Monday, April 7, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel: Part Two

It's been great to see what a success this Round Table has been. We're surging ahead and asking about the pressures of success and how writing for a built in audience effects the writing process. The answers are often unexpected and definitely give an interesting glimpse into what goes on behind the curtain for some of my favorite authors. If you missed the kick off to the discussion you can find a link below. I hope you continue to enjoy

52 Reviews: With each of you having recently completed work on a sequel to the start of very well received series, I'd like to ask you if the level of pressure changes when you know you are actively writing for an waiting audience and if so, does that change the way you approach the writing?

Django Wexler: In my case, the first draft of the sequel was complete before the first book actually came out, so when I was writing it, I didn’t know if the series would really work out with the readers or not.  Writing for a waiting audience doesn’t really add pressure for me – if anything, it’s an encouragement to know that there are people eager to read what I’m working on, and I’m just relieved that enough people like my particular brand of story to make it worth doing.
Right now I’m writing the third book in the series, and I do feel a little more pressure, but it’s from another source.  For the first time in my writing career, I’m writing a continuation to something that’s actually published and in print; the events of book one (and book two, as of fairly recently) are now absolutely set in stone as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a very strange feeling not being able to make revisions to my own work, and I keep worrying I’ll discover something I did in the first book that badly screws up want I want to do in the third, and not be able to go back and change it.  So far it hasn’t happened, but it keeps me a little on edge!

Jay Posey: My experience is similar to Django's.  I was putting the final touches on the manuscript for Book Two when the first book hit the shelves, so I think the pressure I felt on the second was more self-imposed, wondering if I'd be able to write ANOTHER novel that was up to the quality of the first.  In my case, I think most of my Book Two-related nightmares were that I was going to submit the manuscript to the Robot Overlords (at Angry Robot Books) and they were going to write back something like "We've obviously made a terrible, terrible mistake ..."

I'm also working on the third book in the series now, and I'm definitely feeling more audience-centric pressure this time around, much more so than either of the first two.  I think on the first book I was in a "Will anyone like anything about this?" phase, and the second was "Do I actually have a second book in me, or was the first one a fluke?", and now I've moved into a new "Can I bring it all together so the audience is thoroughly satisfied?" kind of anxiety.

I hadn't really given much thought to the fact that I can't go back and revise anything in the first two books, so if I failed to set something up properly I can't fix it now ... that's a new thing to fret over. Thanks for pointing that out Django!

Jeff Salyards: This is the problem with being a procrastinator and responding third or fourth—all the good answers are taken, and you start to sound like an echo. So, in that vein, yeah, thanks Django; I hadn’t considered the unrevisability angle before either. Way to harsh my buzz. The publisher is making galleys of the second book right now. . . wait! WAIT! I need to fix something!!

I also have the same response when hearing from readers anxious for me to churn out another book—that feels good. So much better than writing in a vacuum. “Hey, everyone, Veil of the Deserters will be out in three months! Did you hear that! Hey. . . anybody. . . ”

All that said, I can at least diverge on a couple of points. Continuing my procrastination theme, I did not have book two written, or even started, when book one published. So my process did change quite a bit, as there was a deadline, and I couldn’t afford to walk away from the manuscript for long stretches or allow myself to dawdle like I did for the first book.

The other difference: the original publisher, Night Shade Books, went through its death throes mid-stream as I was writing the second book, so there were several months when I didn’t even know if the series was dead in the water as well, as there were several grim possibilities in play. So that caused a lot more stress and anxiety than any pressure to crank the book out. Luckily, it wall worked out, and book two will be out soon. Which is good. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be on this roundtable answering questions. I’d be crying in my beer. And watching Jerry Springer. In pajama pants. While the dogs gave me concerned looks all day.

M.L. Brennan: Clearly I need to start answering emails earlier in the morning to get in on the good answers early! 

I wrote the second book while the first was moving through the editing process, so I was still able to have that experience of writing something when the first one had really only been read by a handful of people. In a very real sense, Iron Night was written for the enjoyment of three people -- my two first readers and my editor, Anne. That had increased from book one, which, though I always had every intention of selling it, there was the very real possibility that the only two people to ever read it would be my two first readers, Sarah and Karen. So there were various points in writing Iron Night that I had just done something that I thought was fantastic (or evil, or especially delightfully gross), and I would just be sitting in my office chair giggling evilly (for mine is an evil laugh), picturing the reactions I would get from Sarah, Karen, and Anne. 

There was also the horrible terror of writing a sequel and having to prove to myself that I was even capable of doing that -- but others have covered that fairly eloquently. Let's just say that there was definitely some stress-sweating and leave it at that.

Now, at the point where I was writing the third in the series, the first one had been published. And that really did make an incredible difference and impact. I know everyone says not to read the comments, but guess what --- I read the comments. It was amazing -- suddenly people were reacting to these characters that I'd written, and expressing some pretty strong opinions on who was important, or annoying, and what they wanted to see more of. I'm hugely glad that I wrote #2 in the series without #1 being released yet, because writing #3 was a whole new sense of pressure. I knew I could write a sequel now, but the audience.... yeah, that was a big increase in the stakes. I was actually doing edits on the third book when the second was released, and I found myself in a real first-world-author kind of problem:

Me: Oh no, people really love the second book and say that it's better than the first!

Non-Crazy Friend: .....that's a good thing.

Me: No! Ack! The pressure! Now number three has to be good! Ack!

Non-Crazy Friend: Okay, I'm just going to punch you in the face now.

While I've tried to keep it from influencing my writing too much (after all, who hasn't seen the phenomenon where a character becomes beloved by the audience and then is an albatross around the writer's neck? come on, we all watched Heroes), it does bleed through. I had a plan that involved a few characters getting offed -- my agent started having really cold feet about that after the first book began getting reviews. I'll admit to a few worries myself. But then I reminded myself about Heroes, and decided to go ahead with it. (not, however, without a good deal of stress)

Douglas Hulick: Well, it seems I'm going to most likely be bringing up the rear in these discussions, as I don't get to respond until the evening. And while it is *damn* tempting at the end of the day to simply type, "Yeah, what they said!", I couldn't in good conscience take such an easy path. So...

For me, it wasn't the awareness of an audience that caused any kind of pressure, but merely having a deadline. Unlike Django and Jay, I hadn't started on the second book in the series. Hell, I hadn't even figured out what it was about. When the offer landed on my desk to the Tales Of The Kin series, I was 80% done with the first draft a stand-alone urban fantasy thriller. I'd mad e a business & creative decision to not start book two of the series until I knew someone wanted it.

Even when people reacted well to "Among Thieves", I didn't worry too much. Maybe it was over-confidence or naivete, but audience reaction didn't enter into it for me. Rather, it was having to put out a book in a set amount of time that caused me the most grief. I had taken ten years to write my first book, and while I knew how to plot and pace the next book and understood daily word counts (and generally made them), I'd forgotten what a hot mess my process had been the first time around. And since I'd conveniently forgotten that, I ended up trying the final draft on the first pass, since that was what I remembered handing over first to my agent, and then my editor. And the hole only got deeper from there.

So for me, the pressure was there, but it didn't from the reception of the novel--it came from having to compress my process far more than I'd anticipated (and then blowing past my deadline by more than two years. Bit of pressure there, too.).. If anything, I am feeling more anxious now with book two being ready to be released. It wasn't until I could no longer tinker with the work that I really became aware of potential reader reaction.

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