Why does your character deserve to win? Why does s/he deserve to even live? These are the questions that Donald Maass will ask you point-blank either in person at a conference or in his fabulous book How to Write the Breakout Novel. Then he'll give you the answer: because s/he is human. Human life is valuable - as humans we all innately believe that, but how easy it is for us authors to forget that as we craft these characters that we love!
If one were to take nothing else from this book - that lesson of the innate humanity of one's characters ought to be enough to revitalize one's craft. Maass doesn't stop there, however. He goes on to explain how to drive that humanity into the hearts of one's readers, how to show the pain and revelations of one's innately human character. This is why people read - they read to worry, and Maass, as a super agent for over 100 authors, many of whom are bestsellers, knows how to use that reason to a writer's advantage.
Beyond this, Maass discusses the trends in publishing up through the beginning of the 21st Century and how readership is changing (for more information, read his Writing 21st Century Fiction, which covers emerging genres and mash-up genres that are turning mainstream, as well as discussing the actual impact of e-readers/e-publishing). At the end of Writing the Breakout Novel, Maass gives some how-to's on selling the manuscript that you've polished to the best of your ability (and of course you only query the very best novel you can write at this moment, right?). Pitch tips, how to live if one does breakout (hint: a Porsche should not be the first purchase one makes after getting published), etc.
For the mid-list author, emerging professional, or the nearly-ready novelist, this is an incredibly handy tool for seeing into the at-times murky business of publishing and querying. I wouldn't make it a must-read for a creative writing class, but one would be wise to read this book alongside normal curriculum if one aims to make it to more mainstream bookshelves.
As always, thanks for reading. Now get back to that project.