TUMBY BAY – Writing the first book is hard but believe me it’s the second one that is really challenging, especially if the first has been a success.
In that second book you have to live up to the expectations you created with the first one.
Even for talented writers, second books are very seldom better than the first but if they get close enough they have a good chance of success.
Some authors whose first book is successful have trouble mustering the courage to tackle that difficult second one.
Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind, never wrote another book. Neither did Emily Brontë, who wrote Wuthering Heights.
Nothing further was ever forthcoming from Marcel Proust, who wrote In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), but given that his book was 4,215 pages long maybe it was a case of pure exhaustion.
Arthur Golden, who wrote the 1997 bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha, is rumoured to be working on another novel but it has yet to see the light of day.
Usually, when you get to your third book you are home and hosed and can pretty much write about anything you like in any style you choose.
You’re even allowed the odd dud. Readers will be disappointed but they won’t abandon you.
There’s no way of telling how a book will fare. Not even well-established publishers have that gift of divination.
You have to be prepared to be surprised. Despite all your misgivings that difficult book you’re not wholly happy with just might strike a chord with readers.
They might find something in the book that you, as the author, were not aware existed. What you thought you were writing about turns out to be something entirely different.
Despite the accolades that authors heap on their editors and agents in the acknowledgements of their books, deep down there is often an unspoken resentment at the way their creations have been wrestled and melded into a commercial product.
Quite often the editing process is a battle between a publisher’s commercial intent and the author’s need to retain the integrity of what they have written.
By that third book, especially if the first couple of books have been successful, authors are in a much better position to control what is done during the editing process.
This new or restored power over what they write and publish tips the scales back in favour of the creative process, rather than the commercial one.
The onerous and subversive nature of commercial editing is what has pushed many authors into self- publishing. It is where they can control how their book develops and is published.
After my third book I abandoned traditional publishers and adopted the self-publishing route.
Self-publishing is not new. Many famous authors paid to have their books published when they couldn’t find a willing commercial publisher.
Jane Austen’s father paid for the publication of her book Pride and Prejudice. Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and many others paid to have their books published.
Even the prodigious Stephen King opts to self-publish some of his books. His still unfinished serialised thriller, The Plant, describes a vicious vine that terrorises a small publishing house demanding human sacrifices as the price of success. For some authors, the image is apt.
Of course, now digital publishing has taken off, there are lots of writers self-publishing bad books and blithely continuing doing the same, hoping to hit some sort of sweet spot in a kind of scattergun approach.
They are writers who could benefit from a good editor. There are freelance editors available who charge for such a service. In Australia there are editor associations in most states.
Freedom from battles with editors and the tyranny of commercial publishing interests afforded by technology is perhaps the most significant thing to have happened to literature in the last 100 years.
Phil Fitzpatrick’s two most recent books are Black Huntress: Seven Spears, about an Aboriginal girl seeking revenge after a tribal massacre (available here from Amazon), and Inspector Metau: The Case of the Great Pumpkin Heist (available here from Amazon). Phil is currently writing a novel about abandoned children in Australia.