Monday, September 19, 2011

Fear, Loathing and Joy: Writing a Second Book

The latest guest blogger in my "second book" series is Ellen Jensen Abbott. She discusses the special challenges of writing a sequel.

There’s a lot said about fear and loathing and the Second Book. Writers are notoriously insecure, but the Second Book takes all the normal writerly fears and magnifies them. If your first book did well, you may fear that your next one will be a flop, proving that you are indeed the hack you always secretly believed you were. If your first book didn’t do well, you may fear that the Second Book is your final chance at a writing career.

Or, maybe it’s the reviews that keep you up at night. You’ve been through publication once, and you know that everyone gets a least one bad review. You also know that it’s easy to take all your reviews to heart, especially the bad ones.

Like any author, you fear that no one will read your book. Since I was writing a sequel, readership held special terror for me. My audience for my first book, Watersmeet, was every kid in the English speaking world from the ages of 12 to 99—and some much younger, as kids tend to read up. But what about the Second Book, The Centaur’s Daughter? Is my audience only those who read the first? Does that mean that I am selling to thousands now, whereas before I was selling to millions? I wrote The Centaur’s Daughter so that you didn’t have to read Watersmeet to understand it, but Second Book fears are only vaguely rational, and this has been little comfort.

In writing The Centaur’s Daughter, I found that there are plenty of joys with the Second Book, even if they don’t get the attention the loathing does. If nothing else, you got a second contract. You are not a one-shot wonder! (You can start worrying about being a two-shot wonder when you start the Third Book.) In fact, several acquaintances, on hearing that I was publishing a Second Book, have said to me, “Wow! You’re a real author now.” (Which is funny because they said something very similar when I’d announced that I was publishing my first book.)

I also enjoyed launching myself into the Second Book knowing that I was capable of writing a full-length novel. I’d done it before! With the first book, it took a long time for me to even say out loud that I was writing a novel. Loads and loads of people start them, but was I going to be one of those who finished one? Now I know I can.

With the Second Book, I also had the joys of a deadline. Very, very few people sell their first book without writing the whole thing first. At least in the world of fiction. But I sold The Centaur’s Daughter based on a synopsis, sample chapters, and the success of Watersmeet. It was a different experience to write a book knowing that someone was waiting for it. It was no longer just about disappointing myself—and those people I had confessed myself as a writer to. There was money on the line. Nothing like a little cash to light a fire on those days you just can’t bring yourself to turn on your computer. I enjoyed the sense of purpose this gave me.

Probably more important than cash was the knowledge that someone out there wanted the book. My editor and my publisher, yes. More motivating were the e-mails, facebook posts and blog posts from readers telling me that they enjoyed Watersmeet and they were excited to read The Centaur’s Daughter. On days when neither my own motivation nor the contract could get me going, those readers could.

Even the fact that The Centaur’s Daughter was a sequel brought joy. I struggled with how much back-story to include, but I also got to return to characters and a world I knew and loved. Both surprised me. I found new reserves of strength in my main character, Abisina, as well as new stores of empathy. Her best friend, Haret the dwarf, had to face again a demon I had thought he conquered. Findlay, the love interest from Watersmeet, had much more scope for his sense of humor, and two other characters (who will remain nameless!) fell in love. I hadn’t seen that coming!


I got to go places in the world of Seldara that I hadn’t been in before—even though I had created it. The Motherland, home of the fairies, became a three-dimensional place with strange dwellings and wild ritual. Abisina stumbled upon the Chasm of Couldin, a place she had never heard of. Even Haret (and the author of the book) had only heard rumors about it! There were interesting challenges—such as when I wanted to move the entire Obrun Mountain range. There it was on the map for Watersmeet, so I had to invent a new plot twist to get my characters where they needed to go.

All of these discoveries gave me the chance to marvel at the human brain. I had planted seeds in Watersmeet that I didn’t even know were there. And then, just when I needed something good in The Centaur’s Daughter, I would find them and realize those seeds had grown into just what I needed. It boggles the mind.

So back in June, when The Centaur’s Daughter had already gone to the printer, I took the next step, and started … the Third Book. First chapters and synopsis are with my editor right now. What will I discover in this process? What new characters will walk into my pages? What new qualities will my heroine and hero develop? What new frustrations await me?

I sure hope I get the chance to find out….even if it means once again, facing all those fears.

Ellen Jensen Abbott, author of Watersmeet (Marshall Cavendish, 2009) and The Centaur's Daughter (Marshall Cavendish, September, 2011) can be found online at


  1. If I could figure out where those ideas spring from, I'd market that information. It is pretty mind-boggling, isn't it?

    Keep writing.

  2. Interesting post! I'm nowhere near writing a second book--but I hadn't thought about those aspects to writing one before.

  3. Lee: Sometimes it's frustrating that there's no formula. And sometimes it's kind of nice, isn't it?

    Eagle: Personally I'm glad I'm not writing a sequel myself, but maybe someday. It seems more difficult than writing a stand-alone.

  4. Cheers, Ellen! What a wonderful post. Wishing you everything wonderful with The Centaur's Daughter.

    Thanks for this, Jenn. By the way, I'm reading The Secret Year (finally). What a great novel! Loving it. : )

  5. Thank you, Cynthia! I appreciate it. :-)