But What About A Break-Out Novel?

In the last post we discussed the importance of new authors figuring out a way to write a break-in novel. I think most of us can agree that we need to be savvy about the market and what's selling.

But perhaps you're wondering, like me, isn't it enough to focus on writing a break-out novel? If we write with all of the passion inside of us and we channel it into an incredibly well-written story, won't that be enough to get us published?

Doesn't an excellent, powerfully told novel trump the market trends? And why worry about what's saleable when trends change? Aren't we suppose to find a fresh idea and look for a story that will help us stand out from the crowd?

We throw up our hands in confusion and scream, "What's a new author to do?"

Here's my humble opinion. New authors should be smart about the market. BUT then we need to work on writing the break-out novel. We need to put into practice all of the principles and craft techniques that make a story stand out and succeed.

We can't predict what an editor or publishing house will be looking for by the time our books reach them. But if we spin an unforgettable, dazzling story, then we will have the chance of catching the attention of agents and editors, even if factors within the story are less marketable.

My conclusion: Pay attention to what can help our books build a large readership, the break-in factor, AND find ways to make our books rise above the competition, the breakout factor. The combination of both is key to for new authors to succeed in today's crowded marketplace.

I've given you my opinion about break-in versus break-out. Now I'd love to hear yours. Which do you think is more important for a new author and why?


  1. That's a really tough question, Jody. I think I mentioned yesterday on your blog that the idea of writing something truly original frustrated me because you run the risk of being told that your book is too original and it's not what's selling right now.

    I still believe we shouldn't pay attention to trends, because there is no way of knowing how quickly and how dramatically trends will change by the time your book is ready for submission. We must simply concentrate on producing a well-written compelling story.

    Happy Friday! Have a good weekend.

  2. I feel a writer should always lean more towards what they are compelled to write, not what the market will bare. I guess I'm a dreamer . . .

    That's why I write short stories instead. There are lots of different markets and I can switch up my style.

    Of course, there's no money and fame . . .

  3. I think as long as you're armed with industry trend knowledge, you can choose to disregard it. It's only dangerous when you DON'T know what you're up against.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. I'm with you on this, Jody. We need to be smart and stay as close to the trends as possible, but seek the genious of breakout novels to just break-in.

    As I re-read Writing the Breakout Novel by Maass, I don't think he's saying that the story has to be totally unique to breakout, as in a new genre, writing about a different era, something scifi that hasn't been tackled before, but rather we have to write deeper, more meaningful stories with vividness and a freshness that only our voice can create. We need to be willing to risk revealing a piece of ourselves as well as writing fantabulously! Hone our craft (which I'm of the opinion never ends) and share something that the world can gain from, whether that's one take on a moral issue that is widely felt but mostly kept hush-hush, or something on the level of saving the world. The meaning of our stories have to matter, rather than just be a surface-level story--good read type. That's my take so far, anyway.

  5. I agree with you. Develop the craft. Don't fall in love with trends. I think as writers we also need to learn to wait. I finished Wally Lamb's latest book about a month ago and somewhere in it he mentioned it took nine years to write that book. Time is not our enemy.
    Great thoughts, Jody.
    ~ Wendy

  6. I think the break-in novel is most important. We need to be learning and applying everything to our craft. The break-out novel is part knowledge and experience and sometimes it's that intangible something that just takes off. I don't think you can really plan your break-out novel. You can simply be the absolute best writer and market-savvy author you can be. The rest is up to God.

  7. I agree. There's a happy-medium where you balance your passion with the market. Where is the happy-medium? Who the heck knows! I think that's for each author decide between themselves and God.

  8. I say Break In...We need to get our books out there first. And I think once we've broken in...since we are all so awesome, we're sure to be break outs too!

  9. Jody: I would have to say Break In. Once you are in, you have more opportunities to Break Out. But you can't break out if you haven't gotten in. Circus music playing in my head now...

    Have a happy weekend with your family celebrating birthdays and the last bit of summer vacation. Hug your kids a lot. They grow up fast.

  10. I think that if one writes with the sole intention of producing a break in novel, that book cannot possibly be a good one. I think one probably has to be fortunate enough to have passion and vocation for a style and subject matter that constitute the break it requirements of the moment.

  11. I'd have to trust your instincts on this one, Jody. You seem to be doing the right things. You've gotten an agent and your book is moving thru the publishing process. I've never written fiction, and even though memoir is "hot," I wasn't successful in finding an agent.

  12. Which one will get me published first? hahaha...

    seriously, we are having the same thoughts (great minds...)

    I think we need to pay attention to what is marketable. It is not the same as following trends. I'm not interested in writing a trendy book, but I am interested in finding a balance between what I want to write and what will be marketable.

