When I was learning to become a writer, then a published writer, then a novelist, I read a lot of writing books, looking for the key, trying to figure out the next step. Since there were writers ahead of me on the curve, better than me, I knew I had to catch up. Of course, my goal was not just to be a “published” author, but a “successful” author so I could make my living at it. A bestselling author.

The problem was, a lot of the people writing these How To books didn’t have any real credits of their own. One guy even wrote “How to Write the Bestselling Novel”…but he had never managed to hit the bestseller list himself. Hmmmm.

Then I found a book that changed my whole perspective, a boot camp that was like a secret decoder ring for those subtle but key ingredients I had been missing: WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Albert Zuckerman. A detailed, insightful analysis of why some books succeeded and others crashed and burned.

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Zuckerman is not a writer himself, but a big league agent with major bestselling clients. He knows what it takes to make a blockbuster, and he lays it out. For instance, in a difficult and absolutely revelatory section, he goes through several complete drafts—published here in full—of Ken Follett’s outline for the international bestseller The Man from St. Petersburg. First draft of the outline, and an analysis of what needed to be fixed; then second draft of the outline, improved, but what still needed to be fixed; then third draft…all the way until the final.

At the time I read that, my coauthor Doug Beason and I were developing our high-tech thriller IGNITION—like Die Hard at the Kennedy Space Center. We had our outline done and we thought it was ready to go, a sure-fire blockbuster bestseller. But reading the Follett outline, I realized that we had made the same omissions that Follett did. I had Doug read the Zuckerman book, and we modified our outline accordingly, then wrote the book.

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IGNITION sold immediately to Universal Studios for by far the largest movie deal I’ve ever received, and to a New York publisher for a major six-figure advance. I’d say the advice worked!

A new edition of WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL will be out next year, but right now you can pick it up—along with 24 other extremely useful books on writing craft, professionalism, and career building—as part of the Nanowrimo Writing Tools storybundle for a minimum bid of only $25 (the price I paid for the Zuckerman book alone in the first place). I’m certainly glad I made the investment—it changed my career.

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Check out the Writing Tools Storybundle at