Wednesday, February 4, 2009

That Elusive Second Novel

So, here's the deal. It's hard to write your first book. If you're like me, it's one of the hardest things you have ever had to do. Maybe it took you years. Maybe you've lost jobs and friends over it. Maybe it forced you to confront pockets of your life that you hadn't anticipated on opening. But, you did it. And maybe you even got an agent and an editor and a publishing contract. No matter where you are along this process, congratulate yourself that you have that first book done. But, what about your SECOND book?

Now, the rules are different, aren't they?

You've told that life story you've always been meaning to tell. If the book has been published, you've created a record of sales for yourself, so that every publisher afterwards can now look up how well your first book did. If you want to carve out a career, you have to write something even better, add more thrills, create more vivid characters, top those sales! Right?

Some advice that the brilliant Merrill Joan Gerber once gave to me while I was an undergraduate at Caltech taking one of her classes was to make sure your next project is already underway before your first project gets published and reviewed. Why? Because once you have an agent and a publisher and literary fans, a whole new crop of expectations will sprout up under your boots. You'll hear voices that tell you to replicate the parts of your last book that worked. Other voices will tell you to change the parts of your book that were criticized, even if they happened to reflect that intangible part of you: the soul. But, if your project is already underway before all of these other complications start, you have at least given yourself a headstart and a chance to stay true to your own voice before those other voices chime in.

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