Sequels are hard

I know in your world, my “next book” is The Shambling Guide to New York City. (io9 calls it one of the “astounding summer books not to miss” – and you can preorder it now! – not that I’m squeeing like crazy or anything.) But in my world, I’ve been soaking in the Palmolive of New Orleans and Zoe’s next adventure. I just finished The Ghost Train to New Orleans, the second book in The Shambling Guides.

So many sequels, so little time! Carrie Vaughn's Kitty series, I can only hope The Shambling Guides will last this long.

So many sequels, so little time! I’m on book 4 of Carrie Vaughn’s awesome Kitty series. I can only dream of such a successful series.

Sequels are hard. There are so many things that can go wrong:

  1. The beginning. You have to balance the first chapter carefully to appeal to both new readers and people familiar with the series. If someone just picked up the book, the story must stand on its own while it can’t deny the plot points of previous books. You also don’t want to deluge existing fans with boring backstory that they already know. (Small shoutout to the legendary Liz Hand and the incomparable Jim Kelly and my fellow students at Stonecoast who helped me deal with starting a sequel.) What I eventually did: Picked up one of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty books and read the first chapter again (I’d read the earlier ones; I’m a fan.) Then I wrote down what happened, roughly, in the chapter. I literally wrote down, “Emotion. Setting detail. Emotion. Backstory nugget. Detail.” This established the character in her emotion, a small piece of setting, and the backstory that put them there. Then I wrote my chapter one using the same broad road map. It helped out a lot.
  2. Sophomore efforts are often weaker than freshman efforts. You can spend years writing a first book, because no one is waiting on you. You submit it, get it rejected, tweak it, then submit again. You constantly polish it. Then, if you get a 2-or-more book deal, the time given to write the sequel(s) is much shorter. Unless you build in ample time for beta readers (I didn’t this time around, except for early chapters I workshopped at Stonecoast), you won’t have the failure/feedback/rewrite step that, while painful, was so important for the first book. You spend years trying to write a book and work toward pro, and then when you get that coveted deal, you realize that often pros are expected to turn a book around a hell of a lot faster than you wrote book 1. What to do: trust in my editor that she will help me make it as strong as possible.
  3. Expectation. Now I know I’m sounding like I’m complaining that my diamond shoes are too tight (that saying is from this scene, not this one), but here is an emotional response that I had to a recent event.
    • Kirkus reviews on SGTNYC: “The hip, knowing and sometimes hysterically funny narrative, interspersed with excerpts from the guide of the title, lurches along in splendid fashion.”
    • Me: “Hot damn! I’m hysterically funny! Yay!” … (1 minute later) “Oh SHIT that means book 2 has to be funny and it’s not funny it’s awful there’s not a damn funny thing in this** oh shit oh shit oh shit!”
    • /me falls down
    • /me cries into the gin
    • What I did? /me takes the compliment and gets over my damn self and writes the damn book.

All of that said, I’m pretty happy with the book, except when a rush of overwhelming fear comes over me and I think it’s absolute crap. But I’m pretty sure I am experiencing a very common feeling*** to being done with a book, so I just tell myself it’s natural and have another cookie.

** I admit that yesterday I wrote a scene that made me laugh out loud, which I figure was a good sign, but still, for someone like me, I suppose any early review of book 1 can paralyze your work on book 2. If someone says something bad, then OH SHIT I AM A SHIT WRITER WORTH SHIT I MAY AS WELL QUIT AND SAY SHIT AGAIN. SHIT. If someone says something good, then OH SHIT I HAVE TO DO IT EVEN BETTER THE SECOND TIME. PRESSURE! PRESSURE! You can’t win. And by you I mean me. Perhaps this has something to do with my own psyche. Huh.

*** I just spent 20 min searching Neil Gaiman’s blog for something he wrote about feeling like his books are shit every time he gets about halfway through them, but the guy has such a huge blog and I can’t remember the appropriate keywords, so I’m at a loss. If your Google-fu is better than mine, knock yourself out.

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