My first Thomas & Mercer book, THE DARKEST FLOWER, went to copy edits this week. That means I'm done editing it and it's time to turn to writing the sequel.
I've written a lot of books before--one published already, one currently being searched for out-of-place commas as I type, two posted on Radish, and five others existing in various states of finished in my Word files. You'd think I'd have no trouble dashing off a sequel to TDF. I've got the plot and the pitch and the characters.
Nope. Any writer will tell you that a book to be written "under contract" -- meaning it is already sold and certain to be published -- is a whole different kind of writing. Here's why:
1. The difficulty of starting a new manuscript that always exists: you've just completed/edited/turned in a supremely polished book that reads beautifully, has correct pacing, and no continuity errors (you hope). By comparison, the new book looks like a mess. How did you ever write before? Who on earth will want this slop of rambling, incoherent nonsense with plot holes big enough to fly a 747 through? It is boring. It is offensive. It is trite and superficial and absolutely awful.
Until it isn't. Nine completed manuscripts and I know it always gets to the Not Awful place. It's just that that place is very, very distant at the moment.
2. The knowledge that this book will be published. There's a certain comfort (also despair, but definitely comfort) about writing a manuscript before you have an agent or a publisher. It is what it is. You're writing the book you want to read. You're having fun with it. All that disappears with an under-contract book. It cannot stay what it is--it has to be readable, marketable, easy to pitch, and the type to build your career. You are not writing the book you want to read--you're also writing the book thousands of OTHER people will want to read. It's great to have fun with it, but it is also a product on the marketplace. This is a job now.
3. If that second book is a sequel (mine is), how will readers react to what you're doing with the characters they liked in the first book? Does it stand up? Does it match the tone, the voice, the structure? At the same time, is it different enough that readers will not feel like they're reading the same book a second time?
4. If the book you're writing is the finite one under whatever contract you have, will there be another? Will a second contract be for more sequels, or something different?
There are probably another thousand reasons, but those are the main ones. I've written so many manuscripts that I wasn't expecting all those worries, but here I am. I'm still having fun, mostly, seeing where I can take my lawyer main character this time. I always love exploring backstory and conflict. There is no greater thrill for me than developing characters and really showing what they want, what they won't give up, what they're willing to destroy.
I keep telling myself this is normal. It's normal to be afraid of not measuring up. It's definitely normal to write a first draft that has none of the sparkle or polish of the final draft. I will get there. It's just that I might have to do it with my eyes squeezed shut.
And a lot of ice cream. There will definitely be a lot of ice cream.
Coming soon: THE DARKEST FLOWER!