Hello, everyone, and welcome to Wednesday! It’s Hump Day, although I’m not sure anyone’s taking much notice of that these days. Those of us who work from home in normal circumstances, those who are working from home temporarily, and those of us who aren’t able to work at all right now, have probably forgotten what day of the week it is. And those superhero NHS and keyworkers have far more important things to think about. Anyway, today it’s the S word on the AtoZChallenge and S stands for:
Second books are notoriously tricky for most writers. In fact, they’ve gained quite a reputation. It may be because, having taken ages to write your first book, then spent what felt like forever, either getting it edited and ready for publication, or subbing it to agents or publishers, it’s only when you sit down to write Book Two that it dawns on you that you haven’t got years to faff around getting this one ready.
Book One is, in many ways, the luxury book. It’s your learning ground. Your classroom. And you have the freedom to take as long as you need to get it just right. But when it’s out there, it’s very possible (and let’s hope probable) that readers are going to be clamouring for the next one. That’s when nerves can kick in, because suddenly you’ve got to produce another novel and you haven’t got anywhere near as much time to do so.
It may also be that your first novel has been a whopping big success. Wow! Congratulations! But then you’ll start to worry that your second one won’t be anywhere near as good, and that readers will be disappointed and will dismiss you as a one-book wonder. That can be paralysing. So, it’s not surprising that second novels have a bit of a reputation. The good news is, it’s never usually as difficult as you think it’s going to be. The bad news is, you get that same fear with Book Three, Book Four, Book Eighteen …
I overcame the problem by writing the second book before I published the first. My first draft was done and dusted before There Must Be an Angel appeared, and I was able to put A Kiss From a Rose up for sale just six months later. I didn’t struggle with it at all. In fact, I’ll be honest and say – at the risk of annoying some of you – that I found it much easier to write than my first book. I’d been working on Angel for roughly three years, and had learned a lot from the process. Rose felt like a walk in the park, in comparison. I knew the character, since she featured prominently in Angel, so that probably helped a lot. I also, obviously, knew the setting and secondary characters. That’s one of the advantages of writing my next S word, which is:
I never set out to write one at all, but it turns out that every single one of my books fits into a series. I have no standalones. Not any more. Baxter’s Christmas Wish was written as a one-off, but when I thought of another couple of Christmassy ideas with the same theme, I realised I had another series on my hands. So Baxter’s Christmas Wish became Book One in my Home for Christmas trilogy, with The Other Side of Christmas following last year. My third Home for Christmas novel will be out in time for this festive season.
Do you have to write a series? No, not at all. Lots of authors only write standalones, and that’s perfectly fine. It just seems to be something I do. I get messages from readers saying they’ve enjoyed a certain book and asking if there’ll be another book set in that location, so I know my readers enjoy series.
There are definitely advantages to them. As mentioned above, I get to know the setting of the books, and become familiar with the characters as I write the first novel, which makes things a bit easier when writing subsequent books in the series. I also, I admit, get extremely fond of both location and characters. At times, I almost feel like I live there myself! You can find out more about my current book locations here.
Kearton Bay was my first series, and in my mind I walked those streets beside Eliza, Rose and Lexi, and I knew all their friends and family and neighbours as well as I knew my own. It’s based on Robin Hood’s Bay, so any photos or paintings I saw of that beautiful place would immediately blink me straight back to my fictional world. I never wanted to leave it behind. Maybe that’s why I’m going back there this year to write the fourth and final instalment!
I have to say, I can’t wait to start my next series. I’m finishing off current series this year, but next year, God willing, I’m going to my new village and I’m so excited to start work there. It’s utterly beautiful and I’ll tell you more about it a bit nearer the time.
Publishers seem to like series, too, because readers who’ve read and enjoyed the first are more likely to go looking for subsequent books. Also, bear in mind, that people who read – say – book three in a series, may love it so much they immediately buy the first two books.
My main advice to you, if you’re considering writing a series, is to keep a spreadsheet or a list on your computer, of all the different characters, street names, businesses, ages, etc. It’s terribly easy to lose track of who’s who and what’s what when you’re three or four books down the line!
