Firstly, I should apologise for the length of time I have been absent from my blog. My very good excuse is that I have been finishing my second book, A Traitor’s Fate, which is the sequel to Feud. I set myself the target of finishing the draft by the end of July – and just about managed it by the skin of my teeth! Anyway, since the draft is now with the editor I can sit back for five minutes and reflect upon a few other things – such as, how did I come to write a second book?
When I started my first book, Feud, my mind was full of doubts: could I actually write a full length historical fiction novel? Could I write to a standard that would match a reader’s expectations of quality? Could I create a group of characters that readers would care about and would be interested in following? There were lots of other questions that troubled me – but I’ve forgotten most of them now. The point is that writing the first book does not immediately put an end to those questions – especially if you are self-publishing. You’ll still have doubts – I know I did!
So how do you overcome the doubts? For me, it comes back to the reason you started writing in the first place – and in my case, I starting writing for me. Writing is a selfish act and you have to embrace that. There are a lot of other aspects of life which demand your attention: such as partners, children and work[!] but, if you want to carry on writing, then you have to have some “me” time.
After the first book, it’s good to reflect a bit on what you’ve achieved. That might range from the satisfaction of completing a book you wanted to write but that few will ever read to the euphoria of writing a best seller that everyone will want to read. Provided you have done at least a minimum of marketing, then you’ll know whether your book is being received well or not. It doesn’t have to sell a lot – unless you need to pay the bills with it! – but if anyone is giving you good reviews then that is grounds for considering writing another book.
In my case, since I always wanted to write a series of stories, it was important to me that the first one was well received. Once I had completed Feud and “put it out there,” I received enough good reviews to encourage me that I could begin the next story in the series.
When I started planning the second book I was still spending quite a lot of time promoting Feud and beginning to build a readership for the series. As other self-publishers will be only too aware, there is a lot of work required to promote your work. For me – and I’m sure many others – this did not come easily. I’m the sort of person who is a bit laid back about it all – the Sergeant Wilson, rather than the Captain Mainwaring, of marketing, I think. So there was a steep learning curve in that area as well.
All of this meant that I was working very slowly on the new book. I already had a clear vision of where book two was going and the way in which I wanted the characters to develop. I also had an outline of the plot although there was still a lot of fleshing out to do on the basic skeleton of the story.
Then of course the doubts returned – the obvious one: was the first book just a fluke? I’d written a book and got away with it. Heave a sigh of relief and go back to mowing the lawns. Other doubts followed and lingered for some time; such as… I killed so many characters in the first book, have I got enough left to field a basketball team let alone populate another 500 page novel? And… have I already used all the decent expressions I’ll ever think of?
Any creative process has its rocky moments and in the winter of 2012/13, I needed some encouragement – apart from friends and family! The encouragement came from fellow historical fiction writers and from readers. It only takes a few genuine readers to say: “I can’t wait for the sequel” and that’s a powerful incentive to write one! So, as 2013 went on, book two gradually gained momentum – though it took me a long time to decide on the title, A Traitor’s Fate.
Then a funny thing happened: I wrote a scene in which I killed off a major character and then I thought: hang on a minute, I need that character for book three! So, the further I got into the second book, the more I was becoming interested in where the third book would take the characters. Before long, I found myself looking several books ahead and realised I was committed to writing a series – it was a sobering thought but it was also a really exciting one.
Now book two is finished – subject to the editor wreaking his own particular brand of havoc with it – and I’m planning book three in earnest. What have I learnt so far? I’ve learned that my first book won’t be my best because I want to improve as a writer. I like to think that I’ve learned from some of the reviews I’ve received, that I’ve responded to criticism positively. I’ve learned that some readers will not like my book and that it doesn’t matter. They are entitled not to like it; readers look for different things in a book. Feud included a lot of action and not very much introspection – not everyone wants to read such a story. As long as plenty of readers do, then you have nothing to worry about.
Of course the self-publishing “machine” now has to swing into action again to get A Traitor’s Fate out into the world of books. There will be the usual trials of formatting for ebook and print once the editing is complete. Then I shall be seeing who has time and inclination to review it in advance of publication and putting out some tasty morsel extracts to excite interest! It’s all go! Sooner than I’d like, it will be published with a fanfare – well, perhaps a quiet little one – and then there will be promotion, marketing, more promotion…
But…lurking in the background, still a little nebulous and half-formed, are the first ideas for book three. I’m thinking about the research I need to do, the places I need to visit, the plot ideas I want to develop. And so the world turns…and here I go again…