Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Column: The Game Changes at Every Stage - The Post First-Novel Stage by Linda Rohrbough

As most of you probably know, my recently published novel, The Prophetess One: At Risk is book one of a three book series. Writing a series has its advantages and disadvantages and I’m learning about both. One of the principles I present in my workshops is the game changes at every stage. And I’m experiencing those changes.

Clearly, one of the advantages to having sold the first book in a series is I know the characters in this book now. The Prophetess One was my first novel and saying it was a battle for me to write is an understatement. But I’m one of those writers who is meticulous about details. I struggle and polish and rework until I get what I want. And that takes time.

Writing computer books, I found this to be a real detriment. While some of my best-selling colleagues were writing a computer book in a month, I took a year. Sure, I came out with books I was proud of. And oddly enough, my books beat the odds in terms of market life. (Most computer books have the shelf-life of yogurt. Mine stayed in the market for years - one for almost ten years.) When I got in touch with myself and how I work, I came to the realization that fiction was probably a better use of my time and abilities if I was serious about writing books.

Of course, what I didn’t realize is how difficult fiction is. (Difficult is an understatement.) But for someone like me who likes a challenge, that is an acceptable risk.

I said all that to say that now that I’ve completed and published my first book, I’ve got a leg up on book two. And I need it. Because my friends who write series books say you need to have the next book in the series out quickly, like within a year, or readers forget book one. The faster, the better, they say.

It’s also a relief to have some parameters to work in. But I now have the challenge now of making book two stand alone, yet providing surprises and changes on the part of the characters for readers of book one. And that part has me a little worried. Fortunately, I knew all that going in so I attempted to plan for it.

I took the advice of an agent friend of mine and avoided the temptation to write the second and third books in the series before I’d sold the first one. However, I did plot them, laying the groundwork. I then went on to develop another series, which my fiction agent is currently shopping.

What’s exciting and energizing about finally being published in fiction is, as readers read my first book, and I talk to them about it, the second book started bubbling up inside me like a natural spring. (We used to live in near Keller, Texas which they called Keller Springs because people would just wake up one day and find out a natural fountain had sprung up overnight in their back yard. In my case, water would bubble up under the street in front of my house, which was a constant challenge to the city’s paving department. That’s how it feels with The Prophetess Two: A Son for A Son.)

I find myself living scenes, which is what I understand writers DO in fiction. And that’s part of the reason fiction writing is so draining. I move into those characters, live what they live, see what they see, during the most difficult and challenging times in their lives. And it’s exhausting. But it’s also exciting and consuming.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is I’m the kind of writer who does better if I know there is someone out there who is going to read what I write. It’s hard for me to write “on spec,” hoping at some later point someone might read the thing. Many writers I know are the not like this. They write for themselves so they bring the same energy to the work whether or not they think someone is going to read it.

A long time ago I bought a writing book and the title was something like, “Sell Ninety-Percent of What You Write.” Interested? Well, I can save you a lot of time. Bottom line is you sell ninety percent of what you write by effective pitching, synopsis and proposal writing. So you don’t actually write the work until you know someone is going to at least consider it for publication. And even then, you have a ninety-percent hit rate. You can do this in non-fiction, even if you’re a newbee.

Fiction doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to have a track record. Pre-publication, it’s necessary to write the entire thing on spec and then develop the skill to talk about it in a way that generates interest to get an agent or editor to take a look at it. But now that I have a successful novel out there that’s won a couple of national awards, I’m writing three chapters of the first book in a series, along with a proposal that includes a synopsis of all the books. And my fiction agent shops the proposal. Which is another trick newbees don’t know about how the game works. You have to keep work in the pipeline and that means writing one series while you’re producing proposals for others.

Now that I’m not writing on spec, I find it energizing. Fun. Still a little scary, but less so. Which is what I suspected by watching my New York Times best-selling friends. They seem to be tireless – with almost boundless energy to produce more. And I think that only happens through strong motivation. What stronger motivation is there than having eager readers awaiting the next book? So the game is changing . . .

No pressure, though, right? <grin>

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website: www.LindaRohrbough.com.