One of the joys of having books on the shelves in bookshops or in libraries is being able to take a shelfie. They’re like selfies, but better. You get to snap your book in the wild. How fabulous is that? I’ve never had a book in a physical bookshop, so I haven’t taken many shelfies, but I did get to experience that feeling for myself when The People’s Friend published two of my stories as pocket novels.
Unfortunately, when the first one, All Because of Baxter (later Baxter’s Christmas Wish), hit the shops, I was recuperating at home, having just had my appendix out, so I couldn’t go into town to WH Smith and see it sitting there, fulfilling my childhood dream. I managed to get to the local supermarket, though! My second pocket novel, Surrender to Love (New Doctor at Chestnut House) delighted me even more, because I absolutely loved the cover and it really seemed to fit the story. I took a few shelfies that day, I can tell you!
Okay, so people may think you’re mad, but look, it’s exciting stuff. You’ve waited a long time for this to happen. Make the most of it, I say!
Society of Authors
The Society of Authors is the trade union for writers, illustrators and literary translators. For a joining fee of around £111 (£105 if you sign up to pay by direct debit in the future) you get access to a wide range of benefits, including professional advice, lobbying on behalf of authors, contract vetting, access to guides and articles, free ALCS membership, discounts on membership to certain affiliated organisations, a specialist insurance and tickets to events, plus a quarterly journal, The Author. You’ll also have a public profile on the Society’s searchable, online database. The SoA is a high-profile voice campaigning for the rights of authors. If you can join, it’s probably worth doing so. It’s always reassuring to know that someone’s got your back!
Almost every writer I know admits to being a stationery addict. In fact, forget “admits to”, more like is delighted to announce. Writers love stationery, and I’m no exception. There’s nothing I like better than to wander into our local branch of Paperchase (other stationery outlets are available) and exclaim in wonder at the gorgeous range of notebooks and journals on display. I have been known to stroke them. Seriously. And inhale them, too. I mean, honestly, if you haven’t spent a good hour examining a range of stationery products, who even are you? Are you sure you’re a writer?
Pens, pencils, pencil cases, diaries, calendars, organisers, desk jotters, to-do-list pads – you name, it I’ve probably got it. Stationery is a thing of beauty. So what if you’ve already got four hundred and seventy-six unused notebooks? There’s always room for one more – and look at that magnetic clasp and shiny cover! Heaven.
Have you ever thought of making a soundtrack for your book? I don’t mean hiring a composer and a band, or a symphony orchestra, or Adele or someone like that. I mean searching for tracks that are appropriate for various plot points in your story.
Music can be such a great inspiration. I’ve recently made a playlist for a book I haven’t even started writing yet, but the music is really helping to pull it into shape already. Various songs have put images in my mind. I’m practically making my own music videos in my head! I can visualise the characters and what they’re doing as each song is played, and the emotions it’s invoking. These little “videos” are so firmly lodged in my mind that I have a road map of scenes for my novel, which I’ll remember just by listening to the playlist.
It really is a useful tool, as well as being quite good fun to do. And, of course, it’s another way to put off actual writing! But seriously, I spent most of yesterday compiling my playlist, and the book practically played out in my head. All the key scenes, the emotions, the joy of falling in love, the heartbreak of separation, the awful this-person-doesn’t-want-me-any-longer feeling, the reconciliation. Aw. I was really absorbed in the whole thing and it really helped me to get inside the characters’ minds and experience for myself the emotions they were feeling.
You can make playlists on YouTube, which is great for videos. I made a playlist for Angel back in the day, but to be honest, these days I prefer to get the songs without the videos so they don’t distract me. I have the Amazon Music app and make playlists on there. I’ve got loads of them now for various moods and various books! I stick my earphones in and shut myself off from the real world, drifting off to one of my beautiful fictional villages to meet all my friends.
If you haven’t given it a go, why not try it out for yourself?
And with that I’ll say goodbye for now. Have a fabulous day and stay safe! I’ll see you tomorrow.