Second Book Blues

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing novels, it’s that there are no guarantees.

In my previous post, I wrote about finding an agent–and then having to find another when the first one didn’t work out. Here, I want to write about publishing my first book–and then having to work even harder to publish my second.

Common sense says it shouldn’t be that way. After publishing Book #1, Book #2 should be easier to write (thanks to experience) and publish (thanks to reputation). But for many writers, that isn’t the case. Consider:

  • One of my friends had a two-book deal. Then her publisher folded after Book #1.
  • Another friend also had a two-book deal. She submitted no fewer than three possible Book #2 manuscripts to her editor. Her editor rejected all three.
  • A third friend had a one-book deal, but (when Book #1 did quite well) figured he’d be able to sell Books #2 and #3 of a trilogy. His editor told him to wrap up the story in Book #2.

My experience was similar to his. In my contract for SURVIVAL COLONY 9, I had the standard “option” clause: I needed to offer my next novel-length work to my editor, who had the option of buying it before I showed it to anyone else. I produced a sequel, part 2 of a planned trilogy, and had my agent send it to my editor.

Who took almost six months before telling me she hated it. I mean, HATED it.

By this time, I’d nearly completed Book #3. Theoretically, having satisfied the option, my agent could have shopped Book #2 elsewhere. But with SURVIVAL COLONY 9 being my debut, what editor was going to look at a manuscript the editor for Book #1 had rejected?

My editor suggested I combine Book #3 with the (very few) parts of Book #2 she liked. That meant crunching two 80,000 word manuscripts into a single 80,000 word manuscript. With my mad math skillz, I calculated I’d have to trim 80,000 words overall.

Somehow, I did it. I kept the first chapter of Book #2, chopped out the middle, added the middle chapters of Book #3, then wrapped it up with the end chapters of both manuscripts.

Or something like that. It was far messier than that makes it sound.

In the end, I had a manuscript my editor liked enough to make an offer on. She still wanted major changes–as in, she sent me a four page, single-spaced letter and a manuscript full of post-it notes telling me everything I needed to change–but she also sent a contract. As of this writing, I’ve completed the revisions and am crossing my fingers that she’ll like what I’ve done enough to send the book to copy-editing.

I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining. I do have one published book, and may soon have a second. I also have a very supportive agent and editor, neither of whom gave up on me during my struggles with Book #2.

But I do want to be truthful. It’s possible I’ll get to the point where anything I write will sail through, either because I’ve become such a brilliant writer or such a bestseller no one would dream of saying “no.”

The reality for most writers, however, is that each new book is a new challenge, with no guarantees.


5 Comments on “Second Book Blues

  1. This is the REAL DEAL about publishing. As you know, you’re fortunate to have both an agent and editor who love your work enough to help you wade through the waters. Congrats on book two, the labor of love that it was!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats on climbing mountain number two! As I await completed edits and have a release date for my first book, I’m glad to have reality smack me in the face–better than being shocked when the time comes. Now to get an agent (having had four, yes 4, as in FOUR) and the support I need for my own climb!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Josh,
    Thanks for posting about your real experiences here. The truth is, most people think once you’ve got one contract you’re made. Not so. As writers we have to continually keep proving ourselves over and over again. Congrats on book two. I’m sure it’s going to be a winner. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on proving yourself a pro–it takes skill, sweat, and a cool head to adapt to the shifting sands of your publishing circumstances.

    But no matter how well and how hard a writer works, things can go sour–especially when (as in one of your examples) the publisher folds. A number of authors (particularly of series, particularly in circumstances like your own–where other publishers would tend not to consider a “rejected” sequel) have self-published the rejected sequels. If the author or the series has even a small following, this can keep the author “alive” in the minds of his/her readers. (Of course the writer would want his/her agent’s advice/consent.)

    And don’t toss the sections you cut! You may be able to self-publish a couple of these as “extras” someday. A growing number of traditional publishers approve of this practice as a way to grow the author’s marketing platform.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good advice, Susan! I’ve kept everything and was thinking the occasion might arise for using it–if not as an actual publication, then as “deleted scenes” to post on my website for readers’ interest. (Or who knows, maybe some of it could end up as a prequel.) Nothing written is ever wasted!


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