I know I’ve mentioned before how I love to listen to Barbara DeMarco-Barrett‘s Writers on Writing podcasts when I’m doing the dishes, or sitting in an airport, or driving long distances. During this last long bout of travel (the last for a bit, I pray!), I enjoyed a number, but one in particular stood out for me: an interview with NY literary agent Donald Maass. I’ve read Donald Maass‘ book Writing the Breakout Novel—and I wish I had it here with me now in my office in Mexico, because there are a number of interesting things he has to say in it.
Before writing the book, Maass made a systematic study of the novels that made the NYT bestseller list, wishing to identify what it was about a novel that made it outstandingly popular. I’m not attempting to be a Danielle Steels or Stephenie Meyer, but I do appreciate insights into what makes a story compulsively addictive. I like when a book has me deeply hooked: I love it … and that’s what I’m after.
Two things stood out in this particular interview for me:
One, that a compelling main character should be deeply conflicted right from the start: he or she must want two things that cannot co-exist.
The other thing he had to say that gave me thought was not so much about writing as about promotion: his belief that promotion and publicity isn’t what sells a book, that what sells a book is the book itself. I’d like to believe that, but I’m not convinced. I don’t think it’s an accident that the Josephine B. Trilogy sold very well in the countries that invested a great deal in promotion (and conversely).
Stephanie, that’s a quote worth highlighting. I’m going to make a post of it. Thanks.
Donald’s quote which I loved and used:
“Every protagonist needs a tortuous need, a consuming fear, an aching regret, a visible dream, a passionate longing, an exquisite lust, an inner lack, a fatal weakness, an irresistible plan, a noble idea, an underlying hope… “
Great about sharing resources! And I am waiting for the first Josephine book!
Stephanie, how lucky you are.
I’m now in our home in Mexico, and I was only able to bring 10 books with me — all related to the research I will be doing this winter. I had to leave The Players, which I only recently purchased, behind — and so regretfully!
My research this winter will be into the world of 17th century theatre, French primarily. Perhaps, on Hoydens and Firebrands, we could start a discussion of resources.
I also admire Donald Maass’s book immensely and used it in my last few months of work on my novel to develop the intensity of the young Claude Monet’s desires, hopes, fears, conflicts. Early in my publishing life I worked with him (he did the contract for THE PLAYERS) and he is a very fine person.
I think what sells the book IS the book — however, if no one hears about it, who will buy it? Some books run away by word of mouth but I think most begin by being picked up by television or national radio or magazines and that spreads it further. I don’t think paid advertising can do much. I think it’s word of mouth and getting picked up by big venues that is the wonderful combination we all want to have!