The Second Time Around

This week the Debs are talking about what’s ahead–second books. 


A few days ago I wrote the last word on the first draft of a book called THE SECRET CHEF, about Bartolomeo Scappi, the cuoco segreto (literally secret chef but meaning private chef) to several Renaissance cardinals and a few Popes. It’s a different era than FEAST OF SORROW, which is set in ancient Rome, so it meant that I had a lot of research to do before I could start writing. I didn’t just whip this out of my hat and effortlessly breeze through it as soon as FEAST was published. I began the research years ago, when I had finished the drafts of FEAST and was looking for an agent. As a test, I wrote the first chapter of the second book in the fall of 2012.

Ouch. That was five years ago. To be fair, it didn’t take me five years to write it. I was sidetracked regularly by work I needed to do on FEAST. I also continued researching the Renaissance including translating a book on Scappi that was written entirely in Italian and has no English translation. It was a crucial text for me and it was worth the struggle to understand the details. The other crucial thing to keep in mind is that I have a day job which relegates me to writing only in the evenings (hard after I’ve been working all day) or on the weekends. So it means the time and energy that I have to write is truncated. I’m also someone who needs deadlines. If I don’t have any it is far too easy for me to fritter away my time in less important activities (I have a penchant for video games).

When I began working on THE SECRET CHEF a little more earnestly it was 2015. I wrote the first nine chapters in 2015, chapters 12-21 in 2016 and 22-27 in June/July of 2017. For the last few months I’ve also been revising the first twelve chapters over and over so we can pitch it back to my publisher. I want the core of the manuscript to be solid and ready, not just a vague idea that I’m going to feel rushed/panicked to complete, which is what I’m seeing in a lot of my fellow debut authors who already have second book contracts without a written book in hand. I also learned that if you pitch a second book before your first book is out that your advances will be the same–if there is some success under your belt, then you have a shot at a bit more cash than you might have had with the first book.

I’ve been between day jobs for the last couple months which has turned out to be an incredible opportunity. I was able to promote FEAST OF SORROW, which was a lot more time and work than I anticipated, but I was also able to spend true dedicated time on working on the second book. I have kept a good schedule, meeting regularly at a local cafe with my writing partner, Anjali Mitter Duva. Wow, what a difference it makes to be able to be truly dedicated to writing! I estimate that when I have that kind of time, I can write, on average, a chapter every 1-3 days. So if I have my research mostly done and I have my book well plotted I could, in theory, churn out a draft every three to four months. Research and editing time is a completely different story, but it gives me hope for my viability as a future career writer. It means a book a year is not impossible. I estimate that with a day job that time is more likely to be every 2-3 years but if I’m staggering how I manage the writing I may be able to get into a schedule of a new book one year, paperback the following year, next book in the third year with that paperback in the fourth. We’ll see!

There are a few things I’ve learned about working on book 2:

  1. It’s easier than the first book. I feel like I sort of know what I’m doing. I have a better sense of how to plot, how to manage tension, what types of things to watch for when self-editing. I’m keeping track of ages and character visuals better. I’m aware of chapter transitions. And it just feels easier all around.
  2. When you are inbetween edits, or waiting for more details from your editor about the first book, be working on book two. And rinse and repeat. I’m beginning research and planning now for book 3, even though I’m still actively editing book 2. Use your time wisely, don’t rest too much on your laurels.
  3. Scheduling writing time is very helpful. And adhere to it. Ass in chair is the only way that book is going to be written.
  4. Don’t compare yourself with your fellow writers. This industry is so weird and confusing–their experience is not going to be anything like yours. They may have a great second contract but an impossible deadline to write their next book. Advances are all over the place and probably more so for book two. Their process for writing is going to be different. Their relationships with their editors and publishers are different. Comparing oneself is not worth the emotional energy.
  5. If you think your audience may differ a bit from book to book make sure you are adjusting your strategies for follower acquisition in social channels. For example, I share information and talk about topics that may appeal to both the ancient Rome audience but also those more interested in the Renaissance era.

But I think the best part about writing book two is just that. I’ve written another freaking book! How cool is that? I can barely still believe I wrote one, much less two!

 This post was originally shared on the GrubStreet blog
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Crystal King is a writer, culinary enthusiast and social media expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and an obsession with the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught writing, creativity and social media at Grub Street and several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University. Crystal received her masters in critical and creative thinking from University of Massachusetts Boston. She lives with her husband and their two cats in the Boston area.

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