  13. I think you said it best--write a dazzling book and hope that it alone will be enough:)

  14. Wonderful post Jody! And great question. I'm not sure which is more important. I like that you combined them. Both aspects are crucial and I'm not sure one is better than the other. Lots to chew on here.
    I do think the break-in novel is safer, but once we have that then I do think a break-out novel is what will propell us higher.

  15. I think paying attention to the market is very important, but it's more important to write from the heart. If you don't the work will seem forced. Of course you can adapt your work to the market in many ways. So, I guess I think there is a happy medium.

  16. It's all a balance, as you say. Writing is a business, writing is an art. Break in, break out.

    Above all, write the best book you can.

  17. Thought provoking post, Jody. I think I agree with Krista..."Who the heck knows?" LOL

    Ultimately I believe that God has placed within us the stories (or books for us nonfiction writers) that He wants us to write. But He also gives us a brain, and expects us to use wisdom.

    So, I pray. And I pray. Then I write. And I write.

  18. Very good question. It's a topic I've been wondering over for a while now. Everywhere you look, someone is telling you what doesn't sell or what NOT to write.

    I think, as writers, we should know what's going on in the publishing world, to an extent. Knowing all the ups and downs and woes aren't for me, though. I've actually stopped reading some writing blogs because they tend to lean to the negative! I really don't need any more discouragement!

    Once we know what "works" and what "doesn't" it helps us weight our options carefully. If the story we were contemplating was just a "fad" story, do we still spend time on it? If it was the story of our heart, however, we should give a polite nod to what's being said and plow onward.

    The story we are given is what we must right. I'm sure I'm being naive, but the only way I know how to write is from the heart. Know your market, know your genre, know the ins and outs of good writing, and run with it!

    Oh, yeah, and PRAY...a LOT :)

    Happy weekend!

  19. I think as a new author we can't have one without the other. We must break in, to be born as the author...then we need to prove we have the break 'out' novel as well to secure a large readership.I don't believe we can afford to separate the two. However, I would love to think there will come a day when we can write to our hearts desire but for that to happen only the break 'in' model will have to change. But that doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon. Hope I didn't confuse you.

  20. Jody, I'm at work creating the best story I can, one I feel I'm called to write. In my mind, were it to be published, it would be my break-in novel. I don't have control over reader response, which is crucial to making a book a break-out novel. I can, however, endeavor to write the best book I'm capable of given the education, experience and talent I possess at this point in my journey. Should my break-in novel skyrocket to success I don't even dream of and become a break-out novel, I'd consider that a gift from God.

    While I think it's important to keep abreast of the market, I don't consider myself a trend chaser. If I were, I would have dropped my current story, which is doing well for me in contests, and started an Amish historical, because that's what editors were looking for at the last conference I attended. Despite the current popularity of Amish stories, I know I'm not the one to write them and am content to let those who are create and sell them.

    If I had started an Amish story, there's no guarantee editors would still be interested in them when I finished mine. Not only that, but my heart wouldn't have been in it, which would have affected the writing.

  21. I feel completely unqualified to answer this. It's subjective. I do believe the break-out novel doesn't just happen. It usually requires a lot of marketing by the publisher and the author. How many terrific books that could be break-out novels never hit mainstream?

    I think authors should aim for the break-in novel, but that's just me.

  22. I think that all we can do is write the book that calls to us, and then try to frame it in terms of what the market is doing when the book is complete.

    I just wrote about this in my blog yesterday, as it applies to the now-unfashionable genre of chick lit. If you tell a smart and moving story (break out), then you can try to pitch it in a market-friendly way (break in). Hmmm, maybe I should stop calling my book "smart chick lit" and start calling it "light-hearted women's fiction."

    If my writing is good enough, I will land an agent to help me navigate these paths.

  23. I think it's definitely a combination of the two, as you have suggested, but I think the first goal is to write a dazzling book, while keeping an eye on the trends but not changing course solely because of them. Trying only to appease the publishing trends would drive us all insane. A well-told story has a chance. It's up to us to write it that way, and then search out the optimal ways to make sure it's read. Getting in is the tricky part, once it's written as well as it can be. All of these things are party of this zany pursuit of publication.

  24. I just gave a little unwanted lecture on someone's blog about this! They wrote about how to achieve Stephenie Meyers' level of success" and I put it simply. Break all the rules. Say to heck with what everyone else is doing and write the book of YOUR heart. That's only if you want her level of success, though. It's risky -- the safe route is to follow trends and do what everyone else is doing. your chances of getting published are greater if you do that. You'll never be a Stephenie Meyer, though. Stephenie, as well as J.K. Rowling, became HUGE because they did something nobody else was doing (or at least did it in a way nobody else was). Same with Bridget Jones' Diary -- everyone after her was just imitating what she did and thus, they never achieved her level of fame. They were successful, sure...but imitation will never make a Stephenie Meyer.

