Sunday, 10 July 2011

On starting a new book

I don't really talk much about my novels until they have reached a tipping point and know I'm going to finish them. Especially in the very early stages, when delicate tendrils of ideas are emerging, vulnerable to tramping feet, icy blasts or harsh words. I make an exception of the offspring, but remind her not to be squashing. So I'm not going to talk about my next book, just the process of switching from one to another.

I've completed four novels now, and found each one of them hard to leave. The final words have been written, all corrections made, it's finished; but the characters are still kicking around in my head. Not until I've found at least one new character equally absorbing can I begin to transfer my allegiance; I have to peg away doggedly until there's an almost audible click, the thing is done and the book begins to fly.

I can see the allure of writing a series. Not just the opportunity to garner a faithful readership, but the switch to the next book must be so much easier when your characters come with you.

Do any of my readers find the same thing? Or are you like Trollope, able to finish one book in the morning and start another in the afternoon?


  1. I just wish I could, Lexi, but I worry the last one isn't as good as it could be so I just keep playing around with it.

  2. Is there any point trying to convince you I really, really do want to read a sequel to Remix?

    I know what you mean about the difficulty of moving on to something new. But with Replica out there surely it's easier to let the characters go and immerse yourself in something new?

    I look forward to reading it.


  3. Jarmara, sometimes it's best to write another book rather than keep trying to perfect the last, or that's what I found. You learn more about writing with each book.

    K, one day I may work out how to finish the sequel to Remix. I like what I've written of it. But don't hold your breath!

  4. You're on you fifth book already?!?!?!?!?! I am in AWE!!!

    Wow!!! Good for you!!

    I don't know - but the feeling I get from writerly (mainly american) blogland is to go for series potential rather than stand alone novels. Certainly most of the writerly bloggers (again mainly American) seem to be in the depths of series writing rather than stand alone.

    I blame the fabulous Ms Rowling and her HP effect! LOL!

    Take care

  5. I think that some authors write series extremely well.

    As an Archers fan for longer than I care to remember, I know the addictive power of small communities.

    Romance authors like Robyn Carr (more than 12 books in the Virgin River series) and Susan Mallery with her Fools Gold series have captivated me for more hours than I could really spare.

    In the Fantasy realm Anne McCaffrey with the dragons on Pern or Robin Hobb with her dragons on Earth have written fabulous series, again based on small communities.

    Both Remix and Replica had two dominant characters with many secondary characters but I didn't get a sense of community which could form the platform for building a winning series.

    Perhaps the hero's band in Remix might have been brought more into focus to build that community spirit?

    I would certainly like to learn more of the hero and heroine as an item (the romance thread!)

    But I'd better stop before I start telling you what to write! *grin*

  6. Kitty, I think JKR has a worse problem than I do with parting from her characters. Will she ever write a book NOT about Harry Potter? I would take a bet, notwithstanding all her money, she's worrying about the next book.

    Q - you listen to The Archers? I used to, but gave up on them ten or more years ago. It all got too improbable and tiresome. You are right, I feel sure, about the sense of community necessary for a series. Some authors seem to get away with re-writing the same book over and over, and if done well, the fans love it.

  7. I'm always thinking about the next project just before I finish one. So I'm never ever sad about writhing The End.

    I would WANT to write a series one day but I seem to constantly feel like switching to a different setting as to not get bored.

  8. Steve, I envy you. That sounds most efficient.

    It's not that I feel sad at ending the book, just that I'm still entangled with the characters I've spent so much time with.

  9. I cannot imagine having just one book on the go and then starting from cold with a blank screen. My WIP list is a book in itself!

    We're just embarking on the series route, with the first in final edit for end of July launch, and B2, B3 and B4 are all at various stages, with the four after that also sketched in outline.

    We've opted for commercial fiction with a good USP (female cop lives in with female defence barrister - as one tries to lock them up the other tries to get them off, and each book based on a classic European fairy-tale) and a family of characters we can develop as we go.

    If the first is successful we'll have the second and third to launch pretty much immediately after.

    Being a writing partnership we can turn-over quickly (a measly 30,000 words each!) and we've already found that B2 is ten times easier and faster than B1 because all the characters, key locations and reader settings are in place. Just change the villains, alternate which secondary characters get to "star" and press go!

    Will it be anywhere near as satisfying to write by the time we're at B5? Probably not. But by that stage readers will be looking for the comfort of old friends and the sense of community referred to elsewhere.

    Series readers actually desire the predictability and stability of soap opera.

    I'd hate to be a legacy author locked into a series with the agent and publisher telling you this is all you are allowed to write. There's so much else, across myriad genres, we want to do.

    But as a string to one's writing bow having a series to fall back on seems a great way forward.

  10. Mark, if you work well together a writing partnership must be rather liberating, and the cop and defence barrister sound a promising combination.

    I've just realized you have NINE books on the go! Goodness me.

  11. It is an impossible dilemma, to which I am sure there is no right answer. I have never published the first book I wrote, but the second has the same characters in a different story. The first was seen by a very nice agent who said I needed to decide if it was fiction or memoir - it was based around some real events, so it was a vadid criticism.
    I tried putting the same characters into a fictional situation and it worked much better - so it IS a sequel, but to a book that no one has seen.
    I have another story that I'm working on that has different charactersin a different genre, and I can imagine several more, but should I plan several books before I know whether anyone likes the first one? I have no idea what the "right" answer is. In the end I think I will just write what comes out of my head.

