Editorial Process: Brainstorming Your Next Book
From the very beginning of Swoon Reads, Jean has said that we want to find great authors, not just great books. A Little Something Different, which we all love and adore, is a gem of a novel, but the true find here is Sandy Hall, who has also written the amazing Signs Point to Yes AND her upcoming third novel, Been Here All Along! (Which I’m SOOOOO excited about, you don’t even know!!!!!). So, while we CERTAINLY fangirl over individual books and put a lot of time and effort and love into each and every book we publish, we also really, REALLY look forward to this last step—talking about what the author should publish next!
Note that I didn’t say “work on” or “write next.” I said “publish” next. There’s a reason for that. Writers tend to write. A lot. And authors should probably always be working on some part of the process—whether that’s writing or editing or brainstorming or recharging/looking for inspiration. This especially goes for authors who want to be published in genres like Romance and Young Adult where the reading audience is filled with voracious readers who tend to expect new books to come out at least once a year (although they’d really prefer them to be available immediately if not sooner). In short:
There are a lot of gaps in the publishing process where an author is not actively working on the book we just acquired. For instance, let's say that your manuscript is with your editor and you are waiting on me to get your edit notes back to you. (This could take me a day or a week or it could take me two months. It really depends on how everything else is going around here.) That’s two months that you could spend working on your next novel.
The only exceptions to that are authors who can only work on one project at a time. If you are going to lose the voices of your main characters, DO NOT START WORKING ON SOMETHING ELSE UNTIL WE ARE DONE WITH YOUR EDITS!
Or, if you are working on a direct sequel, it might be worth waiting to start actually writing until we’ve finished editing the first book, as sometimes changes to Book One can cause a ripple effect through later books in the series. Small changes can make big waves. For example, Kate Evangelista, author of No Love Allowed, had already finished (and posted on site!) a rough draft of the sequel featuring Nathan and Preston’s love story. Unfortunately, after going through the editorial process for No Love Allowed, we realized that this second novel was going to need to be VERY different. Fortunately, Kate Evangelista is absolutely fabulous and lovely and was more than willing to replot and revise.
On the other hand, if you have a fairly solid idea of what you want to accomplish in the second book of a series and you tell your editor about it early on, we can work together to make sure that we don’t accidentally mess anything up! So, it’s often very specific to each author and each project.
And sometimes the sequel will come as a surprise. Kimberly Karalius had intended for Love Fortunes and Other Disasters to be a standalone novel, but once we read it, we fell in love with the magical town of Grimbaud and all of the wonderful characters that lived there and we KNEW that it had more stories to share. I talked with Kim about it, and Love Charms and Other Catastrophes was born.
But what if your book truly is a standalone novel? That is FINE. Not every book needs to be a series, and it’s much better to let a story end on a strong note than to try to drag a sequel out of a story that’s really finished. Again, it’s all about moving on to the next idea, and more importantly picking the right idea to focus on next. Because ideas are generally the easy part.
Granted, ideas also tend to be the really fun part, so if you DO find yourself with a dearth of ideas, I will be happy to help with that! But really, the trick with ideas is choosing the right one to play with. My brother is a writer and a game designer, and in growing up with me, we figured out a brainstorming process that we like to call Playing Wall. This generally means that Dillon will lob ideas at me like throwing balls at a wall, and see what comes bouncing back. Did I cringe or flinch enough at that horror story idea? Was I sufficiently intrigued by that mystery concept? And occasionally, I’ll latch on to something and get really enthusiastic and we’ll start bouncing ideas back and forth like we are playing tennis with multiple balls or something… I think my analogy is dying here, but hopefully it’s clear enough to get the meaning across… Anyway, those ideas, the ones that really take off and start flying back and forth are the ones that we know are worth keeping and exploring. Brainstorming is the BEST. I love it a LOT.
And then, once we’ve located the ideas that have legs, the ones that really get everyone excited, we look for the one that feels like your next book. Remember that readers want something that is different, but also the same. They don’t want the exact same story or characters, but if your first book is light and fluffy and fun, then it’s probably not a good idea for your next book to be a horribly sad tearjerker about teens dying of cancer. If you do that, there’s a good chance that fans of your first book will pick up your second book and feel horribly betrayed. Which is not to say that you can’t write both, but you might want to be strategic about the order of publication so that you can build enough loyalty with your fans so that they will make the switch with you. Likewise, if your first book is an epic fantasy, you might want to wait a little bit before publishing your contemporary novel. They tend to appeal to two different audiences and your fan base might not carry over until they trust you a bit more. It’s all about building up trust with your readers and fans and building you as an author.And finally, once we’ve found the right idea and story seed, and possibly gone over a couple of outline drafts (depending on whether the author is a plotter or a pantser, of course), the author goes away to their favorite writing spot and starts writing. Then, a few months later, I get a wonderful email in my inbox with a shiny new manuscript attached and the whole process starts all over again!
And in case you missed the previous entries for this series: