The Career Novelist (Donald Maass)

I read this book because I wanted to know more about the genre publishing industry, not that I intend to do anything with that knowledge but because I’m (re)writing a novel featuring a character who is a genre author. I selected this book because it appears to be well-respected amongst genre authors, is by a literary agent who specializes in genre markets, and didn’t cost anything since it’s available as a free pdf file online.

The book is a little dated, but in general much better than I expected. Most of the books I’ve seen in this vein are careerist, but ironically The Career Novelist is less so. Maass’s focus is on the need for writers to: (1) view one’s writing life as a long, extended program of work rather than a series of short, productive bursts; (2) abandon dreams of instant success and recognize the reality of prolonged labour in obscurity; (3) set aside the goal of writing fiction full-time (Maass cautions writers not to transition to writing full-time even if they manage to earn high advances, unless these are supplemented by years of regular royalties at full-time salary levels); and (4) avoid trying to analyze and take advantage of current trends, stating that his “best advice to new authors is to ignore trends and market tips.” Rather, he attempts to convince the reader that while it is important to develop a basic level of business acumen and professionalism, the novelist’s real “job” is to produce original, innovative works: “If we settle for what is easy and common, what is only passingly entertaining, we are surrendering control of our dreams.”

I already try to be practical in my approach to writing, and have very few illusions about the publishing industry, so I can’t say I learned much from this book, other than some useful information about the writing industry, particularly genre markets, circa 1996. However, I would definitely recommend this to students, beginning writers, or novelists who want to stop being so flighty.

— Jonathan Ball

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