Path to Publication: The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Second Novel
My second book comes out today!
The first came out this past June—a mere eight months ago. In publishing terms, that length of time could be considered a rounding error. So, given how little time has passed, it’s weird and incredible how different this one feels.
Part of it is: I know what to expect. Everything about the first book was exciting and new. My first review in Publishers Weekly! My first bigoted Amazon review! My first Barnes & Noble signing! My first festival signing for which no one showed up!
The second PW review was pretty sweet (especially since it was more positive). But it wasn’t as sweet as the first. Which I guess is to be expected. In sex and heroin and bungee jumping and now publishing, nothing ever matches the high of the first time. Not that you want to stop chasing it.
So far, with the first book, things have gone pretty well. I got a ton of nice reviews and sold a whole bunch of copies. It got named to a bunch of ‘best of 2015’ lists, including at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The first book earned out its advance and I got a royalty check. The second book is tracking well, and I’m currently signed for the third and the fourth.
I’ve learned a lot of stuff, too. Like: I am not a special snowflake. There are a lot of people out there, working just as hard, or harder. There are a lot of books that get lauded with accolades while I wait for my e-mails to get returned.
And now I'm learning there's a big difference between an author and a debut author. A debut author is shiny and new. You’re a new face, a new voice. There are awards and interviews and websites and lists tailored specifically toward debut authors. Not so much for second-novel authors. Once you get past the first, the shine is off the apple. You’re not the new toy anymore. You’re also not the rugged vet with a reputation for delivering time and again.
People talk about the sophomore slump, and I get a little worried about what that’s going to mean for me. The energy is different this time. More subdued. I hope the readers of New Yorked like it enough to follow me to this one. I hope I’m still shiny enough to attract attention.
That feeling is making me work harder. Essays and guest posts aimed at different demographics, to try and get me in front of new readers. More events, more conferences. Saying yes to everything I can.
In the run-up to the first book, I wrote a column for this site called Path to Publication. I had a lot of fun doing it, so thought I would revisit the theme, to talk a little about what I’ve learned—mistakes, successes, and goals for the future.
Got shy. I did two signings that didn’t go too well: One at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and one at the Staten Island Ferry terminal’s art space. I went home from both with a lot of books. And that’s mostly my own fault. I don’t always do great with pitching myself to strangers. At the ferry terminal, I probably could have sold more books if I’d done a better job of engaging with the hundreds of people who walked past my table. Granted, a lot of them were commuting home and were more concerned about catching a bus or eating dinner, but still. Being a working author means you have a public face. You’re an entertainer. And you have to embrace that, to some degree.
Lost focus. Once you get a little taste of success, you want more success. You want all the success. I’ve got a lot of ideas, for books and comics books and even a play, and my first book came out and I felt like I was king of the world. And instead of bearing down and working on my second book, I got lost in the weeds, thinking about all these other projects I wanted to work on. I’ve got my whole life to do that. Better to focus on what’s in front of me—the books I’m contracted for—and make them the best books I can possibly write. The rest will happen when there’s time.
Said ‘yes’ to too much. My boss at Mysterious Press, Otto Penzler, likes to say that he usually says ‘yes’ to new projects because he’s afraid people will stop asking. I adopted that mentality—and paid for it. There were definitely a few nights where I would look at my to-do list and thought my head might explode.
Said ‘yes’ to too much. That said, I don’t think Otto is wrong. Being busy isn’t so bad. It’s better than the alternative. So while I need to strike a stronger balance (and maybe start bringing my laptop with me on my commute to work), it’s nice to be wanted.
Focused on retail politics. Back when I worked in politics, I would get lent out to the Brooklyn Democrats for campaign work, where the guy in charge would always ask canvassers, when they came back for the night: “Did you talk to three people?” As in: “Did you engage with three people on a meaningful enough level that they might vote for our candidate?” Three isn’t a lot. But add them up over time, and it can be. I spent a lot of time out at parties and events and conferences—and sometimes I didn’t want to. But if I could go to an event and one person there might come out of it wanting to read my book, I would call that a success.
Learned the value of writing like it’s a job. As mentioned previously, I lost focus. And then I buckled down. Your first book, you have your whole life to write. That one is about passion. Once you’ve got a deadline, it turns into a job. As a former journalist, I don’t believe in missing deadlines. But 70,000 words that you feel good about is a lot harder than a 12-inch news article on a fire. I procrastinated a bit. But then I learned my lesson. The work has to get done.
Sell more books. A constant, never-ending goal.
Make my first book my worst book. After New Yorked came out I got wrapped up in the idea that it was the best thing I did and ever would write. It’s my first. There’s something special and personal about that. But I feel like City of Rose is a better book. South Village, which I’m working on now, is better than City of Rose. I hope that at the end of my career, whenever the publishing gods deem it to be, I can look back and find New Yorked is my worst book. The thought of that used to terrify me. Now I embrace it. Because if it’s not true, I didn’t grow.
Be better. Publishing is a tough game, and it’s easy to let anger and bitterness rule. Because even when you feel like you’re on top (a major newspaper names your book one of the best of the year) it’s very easy to get knocked right back down to earth (a whole bunch of other year-end lists don’t). It's easy to get caught up in the genre vs. literary war, and feel like you're getting shunned because your book's main character is a private detective. It’s easy to get jealous about someone else’s success. Like, for example, City on Fire, by some dude from North Carolina, is hailed as the best book written about New York that came out last year. Not mine.
It’s easy to feel like I’ve been snubbed.
It’s harder to look at all this, and realized that I’m young, and I’m at the start of something, and there’s still a long way to go. That I lucked out by finding a publisher who was willing to take a chance and worked his ass off for me, and it paid off. That people read my book, and mostly seemed to like it, or at least everyone made a pact to spare my feelings, and that's still a nice thing.
The glass is half full. I'll keep working my ass off to see if I can fill it the rest of the way. And I'm thankful to have that opportunity.
Now that all that is out of the way, it's time to talk business. You can learn more about City of Rose by listening to the Booked. podcast.
I'm excited to say, too, that I'll be touring for this book! I'm visiting Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You can learn more about that right here on my website. I'll also be writing a column about the tour—a survival guide, and some diary entries from each city. Keep your eyes on the site for that. First entry lands Thursday.
I'm also doing two events in New York City before I hit the road. Here they are:
Tonight – The Mysterious Bookshop
58 Warren Street, 6:30 p.m. This is a joint event with fellow Polis author, Dave White, whose new novel An Empty Hell comes out the same day. More info on Facebook.
Feb. 11 – Staten Island Barnes & Noble
2245 Richmond Avenue, 6:30 p.m. Reading/signing. RSVP on Facebook.
And, finally, you can get the book if you'd like! Either through the Amazon link below, or you can click here to see where else it's available. As I close this out, I wanted to share one final thing: Asking for blurbs is always scary, because you're worried that the person will hate the book, or forgot about it, or whatever.
And the bigger the author, the more nerve-wracking it is. So I was thrilled to get this from one from an author whose work I love (even sweeter is the fact that she's from Portland, where the book is set):
City of Rose has my favorite kind of hero, a tough guy romantic with a smart mouth and a dark past. Terrifically written, and populated with rich characters, this book had me by the throat from page one. —Chelsea Cain, NYT bestselling author of One Kick
There we go. Got questions about the process? Want to weigh in on anything? Fire away in the comments!
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