  25. I think writing the break in novel is probably the first order of business, but it has to be genuine. Like others have said, follow what you're passionate about and try to see where that could fit in the market. If you write something just because it's the trendy thing, but you don't love it, then it will show.

  26. I think you just need to tell your story as passionately and accurately as you can and then market it specifically to your audience.

  27. seems to me that i'd rather be noticed for standing out. i loved reading brandilyn collins' email to the loop a while back...she said she'd written what would go on to be a bestseller, but that it was so different for the market at that time. she got a lot of interested in her novel during one conference b/c it was essence, a breakout novel!

  28. I don't know about 'break out' vs 'break in'. I guess I have decided to write what is in my heart. To write the things I can't ignore, the things that burn inside and trust that those things were put there for a reason. Trying to figure out the publishing game always makes my head spin and my hopes fall. It is like trying to figure out the greater meaning of my life or the purpose for being. I give up. I am just going to follow what feels right inside and trust that because my eyes are on God He will lead me.

    I think it is important to stay connected to the writing market and know what is going on, but at the end of the day I think we tell the tale we have to tell :)

  29. Good question. I agree with those who've already said to break-in, then work on breaking-out. If you can't get your foot in the door, you have zero chance of breaking out.

    Yet, you have to be passionate about your story. If you pick a plot only because the market says to, then you'll be bored or frustrated. And, so will your readers.

    Tell your story. Write it well. Take it deeper and make it rich with meaning.

    And just know that if your story is a tad outside the current market, you might need to wait a bit longer. While waiting, work on another story. And another.

  30. Tough question! Yikes, I don't know how to answer that one. I think breakout novels would trump breakin...but what do I know?

    Question for ya. Where/how did you get that fun Twitter gadget on your blog? I'd like one instead of my feeds. Thanks, girl!

  31. I would think break-in is more important, becuase it at least establishes you a bit. (Besides, how many first novels are "break-out" novels?) However, I have to make what I've written stand out to even have a chance to break in.

  32. Hi Jody -

    While some authors follow the market religiously, I need to be true to what is in my heart. If I'm writing something only to break into the market, it will be apparent in my work.

    Like David, I can't wear Saul's armor and defeat the giant. I have to go forward with what's tried and true for me.

    Susan :)

  33. Hey Jody! I've been pondering your thoughts and suggestions this week - wondering how they fit into my owh writing pursuits right now. I found this tonight...I'm reading George Mueller's autobiography, and he says this about sermon prep, but I am choosing to apply it to my writing prep as I pray about what project to attempt to pursue publishing first:

    "Rather than presuming to know what is best for the hearers, I ask the Lord to graciously teach me the subject I should speak about, or the portion of His Word I should explain. Sometimes I will have a particular subject or passage on my mind before asking Him. If, after prayer, I feel persuaded that I should speak on that subject, I study it, but still leave myself open to the Lord to change it if He pleases."

  34. I honestly don't know any more. Everywhere I turn there is a new rule or opinion. I think we just have to write the story to the best of our ability and if its meant to be, it will be.

  35. I wish I had an answer to this question that I was satisfied with (something I could live with). I made the decision a while ago not to think about what I had to do as a novelist.

    I discovered a story, fell in love with it, and knew I had to write it. Whether or not it'll be published someday doesn't concern me. It's the writing that matters most.

    But, if there are writers out there who look to the market/technicalities for direction, I think you're right -- finding a balance is going to be necessary.

  36. This is a post to make us think. I think if we want to be published the traditional way, it's far more important to look at what's on trend, what's considered able to create a big readership.

    I subbed my lit fiction novel (a coming of age story set in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall) to my dream agent who told me she loved the book, the voice, the atmosphere, and the characters, but it just wasn't "big splash" enough in the current market. Nonetheless, she wants first dibs on my next boko. What I take away from that is that I need to look at the subject matter and genre more than how I'm writing the book.

    Which isn't something I'm happy doing. So I think I'm just one of an increasing number of people writing this kind of mid list literary fiction who'll go teh self-publishing route rather than try and nudge over to more commercial subject matter at the expense of telling the stories we're happiest telling.

  37. I believe that writers looking for publication can and should aim for both.

    I think the Harry Potter series is a good example. YA novels weren't new. Fantasy novels weren't either. And fantasy stories containing wizards and magic and the battle between good and evil go back centuries. But what JK Rowling wrote was so unique in style and voice that it stood out from so many others out there.

    While I'm not saying that many (or any) of us need to try to be the next JK Rowling, I just think that's the extreme example of what we should be trying to do if we want to really be noticed.

  38. I would say breaking in is the most difficult part of writing. I don't think it should or has to take away from writng what you enjoy however. What is meant to happen will.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!