The Art of Writing the Follow-Up Novel
Emily Henry | The Children’s Book Review | May 24, 2017
Tips for Breaking That Book 2 Slump
When you publish a book, something strange happens. Well, a LOT of strange somethings happen, but one in particular stands out, the macro change containing the trillion smaller changes you undergo: You go to bed one night as a writer and wake up the next morning as an Author.
You’re still the same, mostly, and yet everything is a little different, in a lot of ways you never would have thought to expect. You do things you didn’t realize were part of your job description. You write blog posts, you tweet, you schedule events. You realize if you don’t get bookmarks printed, no one will, and if you don’t put yourself out there and offer to sign stock when you stop by Barnes & Noble, no one else will make it happen (unless you make the mistake of visiting a bookstore with one of your parents, in which case, someone might make you).
The biggest change of all is that you realize what you write is actually (very likely) going to be read by people. That might sound stupid but it’s true. I think, no matter how much you imagine seeing your own book on the shelf or reading glowing reviews of it, there’s this serious disconnect between expecting all those beautiful moments and actually understanding that something you poured your heart and tears and donut-icing into is going to enter the Public Sphere. That while yes, there are going to be people who love it, there will also be people who hate it. While some people will adore the romance you’ve crafted, others will loathe it. While some readers will praise the “break-neck” pacing of your novel, others will add it to Goodreads shelves with names like “YAWWWWN-SO-BORING-I-WISHED-FOR-ACTUAL-DEATH-THIS-HAS-ABSOLUTELY-NO-MERIT-AND-I-HATE-IT-A-LOT.”
Becoming an Author is a rocky transition. Or at least, it was for me and 100% of the people I’ve polled. But after awhile, you start to get used to it, to being an Author™ and all the things you didn’t know to expect would come along with it. And everything gets a bit easier, fits a bit better. And even if that doesn’t happen, you learn coping mechanisms, you set better boundaries for yourself, you begin to know yourself and what you need to be a functioning human a bit better.
And then it’s time to write book two. And all those fears you thought you conquered? Ha-ha-ha!
That rocky change from writer to author is hard enough. Then comes the time where you’re expected to gracefully transition back to Writer™. And wow, that can be hard. But, alas! Fear not. I’ve gathered for you a few of my best Tips for Breaking That Book 2 Slump (or in some cases, leaning into it).
Here are seven tricks for writing your follow up:
1. *~*Write like no one’s watching*~*: This is the hardest part. It’s probably why there are so many pillowcases and pieces of driftwood with similar platitudes painted on them for sale on Etsy. So maybe consider covering your house in said platitudes. Alternatively, do your best to convince yourself that no one IS watching. Admittedly, this is a little trickier if you’re writing a direct sequel, or a contracted series (*sings the praises of writing standalones*) but here’s the thing: if your book sucks, no one DOES have to read it. You can write a new book. Even if you’ve written a sequel! You might’ve followed the wrong trail. It happens. Sometimes you have to rewrite books, and yes, that can be frustrating, but it can also be what it takes for you to see that something’s not working.
But aside from that, it will be easier to convince yourself no one’s watching if you go social media dark, if you stop checking Goodreads and Amazon, if you put a moratorium on “book two talk” among your friends and family. In short, it will be easier to convince yourself no one’s watching, if you don’t WATCH them watching. They (whoever “they” are) say a watched pot won’t boil. But the thing is, that sort of implies that the water knows it’s being watched, that it’s suffering some kind of performance anxiety. As soon as the watcher turns away, it’s free to get on with its biz. Sometimes you can’t demand that no one look at you. But you can at least turn away and try your hardest to pretend they’re not.
2. Accept that every book is different: So, I’m writing this post on the art of the follow-up but the truth is, after book one, every book will be a follow-up. And if you’re expecting the process for each book to go how the process for the last went, you’re liable to end up reeeeeeeeeally panicking when it doesn’t. Think of your books as kids. Each kid needs generally the same kinds of things (food, water, am I forgetting anything? Clearly I’m not a parent yet), but each child is also unique! When we were kids, the kind of discipline that worked for my brothers and what worked for me were vastly different. I was the self-flagellating sort of people-pleaser and my parents’ mild disappointment in me when I misbehaved was already the worst punishment I could conceive of. Do all kids wither and disintegrate into nary but a pile of ash when faced with a parental sigh? NO. The same goes for books. Some need tough love and some need to be coaxed.
