Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. I)

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say* about writing great fiction.

The Donald.

ON THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY: Is it a brave new world, or a lot like the past?

  • He says the industry hasn’t changed at all:

“The fundamental transaction (between the storyteller and the reader) is exactly the same.”

  • He points to the evidence that eBook bestsellers are the same as hard copy bestsellers—a direct correlation
  • He says there are some nuances, but, generally, it’s the same.

“Everything depends on great fiction.”



  • Most of his work is story development—working with authors to better their stories, create tension, etc.
  • In the “third draft stage,” you know your writing is good—you’re ready—you’re worthy—but you’re still getting rejections.
    • It’s the point at which you’ve learned everything you can from workshops, from crit partners
    • You need the last 10%—the stuff that agents and editors aren’t willing to share
      • What is it?
        • Craft and more craft—in particular, the pieces of the craft that you need
      • How do you get this?
        • Detailed, professional feedback—it’s worth paying for, if it’s good


  • Top authors in the field are very often students of the craft
    • Books 2,3, 4 make or break your career
    • Nora Roberts, for instance—160 books—and they’re all good!
    • He cites one author who runs a runs a book club, where the members read one book a month and then discuss how well the author handled one lens or aspect of the craft.  (These are all authors who have written 20—30 books, he says.)


  • He cites the example of 2010 RITA finalist Pamela Morsi’s Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
  • He says it’s emotionally gripping because Morsi brought herself into the story (she is from San Antonio—she knows the world intimately; she reinvented herself—as does her main character)

*More posts on The Donald at RWA to come–stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. I)

  1. FanTASTic post, Ricki! I always love The Donald’s advice (The Donald, that’s so funny :D), and these pointers were great. I’m always on the lookout for NEW tips about the craft. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Great summary. Love the concept of “third draft”. I think that’s the zone where good writers get stuck and then get frustrated. I might just caution that ppl be careful which professionals they turn to. Know too many friends who were burned. 🙂

    One day I will attend a Donald Maass workshop. One day…

    • Me too (DM workshop).

      Yes – definitely agree with you. Ask questions and make sure you feel comfortable with someone before you pay them to do anything like that!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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