Q&A With Donald Maass

Literary agent Donald Maass shares what it takes to succeed in as novelist.
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What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?

It was some advice I gave myself: Stop fuming over the mistakes fiction writers make, get out there and show them how to be successful. So I started writing books and teaching workshops.

What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?

What will make you successful isn’t your publisher, agent, deals, promo or blog. It’s your stories, period.

What's the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?

Weak line-by-line tension in their manuscripts. What makes any type of novel a gripping read is micro-tension that doesn’t let up.

What's the one thing you can't live without in your writing/agenting life?

The adrenaline jolt of reading great fiction is what inspires me to keep going.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A juggling act of reading, submitting, negotiating, running my agency, writing a new book for WD and, oh yeah, being a dad to my newly adopted three-year-old son.

If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?

Contracts should have built into them not just a revision framework, but time to play and explore. So many published novels achieve less than they could. Consequently, readers aren’t as engrossed as they could be.

As an agent, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in publishing in the past 5 years?

That would be the devastating impact of the economic downturn. It’s made our industry fearful and cautious just when it needs to be bold and innovative.

Do you have any advice for new writers on fostering a strong author-agent relationship?

A professional attitude goes a long way. Frustrations happen but pour them into your fiction!

What do you see as the biggest success in your writing/agenting career?

Still here after 30 years, my agency selling 150 titles per year. Writing the Breakout Novel is rated by many writers among the classics in this field. I’m proud of that, too.

Any final thoughts?

I’m really excited about The Breakout Novelist, an all-in-one compilation of Writing the Breakout Novel, its accompanying workbook, The Fire in Fiction, plus a complete updating of The Career Novelist. I hope this will become the standard desk reference for working fiction writers.

About the Book

For more craft and career tools and exercises, check out The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass.

Read an Excerpt!

Find out how create an effective career path.