The Big Idea is back on for 2014, and to get things started, author Lissa Price is here to talk about how reader feedback matters. This is especially important when you’re looking at trepidation at that second book you have to write — in this case, Price’s new book, Enders.
The inspiration for my first book began, of all places, at Costco and was a Big Idea story in 2012. To refresh your memory, Starters is a science fiction thriller set in a future LA where desperate teens rent out their bodies to seniors so they can be young again temporarily. Though I wrote it for the young adult audience, about half of my readers are adults.
We sold Starters and Enders as a two-book series to Random House based on a completed manuscript for the first book. All I submitted for book two was an admittedly vague, short paragraph, which is not uncommon. The dirty little secret that no one told me is that daily promo and publicity is pretty much mandatory for a YA author – Twitter, Tumblr, blogging. And then touring, conference panels, school visits, library events, contests and making swag all fill precious hours. It’s easy to get swept up in promo as you see it directly impact your following and also raise your sales numbers.
And, I actually like doing most of this. Interacting with young fans is one of the most rewarding parts of this job. While I was writing this post, I got Tweets from all over the world. A fan in the Philippines pleaded with me to tour, a reader in the US was excited over seeing the mall posters of my books, and several Brazilian fans promised to die if they couldn’t have Enders now. And then there was this one:
Who wouldn’t get high over being called “my queen?”
But there’s little danger of getting an inflated ego. Because at the same time you’re doing all this promotion, often late into the night due to world time zones, you’re also expected to write that second book.
Oh yes, the second book.
I had serious Sequel Pressure. Would book two live up to what the readers responded to in book one? They now knew the high concept established in book one, so the sparkle of that had faded. The big twist, the one that made readers gasp, could I repeat that in some new form or would it seem forced? In other words, had I painted myself into a big, fat corner?
Before this, all I had to worry about was whether an agent would like my manuscript. Since I signed my contract, I had been hearing stories from fellow debuts of publishers rejecting second books. Meanwhile, Borders had closed, creating a new, narrower landscape. Was this time for a meltdown? I thought about my protagonist Callie, wishing I had her courage, when I remembered, oh, yeah, I invented her. I had a Big Idea as I finished Starters for a huge twist for Enders. A major reversal. It would have to be revealed near the end of the book. But could I pull it off? It shouldn’t be anticipated or come off as a cheap trick. Maybe I should see what my editor thinks. Maybe I should volunteer to submit an outline. If she doesn’t choke at the surprise reveal, then maybe I could make it work. I submitted it and held my creative breath. My editor had two small notes, but – surprisingly — was on board with this plan.
So when I sat down to write it, I looked to the characters. Callie had a history now and readers around the globe knew it. I had to be true to her or be called on it in the languages of thirty different countries. As I heard more from these fans, something I hadn’t anticipated happened. I began to understand how an author’s work is no longer theirs – that it takes on a life of its own, the way your dog or baby is recognized and called by name by people who don’t even know you.
From an email from a German reader:
You can feel with Callie, it is like this would just happen to you. I can imagine the dirty, dark city and the huge Body Bank, Blake’s Ranch….
And once I understood that the story is bigger than me, that it belonged to the readers who have embraced it, pulling it into their imaginations, even picturing themselves as Callie as she hears voices in her head, I got a renewed inspiration for how I would write this second book. It was no longer about me and my ego – I needed to get out of the way of the story. If I rode that train, I could let myself enter the world that already existed.
My mantra became: follow the process. Stay true to Callie and Michael and that new character, Hyden. Set aside reader expectations and my own. Remember the theme: no one is who they appear to be. Put one foot in front of the other, one page, one scene, one chapter, one finished novel.
Enders published in Europe first. Some American fans did not take the news of the US delay well.
Seriuously 1/7/14???!!!! That makes just about two years since the first one was released!!!! No one is even going to remember Starters by the time Enders comes out!!! I’m officially done with this author and this series if you keep pushing back the release date. You are ruining your chances of having the series be a sucess by stalling the release date. I was JUST starting to accept that it wouldn’t come out till June or July but January of next year???!!!! N.O.!!!!
But to my relief, the European readers and the bloggers were on board. Book two flipped the reader’s perception of what they believed to be true in the first book, and yet they didn’t hate me.
And many want me to continue the two-book series:
A third book? I might be doing this all over again.
Almost two years after Starters came out, Enders publishes today, in the U.S.