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Writing your second novel: Harder than the first!

Second novels are tougher to write and sell than first novels. Deathsign, the fantasy I’m writing, is actually my fourth manuscript. My first, Useful Fools, got published to excellent reviews and weak sales. The second never got published and is pretty much dead and buried. The third needs a massive overhaul. Because it’s closest to being finished, I think of Deathsign as my second novel.

And it ain’t easy.

Why so hard?

From first draft to sale, Useful Fools took twelve years. Yup, I rewrote, workshopped, “writer grouped,” and revised for a dozen years before finding a publisher. Then, with my publisher, I rewrote and revised some more. Scads of hard work.

So why does this feel harder? Did I think it would be easier? Did I assume that, with my first novel published, the second would magically write and publish itself? (It is, after all, a fantasy.) Maybe, like most people, I assumed that once you’ve published a first novel, you’re on your way.


Too many notes!

Because it’s a fantasy, I did a lot of world-building for this book (more on that in a later post). But several drafts into Deathsign’s existence, I’m still hearing this from two of my trusted readers (known here as the Famous Doctor and the Publishing Professional): Too confusing! Too many characters! Too complex!

I feel like Mozart. Too many notes!

On the other hand, my soulmate (henceforth the Book Geek) said this, “You can err on both sides of the question.” Make it too easy by trying not to make it too hard. Imagine Tolkien, toiling away building his world. Imagine L’Engle, rejection after rejection because A Wrinkle in Time was “too hard” for kids. A lot of people love that complexity.

Still, for this to be my second novel, it has to get published.

Write with fire and revise with ice

We’re down to the ice, baby.

So here’s my plan: dissection. I’m going to dissect published fantasies and figure out what works when you’re setting a story in an imaginary world. I’m going to dissect my own manuscript, using a technique usually used when you start writing a novel. (Ass-backwards is not unusual for me. I like the view.) It’s called the Snowflake Method and it’s forcing me to step away from all my geeky world-building and focus on the hard bones of my novel: characters and storyline. My friend the Publishing Professional, who doesn’t actually like fantasy, said he got lost in the world-building. My friend the Famous Doctor couldn’t keep track of all the wizards and their kingdoms. But I think (and I bet L’Engle and Tolkien would agree) that you can build a world of infinite complexity and not lose your readers there. The question is how

Stay tuned for the answer.

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