The below is a guest blog by YA/teenage author John Connors.
So, earlier this year I self-published my first novel Elemental and the very next day it occurred to me that there was something lurking in the background like a menacing thing that lurks in the background. That thing was/ is the second novel. In my case having made it clear that Elemental was the first in a series it logically followed that there would be a second novel. Luckily during the writing of the first one, as it developed into a potential series, I wrote several fairly detailed synopses for the rest of the series so I know where it is headed and what happens when it gets there. So there was a plot but even so starting the second novel does feel a little bit like going back to square one. Or perhaps square two?
It has often been said about albums that an artists has their entire life up till that point to draw from the influences that fashion their debut yet a relatively short year or two for the second. The `difficult` second book then can seem similar especially of you’ve self-published the first one. By now you’re expecting the phone to ring, emails to ping and a general buzz from agents and publishers eager to sign you up. When there is none of that, starting work on the second novel does feel a little bit like going back to work on a wet Monday.
One of the things I did while still trying to go down the conventional publishing route was to write a version of the second book so now instead of starting with a blank screen I’ve started with a finished draft of a novel. It’s reassuring to see those files and folders though still daunting to realise I’m going to be changing, cutting or re-writing lots of it. A second book can have its advantages though even for the self-published author. Apart from the fact you’ve actually published a novel, if it is a sequel, you have something to work with in terms of developing.
In my case it helps that the books are very much based around nature and that the second is set in the autumn so I’ve been soaking up the season as much as I can. I’ve been taking photos, some for reference, others to use for promotional purposes. Watching the leaves and plants fade, the clouds grow more threatening, the wind whipping about and then the downpours of rain has put me in the mood!
I don’t imagine there is a set way to write stories but amongst the feedback I’ve had about Elemental is “how do you think of these things?” This is a question I’d never asked before but looking at it from other people’s eyes I suppose it is a valid one. How do I think of them? Well it helps to have been brought up in a visual age, with television as well as books. It’s important I think to also start with something ordinary, like in the first book, a family moving to the country. Nothing weird about that but then as the book progresses strange things do start happening. It’s also inspiring to question things. For example a lot of people will see a locked cupboard and that is all it is as far as they are concerned. To a writer, the questions pile up. Why is the cupboard locked? What’s inside it? Who locked it and why? What’s a cupboard even doing in here?
The one thing I do believe is that children andyoung adults should, within reason, be able to read the widest amount of fiction possible. Self-publishing at least makes that more likely. I’m not one of those authors who thinks schools should dispense with classic texts- in fact I would oppose it- but this does need to be balanced with allowing them access to new books, especially mine! Ha, just joking there.
Another aspect I hadn’t considered is that with a second book there is always the risk of being pushed off course by other views. When you’re writing your first novel it is very much you who sees it, perhaps eventually a handful of people. Once you’ve published it is in the public domain and other opinions start to move in. Already I’ve found myself hearing someone say something about Elemental and subconsciously thinking `well I’ll make sure I change that in the next book`. This is the wrong thing to do because readers will hold different viewpoints as to what they might like to see or not. As a reader it is super easy to become proprietorial about a story you’ve enjoyed. If a series goes on long enough you start to imagine what the next book would do, where the story will go and so on. This is great for a reader because it means the text has engaged you but for a writer is something to avoid thinking too much about. You are the writer not them! That sounds self-centred for sure but I think that you need a singularity of vision.
Of course all these thoughts have been thought before by hundreds of thousands of authors in this position and in the end the best thing I’ve found is just to write the book. Whatever pours out, tap away on the keyboard and at the end see what you’ve got. Then you can start to refine, re-draft and so on. I imagine the worst thing to do is worry over every word.
I’m hoping to finish the second book by early 2015 and move on because I think it will be the hardest one to do. Not that the rest will be easy rather I now feel the characters are more alive two books in and I can write them with much more familiarity. Something must be right anyway because the other day I thought of a new idea; time to get back to those files.
You can purchase part 1 of the ‘Heart of the World’ series from Amazon: