by Sam Thomas
While I suppose there are a few exceptions, when most people sit down to write a book their planning horizon stops where the book ends. Oh, sure, you might have an idea or even an outline for a second book, and when an agent says, “This is part of a series, right?” you give the correct answer. But until that first book done, the second can never be more than a vague notion, something you will do eventually. (To stick with the Book Pregnant metaphor, this is akin to discussing your next child when you are still pregnant with the first. You might have plans, but you’re not picking out baby outfits, and a not-yet-conceived child makes few demands on your time and energy. Until you start writing, you haven’t started the book.) But to my surprise when – for the second time in my life – I wrote “Chapter One” at the top of the page, I felt a weight settle on my shoulders that was not there when I wrote these words the first time. How strange!
At first blush the weight of the second book seems counter-intuitive. You’ve written a book already, and someone liked it enough to pay you for the privilege of publishing it. (I prefer to think of it as a privilege. It makes me feel good.) If, as in my case, you’re writing a sequel, you’ve already done your background research, figured out your characters, and you are – or should be – much better at writing than you were the first time through. So what the hell?
I think there are a few things that make book two so much heavier than book one. First, now you know the work involved in getting the sucker from first draft to final copy: the many, many rewrites, the copy edits, the line edits, page proofs, and getting the cover right, to name just a few. Then there are the non-book things that you “have” to do: put up a website, start blogging, find people to blurb your book, figure out what you’re going to do to publicize the book, etc., etc., etc.
There is also the pressure of having to repeat a pretty unusual feat, but this time with an audience. Your agent and editor are watching, your family knows you are working on this, and they all expect you to come up with something good. But it’s even worse than that, because your friends (and frenemies) are watching as well. If your first book never saw the light of day, it’s your dirty little secret. Nobody will every ask, “Say, are you a failed novelist?” On the other hand, if you’ve published one book, people will ask when the second one is coming out, and “I couldn’t sell it,” cannot be pleasant words to say.
Finally – at least in my case – it’s that I know how long this will take. There aren’t many projects that take as long as writing a book. (Not even having a baby!) It is hard not to be discouraged thinking that I’ll sit here every morning through the summer, fall, and into the depths of winter, and I’ll still be here when spring returns, working away, a few hundred words at a time. It’s a slog.
On that happy note, back to work.------------------------