Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Everything ELSE You Never Knew You Always Wanted to Know About Writing Your Second Novel - with Chip MacGregor

When you finish reading this amazing blog - hop over to Kimberely Payne's blog Fit for Faith for an interview with me about fitness and exercise. If nothing else, you'll get a good laugh!

So many questions, so little time - but Chip MacGregor took the time to answer your questions about writing your second novel. If you missed the Chip's first blog on Fiction Matters, you can read it here. In this, the last installment of Chip's contribution to Fiction Matters, he address two categories of questions. The first set deal with issues around a second novel that is not a sequel to the debut. The second set consists of technical questions about publishing, contracts, and the business end of books.

Question: Marvin D Wilson asks a great question that many, many, many other writers submitted: If the author is not writing a series, is it unwise to venture into a different genre ( ie first book is fantasy, should the second book also be fantasy, or is it workable to then write a chick-lit book, for example?) Will it be like starting again from scratch, since I have no sales figures in that new genre?

This is a common question, and one every writer must think through. Here’s the way I view it: The author has to consider what he or she wants to do with a writing career. If an author intends to make a living writing novels, he or she will find it best suits them to figure out what genre best suits the style and voice, then stick with it. But be aware that some very talented writers have chosen not to take that approach.

All the talk of “branding” in publishing recently can be tedious. A publisher telling an author to “decide on a genre and write to the same audience” sounds like good career advice… but what if the novelist is multi-talented and feels she has stories to tell in various genres? I represent Lisa Samson, who most people believe is one of the best Christian novelists in publishing these days, and she doesn’t really have a clear genre. She writes great stories that I suppose could all be termed “literary fiction,” but that’s more a convenience to help with the marketing and sales of her books. The fact is, Lisa crosses genres and writes in a variety of areas. Sometimes an author will not want the strictures inherent with naming a clear brand.

Okay, having said all that, I’ll go back to your example and admit that if I had an author tell me he was writing “a series,” but that the first book was a fantasy and the second was chick-lit, I’d tell him to start taking his meds again. That is NOT a series. And yes, every time you jump genres, you’re starting from scratch.

Question: Lorraine O’Donnell Williams question is about how agents react to an author switching genres: Does the second book have to be in the same genre as the first if the agent is going to continue with that author? For example: if I switched from non-fiction to fiction; from how-to book to short stories, etc?

I encourage authors to write widely until they find their voice, message, audience, and genre. Then the author needs to focus sharply. Think of this as art – Picasso experimented with various forms, but once he found his artistic style, he focused on that. Same with Monet, Lautrec, Degas, Van Gogh. Once you know your writing voice, you’ll want to chase after what you do best. You’ll find the most freedom there, as well as the most satisfaction.
Switching from fiction to nonfiction doesn’t really enter the equation. I’d suggest to any novelist that, if you are going to try your hand at nonfiction, you are completely starting over. Readers do not cross over from fiction to nonfiction. Do not expect any of your readers to follow you.

Question: Linda Beed: If I write in several genres, will I have to have separate pen names? Will I have to have separate agents for the genres?

No, if you have a good agent, you shouldn't need two separate agents. That will only confuse your career, in my view. There are times you might need a specialist agent (if you're doing a textbook, for example, or a technical project). But a good agent should be able to help you cross genres.

Now begins the technical QandA. You might want take notes!

Question: Sandy Cathcart: What is a realistic schedule for writing that second book while promoting the first?

This is different for every author, since each person writes at his or her own pace. But if a novelist take seven or eight months to create a novel, that means she will need to block out time in her schedule to market the releasing book as she creates the next one.
By the way, a piece of advice I’m famous for sharing: Good is always better than fast. Your publisher will want books fast, since she is in the business of selling as many books as possible. So she might push you to write a new book every three or four months – and will certainly push you to create a new book every six months, so you have one releasing each selling season. But if you require eight to ten months to craft a good novel, then agreeing to the six-month plan is career suicide. You’ll either miss all your deadlines (and sour the relationship with the publisher) or release bad books (and sour the relationship with the reader). So don’t take the bait. Focus on doing good books, not fast books, and you’ll be happier. Good is always better than fast.

Question: Brenna Lyons notes: I've seen contracts with first right of refusal on future books, but there seems to be some confusion about what rights and responsibilities that entails for the publisher: how long until they have to give an answer on a submission on first right of refusal, if a rejection on one book frees authors from future books being sent to the publisher for consideration, etc. What is the industry standard for a first right of refusal clause? there no standard clause?