  12. In the end, that's what we're all doing, Rod, writing what comes out of our head...

    I guess it depends how much planning is needed for the follow-ups to the first book. The more you do, the more of a gamble it is - a gamble that paid off for JKR, admittedly :o)

  13. I have two books out and two WIPs in progress, and they're all in different genres, dammit!
    I knew I was going wrong somewhere, but I'm too far in now to - what would be starting over again - so I'm just going to press on.
    After all, I'm writing because I want to, not in order to sell gazillians, (is that how you spell it?).

  14. Google's spellchecker favours gazillions.

    There is everything to be said for writing what you want to. If you like it, it's possible others will too. And if they don't, well, at least you've pleased yourself. This worked for Jasper Fforde.

  15. I'm half done with two WIPs. My desire to finish has stalled out and I find I can easily entertain myself much of the day twittering and facebooking and wordpressing about the two books already finished and finding their way in the reader world. This fluttering about doesn't even count the time spent on Amazon looking at the ranks and generally sitting in angst pondering a marketing plan I have yet to actually write down.

    Someone asked me what my WIP novel was about and I struggled with my answer. I've always wanted to use that phrase: "Oh, I don't talk about my work before it's complete." Instead, I stammer out with a loose, ill-conceived log line that comes out so cliched my own eyes glaze over with disinterest as much as the person I'm talking to. Ha!

    Alas, tomorrow's the day to type out those 10,000 words of scenes that have been floating around in my head for weeks. Yes, indeed.

    I think I've been distracted by the good reader reaction my books have been getting. Self-diagnosis would seem to point to a fear of actually being successful as a writer. : )

  16. Katherine, someone with your powers of self-analysis and honesty has the equipment a novelist needs. I'm sure many of us identify with your description.

    I think you are being too hard on yourself, though. You have completed and published two books! The 'fluttering about' is actually what Amanda Hocking calls 'promotion', a necessary expenditure of time when you have books to sell.

    It's worth working out an elevator pitch for your books and WIPs, if you are going to talk about them at all. For Remix mine was, "A young woman finds a stranger asleep on her roof terrace, who turns out to be a rock star who 'died' three years before."

    I bet you have a fear of failure to go with your fear of success :o)

  17. As a reader, I find it difficult sometimes to move on to the next book when I've finished one. It's most difficult when I've really connected with the characters. I can only imagine how it must be as an author, when you have even more invested in each character. I like to read series beginning to end for that very reason, but when a series ends, it's sad to say goodbye to the characters I love.

    GraceKrispy@MotherLode blog

  18. Grace, that's true, and sometimes I've finished a book and immediately started reading it all over again. The Charioteer by Mary Renault is one such - I went on reading that for years, and still do.

  19. Something you said about leaving characters behind struck a chord with me and I may have to post on it myself. But in short... I had no intention of writing a series (Chronicles in my fantasy world), but after finishing the prequel and sequel, Fate just took my fingers to the keyboard and I began to write about lesser characters from the previous two. They became the main protags in A Thousand Glass Flowers due for release in September. Ditto to the next novel which is in rough draft... another generation again. And there is another after that in my ideas file. It wasn't planned, it just happened. Utter serendipity.
    In the hist fict I am writing, there is scope for a second volume. Will or it or won't it? I think its rather like you and Remix. It's one I really have to sit down and think about hard.
    PS: i just realise I have published two, almost published the third, have the fourth begun and am due to publish the hist.fict at Christmas. Wow... I feel a bit chuffed!

  20. Prue, I think that's a neat way of doing it - bringing forward some of the minor but interesting characters from the book before. Come to think of it, I did that with my second untypical fantasy novel.

    Congrats - you have every right to feel chuffed :o)

  21. Ha, good post! I can see that it would be difficult to follow on from Replica, and for a Remix sequel to work you'd have to introduce a new element of mystery and/or suspense somehow. Could be interesting though, and Caz is one of my favourite characters, so if you ever do become inspired with the Remix sequel, I'll be queueing to buy it with the rest of the punters.

    As for me, On Dark Shores was always going to be a series but initially there were going to be 5 neat little books, each of which was going to deal with one character mostly. Hasn't happened that way, but I'm toying with plan B, the idea of doing a "serial" of 50k ebooks, amalgamated into 100k or 150k chunks for the paperback versions, depending on how the narrative arc goes. Certainly I've learnt a lot from "The Lady" (the first book)!

    Have just got through the initial edit of book 2, actually, and I'm a bit intimidated by the fact that there isn't a line that hasn't been scribbled over or covered with green ink...still, it'll be the better for it when I eventually finish. But editors permitting, I've bet someone I can get it edited, formatted, uploaded and the paperback at least in formatting by November and looking at my MS now, I can see a forfeit coming on.

    There's SO much to do - but bet or no bet, I'm not rushing the edit...procrastinating madly, maybe, but I'm not foolish enough to short-change my readers! Apart from anything else, several of them wouldn't allow me to short-change the characters in any way!!

    But that's pretty cool, now I come to think of it...Hurrah for readers! They keep me honest in my writing.

  22. JAC, it sounds as though you are on a roll. And you are so right about readers - I don't want to disappoint anyone who's enjoyed a book of mine. Remix 2 would have to be Terminator 2, not Catriona, or it won't see the light of day. Good old readers.