Monday, June 1, 2015

The Realities of the Second Book

by R.C. Lewis

I feel like I'm at a weird place in my life right now. Post-debut, pre-release of second book. Is this how parents feel when they have one child and are pregnant with the next? Like, I should know sort of what to expect now, but the experience is somehow different.

And it is different. Not only from book to book, but from author to author.

Setting aside fears of falling victim to Sophomore Slump (because if we don't talk about that, it can't be real, right?), there are a lot of things that can make getting your second published book out the door different from the first.

For some authors, right off the bat it's a matter of getting that second contract because their debut is a one-book deal. Usually the debut publisher gets first look at your next manuscript, but do they accept it? If yes, proceed to the next paragraph about two-book deals. If no, then you're back in submission-land all over again, which is its own kind of wondrous terror.

Say your first publishing contract is for a two (or even three!) book deal. Hooray for a little bit of security! I'm going to assume we're not talking about sequels/series here, because they're a different experience—one I don't yet have any expertise on. But here are some reasons you may find you upgrade your Professional Writer hat a few levels in the process of creating Book Number Two.

You're already contracted with a publisher, they have their idea of the brand they're going to present you as, and you probably want to keep them happy. This may mean they want your second book to be in a particular vein, probably in some manner similar to your debut. And this can be great! ... Except instead of bolt-from-the-blue inspiration like you had for that first book, you may have to go digging for an idea that fits this mold. That can make it a less organic process than you may be used to. (This happened to me for my next book. Fortunately, by the time I finished the first draft, I was in love with the characters and story! But it took some time to get there.)

Popping the Question ... Over and Over
Often if the second book is unspecified in the original contract, you go through a phase of pitching ideas to your editor until you find something they'd like to see you write. Sometimes this is informal, maybe a handful of one-line pitches and your editor says, "That one sounds cool," or "They all sound great to me—is there one you're particularly excited to write?"

Other times, you may go through writing more formal proposals. This can involve a full (sometimes lengthy!) synopsis and some sample pages/chapters to establish the voice. Sounds like less work than writing a whole manuscript, and it generally is by most measures, but I also know some authors who've been through the mental-wringer trying to write proposals.

And if that proposal is turned down? It's back to work, grinding out a proposal for another idea.

The Revolving Door of Publishing
The longer you're under contract at a particular publisher, the more likely this is to happen to you. Your acquiring editor may not even be the one who's your editor by the time your debut comes out (that happened to me), and then the editor who launched your debut may not be the one who sees your second book through to the end (that also happened to me ... in fact, I was between editors when my debut released).

This is no big deal (says she who chased off two editors before ever her book hit shelves), but the transitions can be a little jarring. Your acquiring editor loved your writing! You know it, because of all the "I love this!" during the "We want to pay you money and publish it" phase. What if New-Editor doesn't love your work? They didn't pick you—they just got assigned.

Really, it's okay. New-Editor may not love your work the same way, but they'll love it in their own way. Their editing style may be different, but we all want to be in this business a nice long time, right? That'll probably involve working with lots of different editors along the way no matter what, so flexibility is key in the skill set.

(If New-Editor really does hate every word you write, though ... That may be time to call Agent-Awesome and get them to intervene.)

And remember that all of the above are likely things that will happen to us at some point in our careers. If not on our second book, then one down the line. If we get there, it means we stayed on track, and that's a good thing!

R.C. Lewis is the math-teaching, ASL-signing author of Stitching Snow and her *second book* Spinning Starlight (Oct. 6, 2015), both from Hyperion. You can find more information at her website, or find her random musings on Twitter.


Richard Hughes said...

Thanks for the insight, RC. Good to see you having success with your writing.

Charlotte Rains Dixon said...

Thank you for this--you voiced an issue I've been dealing with, namely "Organics-B-Gone." The idea for the novel for which I just got an agent came to me in one genius bolt, fully formed, and practically wrote itself. Now, my agent says we're going for a 2 or 3 book contract and I've got to come up with some one-pages. But, um, I don't work that way. Its actually been good for me, and I think I've started a novel I like without having that bolt from the blue. I'm proving to myself it can be done this way!

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