Many creative moons ago I asked bestselling romance author Rachel Burton to write me a guest post. If you don’t know Rachel, let me tell you about her. She’s the author of The Many Colours of Us, The Things We Need To Say and The Pieces of You & Me.
Here is the guest post from Rachel. I love this post because Rachel gives good practical advice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that second books are difficult beasts. There is a lot of expectation, particularly if your first has done well, there is usually a deadline and often a lot of people’s opinions to take into account.
All in all it’s very different to writing your first – which in general you are often writing completely for yourself.
I spent the best part of three years on my first book. I wrote my second in eleven months. In that time I re-wrote the whole thing twice and went through two big structural edits; one with my agent and one with my editor. It was eye-opening to say the least and here are a few things I learned:-
1. Trust your gut
As I said, there will probably be a lot more people involved in this book. With your first will mostly have been all alone, or at most being buoyed along by friends or a writing group. I wrote my debut The Many Colours of Us by myself in my free time, while working full-time and running a business. I didn’t take it very seriously until it was almost finished. In truth I never really believed it would be finished until it got there.
Book 2 was very different. I had a lot of people around me offering support and advice – my publisher, my editor, my agent. On the plus side this was great because when I got stuck I had people to bounce ideas off, people to suggest different themes that I could explore, people to help me develop characters. On the negative side…I had a lot of people around me offering support and advice!! Ever heard the phrase ‘too many cooks spoil the broth,’?
If you don’t trust your gut with your second novel there’s a chance this might happen. I got to a point where my agent, myself and my editor all had a different set of ideas about where the book should go. In the end I had to back away, spend some time alone with my characters – and this is what led to the first major rewrite.
Your editor and agent want your book to do well, they want to help you produce the best work you possibly can. But at the end of the day you know your characters, you know how they would behave – take all the advice you’ve been given but ultimately trust your characters and yourself.
2. Plan, plan, plan
Confession. I didn’t plan my first book at all. I just sat down and wrote and waited to see what would happen. This is part of the reason it took three years.
Now I know planning doesn’t work for everyone, but I realised that if I had to write a book in a year I needed to know exactly where I was going. I split the book into three acts and I worked out exactly what would happen in each act – beginning, middle and end. This helped me write a specific number of words per week that I would need to reach my goal. I can’t plan chapter by chapter like some people do, but I really found this method helped me have a clearer path to my end goal.
3. Get a betareader
Betareaders are kind people who will read and comment honestly on your work. There will come a point in your drafting and editing when you, your agent and your editor will all be a little bit too close to the book to get perspective. This is where a betareader is invaluable. I was lucky enough to have three wonderful readers who all read different drafts and all helped immeasurably (you guys know who you are!).
I know it’s a scary prospect letting other people read your book but remember, by this point you’ve got a book out in the world and lots of people are reading it. Take a deep breath and give it a go – I have never regretted asking a betareader to help out.
4. Read, read, read
This one is self-explanatory. Keep reading – read in your genre, around your genre, outside of your genre. Read fiction and non-fiction, read the news, read everything. You never know where inspiration might come from. I tend to read in my own genre while I’m sitting on an idea and during the first draft and then when it comes to second drafts and subsequent edits I read outside of my genre (mostly in case I accidentally plagiarise, but also for a break).
5. Keep being you!
You are completely unique, your narrative voice, your characters, the way you choose to tell a story.
Write the story you want to tell. Your agent and editor will help you tell that story in the best possible way so that it can (hopefully!) be commercially successful – but ultimately this is all you.
While working with my editor on the last edit of my second book we came across an idea we didn’t agree on. Eventually (after a sleepless night) I broached the subject of not being happy with this edit. When I explained why to my editor she was on my side and helped me work the book in a different way.
So before you start work on an edit you are not 100% comfortable with remember: it’s your name on the cover.
Thank you Rachel.
If you are about to start writing your second, I wish you well, my friend.
Have a great day.