Lessons From Book Two
Book two kicked my ass. I would like to say instead that writing my sophomore thriller proved more challenging than I’d expected. Or that it provided a growth opportunity. Or that finishing it made me feel really and truly like an author. But while all of those things are true, they don’t go nearly far enough.
Book two was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my professional career, as an author or otherwise. Far worse than getting my first one-star review. Worse than releasing into a pandemic and seeing events canceled and sales stalled. Worse even than that time in my mid-20s when I was a rookie journalist and had to report on an armed standoff. (You can imagine how receptive they were to my questions.) While I admit that last one, especially, made me anxious, nothing will test an author quite like an editor telling her to throw out the whole book and try again. (Yeah, that happened. And yeah, he was right.)
A little backstory: In October
2018, I sold my debut, No Bad Deed, in a two-book deal. Since it sold quickly, I had only the seed of an idea for what would come next. Still, as someone who had never missed a deadline, I managed to finish a draft with days to spare. The problem was that it wasn’t a very good draft.
So, my deadline was extended, and I rewrote book two—and by rewrote it, I mean I threw out 80 percent of it. The biggest change: my dual POV became a single POV. When I finally typed “the end,” I was able to sleep for the first time in months. I had done it. I had written what felt like a completely different book. Go, me!
That completely different book was the one my editor disliked.
I admit it—I wallowed. I may have ugly-cried. Mired in self-doubt, I was unable to write for weeks. But then I put together a power anthems playlist and started again. (Hey, who needs sleep, right?)
This time, I threw out 99 percent of the book. New setting. New secondary characters. Completely new plot. The only thing I kept was the core of the story that had originally compelled me to write it—the relationship between sisters Frankie and Izzy. If you’re keeping count, that means my book two was actually more like books two, three, and four. All while working a demanding day job. Hence the way I started this whole thing.
When I began writing this, I wasn’t sure how candid I wanted to be. As an author, it’s easier to share the celebratory stuff. Being a writer is hard, so of course we want to— need to—revel in the wins. But as challenging as this experience was, I consider it just as much of a victory as signing that book deal or seeing my cover for the first time. Yes, book two kicked my ass, but I feel like maybe I got in a few kicks, too. I’m proud of my follow-up thriller, Blood Will Tell, and my third book was a breeze to write in comparison. As painful as the process was, I learned what works for me—and also what doesn’t.
When first submitting book two, I thought the worst that could happen was that my editor wouldn’t like it. When that actually happened, I discovered I was wrong. The worst thing that can happen for a writer is to stop writing. WD
Heather Chavez is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley’s English literature program and has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, contributor to mystery and television blogs and in communications for a major health care organization. She lives with her family and two cat overlords in Santa Rosa, Calif.