendations, either. However, what I think a lot of people might be overlooking is the fact that this book is aimed squarely at someone who is published, but maybe struggling. Someone looking for a spark. Someone trying to figure out what is wrong with their books from a sales point of view.

Maass addresses a ton of common fai
Jul 14, 2015 Beth rated it it was ok
This book came highly recommended by a number of acquaintances, and I have to say it disappointed on all counts.

The first 50 pages or so repeat the same statements over and over again: The author is an amazing agent and his clients are so rich, and if your writing hasn't caught an agent's attention and gotten you as rich as his clients, you must really suck!

While absolute novices might find something useful in this book, I found it mostly contained regurgitated information I've read online and i
Jul 18, 2016 Isabella rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
With my being currently in the process of writing my own novel, Writing the Breakout Novel is an aid that is nothing short of miraculous.

I purchased this book on recommendation from a list I found online, and it is worth so much more than the few dollars I paid for it. Suddenly, I am viewing the shape, story, emotions, prose, characters, ideas, and scenes of my novel with new eyes.

This book goes through each and every point of novel writing that you could possibly need to know and elaborates wit
Stephanie Bibb
Aug 16, 2015 Stephanie Bibb rated it really liked it
I have seen Writing the Breakout Novel advertised or referenced many times. However, I just recently picked this book up after borrowing it from another writer in the critique group I attend.

As a writer, I found this to be a useful book, even though some of its references are a bit dated. On the other hand, I was able to follow quite a few of his references (be warned, his references include spoilers), even in genres I don't typically read. And history cycles, so several of his 'outdated' refere
Apr 14, 2009 Rebekah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-books
This is the type of book I was looking for years ago when I started writing: no formulas or perks, just honest to goodness information on how to make your writing stand out. From plot to characterization to layering, this book covers it all with checklists at the end of each chapter to make sure you caught everything, or to refer to as you write your next novel.
Ryan Morton
Nov 29, 2015 Ryan Morton rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-help, writing
A well-rounded overview of how to write a break-out novel. As a first-time novelist, I greatly appreciated the examples, focus on story-telling, and coverage of the writing priorities. It is all-too-easy to get caught up in the semantics of tactics for writing, but Maass kept the focus on creating a compelling story (for the audience!). Too many books are written for the author's pleasure and fail to capture the attention of a large readership (which is fine if that is your goal). If you have so ...more
Mar 14, 2014 Twocents rated it it was amazing
I received this book as a gift after NaNoWriMo. It's a bit dated, but that didn't antagonize me as much as it clearly bothered some other readers. I liked that he didn't really make a formula, but talked about what worked and gave a lot of examples. Could you figure it out on your own? Yes, maybe eventually. But reading hundreds of stories takes a lot of time, and doesn't give you the depth and breadth of reading that Mr. Maass has a result of being an agent.

Also, I think the fact that he isn't
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  • Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer's System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work (Writers Digest)
  • Bullies, Bastards & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them

Other Books in the Series

Breakout Novel (2 books)
  • Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed

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“His characters may be cardboard, but each has a clear, uncomplicated purpose. Every moment of the story contributes to building conflict.” 1 likes
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