How to — possibly — torpedo one’s own career in epic fantasy.
OK, I told myself I wasn’t going to use the AWESOMA POWAH of being a guestblogger at Whatever to promote myself. And I’m not! Really! But the mandate I got from John was to write about whatever I felt like writing about, and, well, if there’s one thing pro writers like to write about, it’s angst over The State of The Career. So.
The title of this post is an hyperbole. As n00b fantasy writers go, I’m doing pretty well — my sales are decent, I’ve gotten great reviews from all the major sites, and best of all, no one has come at me with a broken bottle at a convention or reading! (Seriously, ya’ll, I had a nightmare about that once.) But since book 2 of my Inheritance Trilogy* is going to be coming out in a couple of months, I’ve reached a new milestone in my development as a Jane Schmoe Neopro (gender-switching Tobias Buckell’s term, which he used for a great series of articles on being a new published writer). Namely, I’m having Secondbookophobia.
Secondbookophobia occurs when you’re a new author whose second book is about to come out. And of course, having heard all about the dreaded Second Book Syndrome — in which an author’s sophomore outing suffers from the pressure of deadlines and/or the need to save the best stuff for the third book of a trilogy — I’m terrified. Not because I think my second book falls prey to SBS; far from it. Beyond the fact that I worked my butt off to make it good, the Inheritance Trilogy isn’t one story; it’s actually three. Each book has a different protagonist, and each is pretty much complete in itself. The plot of book 2 has been firmly lodged in my head for years; I had plenty of time to write it. So the structure of the trilogy itself works in my favor here.
But this series structure, already a bit unusual for epic fantasy, is part of why I’m anxious, because I’m actually doing something more. See, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, book 1, was firmly epic fantasy. I’ve seen some readers quibble about this because it didn’t involve a quest, didn’t include a map, and didn’t have a male protagonist (seriously). But regardless of whether I followed the conventions of the genre, I designed the series to quite literally emulate an epic, modeling its cosmology after the operatic (and soap operatic) shenanigans of the Egyptian pantheon, the legendary bromance of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and so on. However, book 2 of the trilogy — while still sticking to the epic framework in most respects — is also very much an urban fantasy. It’s not just about the characters, but also about the city in which most of the story takes place.
In other words, I’m kinda… changing genres in the middle of a trilogy. Everybody freak out!
…Okay, gratuitous disco, sorry, couldn’t help myself. I’m having a moment, okay?
Here’s the thing. New authors are supposed to try and build an audience as soon as humanly possible, because it’s a lot easier to sell books when you’re a known than as an unknown, obviously. This is one reason why so many debut authors come out of the gate with trilogies — because a trilogy is a great way to build a new author’s audience quickly. Most trilogies are a single story stretched over three books, which makes it easy to hook the readers with the first book, as the conventional wisdom goes, keep them dangling with the second, and reel them in with the finale. But my Inheritance Trilogy is essentially three standalone books, so I’m trying to hook/dangle people without the aid of unresolved plot drama. And by changing genres midstream, it’s a given: I’m going to lose some readers. Will I gain enough new ones to make up the difference? I don’t know. But now you know the reason for my Secondbookophobia.
There’s no solution for this but to wait and see, of course. Book 3 is done and turned in, and I’m actually hard at work on a new project — more on this later — so I’m not exactly sitting around crying into my pear cider** about it. Just thought you guys might appreciate seeing what goes through the mind of a pro writer at times like this.
In the meantime — because okay, maybe I’ll do a leeeeetle promotion, just this once — I’ve posted the first chapter of The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy book 2) over at my website, for those who’d like to check it out. (Chapters 2 and 3 will be posted later.) And maybe you might want to preorder it. Or check out the first book, if you missed it, which just came out in audiobook format today. Or, y’know, something.
* Yes, yes, I know it’s the same name as Paolini’s once-trilogy-now-Cycle. No, really, no one’s ever pointed that out to me before. There are neither dragons nor farmboys in mine.
**I’m not usually one for product placement, but I tried one of these for the first time a few days ago, and it was magnificent. Light, crisp, and aromatic; highly recommended.