There’s not really a “standard” clause (which is why this always gets negotiated), but it’s reasonable to think that your publisher, who has made a huge commitment to your career, can ask for a first look at your next book. It’s possible to negotiate a window of time for that look (say… 90 days). And yes, if you grant your publisher a first look at your next book, once you show her your next book, you have probably fulfilled your contractual obligation. (And let me insert that I’m not a lawyer, so this is not to be taken as legal advice. If you need legal advice, see your attorney.)

Question: Linda Beed : I've been told that you'll never sell your second or third book in NY, if you don't do well on the first. Just how well do you have to do? How many copies sold is considered a success?

Well, I suppose. Once you’ve had a book tank, it’s harder to get a second book. But this is presented as some sort of dopey truism. If you research it, you’ll find plenty of successful novelists who didn’t make a splash with their first novel.

Question: Marcia Laycock adds to the question by asking, Does the second book often pull up sales of the first?

As I said earlier, your second novel will be your most important. No matter what your first book did, you want your second book to do better, to garner more attention, to get your name noticed.

And last, but not least: Linda also asked, Assuming a first book does moderately well, is the advance on future books usually the same, more or less than you got for the first book?

If your first book does moderately well, and you don’t already have your second book contracted, it’s fair to assume the advance on your second book will reflect the sales of your first book. It’s also fair to assume the advance on your second book will reflect the salability of your second story. If your second book is a huge story, you might expect a great advance. If it’s a weenie story… you know.
Hope this helps.
Chip MacGregor

Uh, yeah, I think it helps - a great deal!
My deep thanks and appreciation to Chip for coming on the blog and blinding us with his know how, expertise, and encouragement.

And thank you, gentle reader, for your contributions in the form of questions for Chip, your comments, and your love for fiction that matters.

I bid you good writing.


lynnrush said...

Thank you Bonnie/Chip. Great advice. The questions were good ones and I appreciate the blunt and honest answers.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

On the jumping genres... I've actually enjoyed it when an author I love writes in a new genre. I find sometimes authors get stuck in a rut (same characters, plot, theme, whatever), so starting in a new genre is one way to get out of a rut. For example, I recently noticed that Sigmund Brouwer (who has written historical fiction, Biblical fiction, teen fiction, etc) now has a speculative fiction book out. Because I've read so many of his other books, I'm interested in what he does in this new genre. But--that could be because he's already multi-published and has a good following, and so he can move into another genre and his readers will follow. I suspect that as Chip says, it's different for someone starting out.

Bonnie Grove said...

Lynn, Thanks for the comment. Yep, Chip can be blunt, but his intentions are good. In the end the plain truth helps us most.

Koala, yes, genre jumping seems best left to later in one's writing career, once you are well known and well liked. Sigmund Brouwer has built up years of trust between him and his readers. I hope to be able to do the same with mine! Thanks so much for your comment.

chip said...

Linda asked, "If I write in several genres, will I have to have two separate agents?" and I completely missed answering her question. My apologies. No, if you have a good agent, you shouldn't need two separate agents. That will only confuse your career, in my view. There are times you might need a specialist agent (if you're doing a textbook, for example, or a technical project). But a good agent should be able to help you cross genres. (Bonnie, I'm afraid my answer makes me look dumb. You mind tweaking it in your text? Thanks) Blessings, all. -Chip

Bonnie Grove said...


Thanks for dropping by, Chip, and for catching that wee blip.

And thanks for taking the time to respond to so many questions. We all appreciate it!

Marci said...

great info. Thanks to you both.

Anonymous said...

what perfect timing for Chips' tips re: the second novel. I'm 22,000+ words into my next WIP and will keep them firmly in mind. Thanks loads!!


Latayne said...

I really appreciated what Chip had to say. I am writing my second novel (though it is my 15th book), and it is difficult to keep my enthusiasm level high since my first novel won't come out for several months. Bonnie, did you have a similar situation? How did you keep your focus and confidence without a lot of reader feedback on a previous novel?
--Latayne C Scott

Bonnie Grove said...


Oh my goodness, the whole second novel thing is getting crazy over here. As you know, my friend, my debut novel is coming out summer 2009.
I was deep into the sequel (around 40,000 words) when my editor said, "I think this needs to be a stand alone novel, not a series."

Well, I'm knee deep in all the changes - I'll be blogging about it soon (still need to talk to a few key people and hammer out the details before I can blog about it all)

It just goes to show, everyone's experience is different!

Thanks Latayne!