Last week I finally delivered The Traitor Queen to Orbit, after having polished and tweaked the book for a month, farmed it out to my agent and a few trusted friends to read, then fixed the errors they found.
What next? Well, the release month is August next year and a whole lot has to happen between then and now. There are three rounds of editing and proofing for me, and obviously there’s all the design, printing, shipping, marketing, etc. In the meantime, between those editing rounds, I’m having a well-earned rest. After many, many years of writing, I’m having some issues with repetitive strain injury in my right hand, so it’ll be good to get away from the computer for a while. In February I’ll start writing Maker’s Magic, the first book in the Millenium’s Rule trilogy. I can forget all about The Traitor Queen until the release date is closer.
Well, I can try…
Occasionally someone asks me if I still get nervous when a book comes out. The answer is: yes. Every single time. Because…
Your first book:
The release of my first book was terrifying. I went to the doctor a few weeks before, worried that I had something wrong with my heart or a tumour in my brain. Turned out those disturbing episodes where my brain would freeze and my heart would lurch and then race were panic attacks. I thought panic attacks were moments when you just, well, panicked. Not that they felt like some sort of mini siezure.
It’s rather obvious that your first book’s release is going to be scary. Until then, only friends, family, your agent and publisher think your work is great, and deep down you’re worried that they’re wrong. Or lying. You think that, if this book crashes and burns nobody is going to want to publish or read a book of yours again. Ever.
The second book:
So the first book was successful, but will you be able to follow it up with something as good? Or better? Sales for second books tend to be lower than a first book, because no matter how terrific most people thought that first book was, some people will dislike it and won’t buy the next one. First books in a series tend to attract attention with new ideas, last books are about exciting climaxes, but middle books are usually about development and that often isn’t quite as exciting. However, I suspect fantasy readers are used to that middle book dip (also known as ‘second book syndrome’) and will go on to buy…
The third or last book:
Which is when people will decide what they think of the entire series. Some people will love every single word up until the climax, then decide that the entire story and you personally are evil incarnate just because they didn’t like the ending. Also, it’s not so good if you put all your ideas and grand scenes in the earlier books, then have nothing left for the last book. The last book ought to end with a bang, and answer some big questions. But if you do produce a thrilling third book, that leads to a problem with overly high expectations for the next series.
The first book of the next series:
The greater the success of the first series, the higher the expectations are for the next one. Readers will start to see the entire first series as one book, which means they expect the first book of your new series to surpass the last book of your previous series. But you still need the last book in your new series to be more amazing than the first. If you manage this, you have the same problem with the next series. Can you see where I’m going here? There’s going to be a point where you have to ask the reader to trust you, when you start a series at a simmer rather than a rapid boil so you don’t boil the pan dry by the end.
Then there’s setting. Even if you set the new series in the same world, you’ll probably be taking the story in a new direction. You can’t get around this by writing the same sort of thing again, because people will start criticising you for writing the same story over and over. But if you do something new with it, some people aren’t going to like it as much as the first series. They enjoyed the first experience and want to repeat it over and over.
If you set the new series in a new world, you’ll encounter fans of the first series who simply won’t read the new books. They’re fans of the characters and world of that first series, not fans of you and your writing. Then, on top of that, the readers who tried the books set in your first world and didn’t like it won’t try those in your new world, even though it may be something more to their taste. It can feel like you’re losing readers left, right and centre. Fortunately, this is countered by the fact that some readers will discover your second series first and love it.
Second and third book of the second series.
Along with the problems of comparison to previous series, there’s the same old middle book dip and like/dislike decision about the whole series on the release of the last book. There’s also a slowly shrinking pool of plot options – the need to avoiding repeating yourself means that, for example, if you have a Romeo and Juliet style romance in one book you’ve effectively ‘used it up’ when it comes to relationship scenarios in future books. (I’ve been worrying about being typecast as ‘the author who kills lead characters’ since the Black Magician Trilogy.) You can try to write of a different sort of character from a different culture/time in a similar situation to an earlier character to show contrast (as I did with Tessia from The Magician’s Apprentice) but some people will still see this as repeating yourself.
The stand-alone book
If it doesn’t relate to an earlier series, some people won’t read it. If it relates to an earlier series but doesn’t involve the same characters, readers who fit the ‘fans of the characters and world, not fans of you’ category won’t read it. Some people won’t read it simply because they prefer series. On the other hand, you may attract a few new readers who don’t like reading series.
And on and on…
You can probably see that there are always reasons to worry about the release of a book. But there’s an extra one that becomes more relevant the more books you’ve written: the worry that readers are getting tired of you and the sort of book you write. There are trends in the book reading world. They swing slow and wide, and can wipe out entire genres for decades – which may return in an almost unrecognisable form (like horror and paranormal romance).
So yes, I never stop worrying when a book is released. But it does help to remember that you can’t please everyone all of the time. I’ve found that, as long as I’m finding what I do fresh and fun, most readers will too. Hopefully we’ll both keep enjoying my stories for many years to come.