Some happen very quickly and require every page to be rewritten. Some emerge slowly but fully formed. Some emerge slowly and needing every page to be rewritten. That’s okay! The whole point of editing and revision is that by the end, the reader (hopefully) won’t be able to tell which kind of book this was born as.
3. Write a Bad Book: Going along with Tip #2, love your terrible first draft like the glorious monster it is! I’ve found that some writers love drafting, some love revising, some love both (SOME HATE IT ALL; jk, I hope). For me, drafting generally goes very quickly but the rewriting process tends to be excruciatingly slow. I write a lot of filler before I figure out where a book actually wants to go and if I just waited around until I was ready to write a good book, I don’t think that day would ever happen. Give yourself permission to write something terrible. (Again, remind yourself no one’s watching! By the time this book gets to any readers, it will be unrecognizable.)
4. Shower more often: When I’m drafting I tend to forget to do anything else. Like, anything. Eat, brush my hair, shower, walk the dog, breathe, etc. Sometimes you need a little break. A lot of people find they do their best thinking in the shower. Some people find that exercise helps “unstick” their plot points. For me, I actually find traveling to be really helpful. Sitting in the car or on a train, bus, or airplane. There’s something about having to sit still while, simultaneously, the environment is changing around me that’s very inspiring. Of course, most of us can’t just like, hop on an airplane because we need help thinking, but I do think there are cheaper (and free) alternatives. Sometimes I’ll put on ambient music and just listen/look out the window and the movement of a song can imitate the sensation of traveling.
The point is, there is no magic formula to writing a book but by knowing yourself and the way you think, you can get as many obstacles out of the way as possible and free yourself up to work.
5. Cheat on your manuscript: There’s something really freeing (and again, this plays into “writing like no one’s watching”) about working on a project no one knows about, or is expecting. Yes, you might be under a deadline or a contract, but in this world, I do think it’s important to take advantage of momentum wherever you find it. If that comes to you in the form of another book, I’d advise you jump on that moving train while you have the chance. You can even use working on it as a reward system for making progress on your OTHER book.When I’m really struggling to work on a book that might appeal to my “current readership,” I especially like to dig into something out of leftfield. An adult or middle grade project, something far outside the genre I’m usually writing in.
6. Fall for your characters: I think there are some writers who are incredible with plot. There are others who write amazing characters. And yes, some do both (RUDE)! For me, I often find plot points to be sticking points when I’m working. Sometimes, however, I struggle to bring a character into 3D. Either way, I’ve found that “cheating” on my in-manuscript goals can also be a helpful approach. When I’m stuck on plot, I like to reeeeeeeeally dive deep into my characters. When you care about them—when you’re able to love them and understand them—it makes telling a compelling story much easier.
Vice versa, if you’re trying to figure out who a character is, you might want to focus on telling their story and then trying to parse out why they make the decisions they make, why they’re doing what they’re doing. Plot and character do not function independently of one another. Your plot should be essentially impossible if handed over to other characters. These two elements of your story should belong to one another, and if you’re struggling to “find” your story, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to fall in love with your characters, and to really care about following them.
7. Give yourself some time: This probably isn’t what anyone wants to hear when they’re toiling over book two, but sometimes you (or at least I) need to just Not Write. It feels irresponsible and counterintuitive but I do believe there are times for refilling the well. Some writers are capable of writing multiple strong books in a year, but not all of us are and that’s okay. If you’re struggling with your follow-up, the most important thing is to know that the slump won’t last forever. So rather than sitting at your computer feeling miserable and panicked, let yourself go for a walk, or work on your day job, or clean your house. Use the time to do all the things you let slide when you’re fully immersed in writing: spend time with your friends and family, watch TV, read. It’s pretty hard to tell a good story if you don’t feel like you’re living one. So let go of your worry and let the rest of your life push forward for awhile.
This is really and truly not the end of writing for you. It’s just another important stage you might not have known to expect.
Written by Emily Henry
Publisher’s Synopsis: Romeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry’s brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations.
In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.
Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.
But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.
Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Razorbill | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0448493961
About Emily Henry
Emily Henry is the author of The Love That Split the World. She is a full-time writer, proofreader, and donut connoisseur. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the New York Center for Art & Media Studies, and now spends most of her time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the part of Kentucky just beneath it. She tweets @EmilyHenryWrite.
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The article The Art of Writing the Follow-Up Novel was written by Emily Henry, author of A Million Junes. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Art Of Writing, Magic, Romance, and Writing Tips.