The Big Idea: Lissa Price
Posted on January 7, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 17 Comments
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:
Agatha Reis @AgathaReiis_13m Keep calm and wait for Enders.@Lissa_Price, my queen.
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.
Whats Hatnin’ ♛ @szunditomi 18h @Lissa_Price Not in english. In Hungarian. I’ve just finished the book and I absolutely loved the whole story !! #Enders
Cassie Holmes @kueckibooks 30 Dec #starters and #enders are such amazing books, one of the best bookseries I’ve ever read! Great Job @Lissa_Price! Hope to read more from you!
Katie Johnson @LittleParawhore 8h @VickyJackson @Lissa_Price This is the sequel to the book ‘Starters’ it’s a dystopian thriller! Vicky it’s A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!!!
And many want me to continue the two-book series:
Jayne (Book Blogger) @Read_Draw_Dream 2 Jan @Lissa_Price If you write a third book I will buy you a PUPPY. I need a third book:)
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.
Enders: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. See the trailer. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.
Hi Lissa, This is a fantastic piece. As someone who teaches writing productivity, I can say you absolutely nailed this exciting but difficult phase in a writer’s career. FYI, second novel problems (inc. “second novel syndrome,” where one doesn’t even complete the book) is an example of what I call “situational perfectionism.” http://www.hillaryrettig.com/2013/01/18/this-is-called-situational-perfectionism/
In 7 Secrets of the Prolific I quote an interview with J.K. Rowling who said that the only time she had trouble writing was after the publication of HP I, with all the resultant attention. So you’re in good company!
You even get the nuances right–including the dangers of even positive labels (“queen”). And you are 100% right that the solution is to focus on process.
Writers can also learn to develop what I call “compound vision” where they can focus on multiple things at once without letting those things compromise each other: e.g., the passage you’re writing itself (Anne Lamott’s “1 inch picture frame”), the larger story, the audience and external reward you want for this piece, and your larger career goals. You demonstrate this very well.
I missed the big idea about Starters when it ran but I notice the kindle edition is marked down to $3 right now. Purchased!
Good- I enjoyed STARTERS, and will re-read it to jump-start ENDERS.
Yes, $2.99 to be exact is the temporary Kindle Deal! Thank you so much for noticing and for the support!
Also, I am very grateful. When I read John was sick I thought no way would this publish today. Thank you, John, and feel better.
If these books are written half as compellingly as this essay, I’m doomed not to sleep once I start them, aren’t I?
(Also, that cover — and that premise — is creepy as fuck. I might not sleep after I’m finished either.)
And if you get the kindle book of Starters, you can get the whispersync audible version also for a very good price. An great way to read or listen to her excellent first novel.
You will then buy Enders, is what I am predicting.
I meant to buy Starters when I first read it here…not sure what happened. I think my “Reading pile that stretches beyond my life expectancy, plus my yarn stash (I knit and crochet) that also stretches beyond my life expectancy may have had something to do with it. I just now bought Starters on Nook –same sale price as Kindle. I am pretty sure I’ll be downloading Enders right after I’m done…or maybe I’ll get them on audible if availble, so I can knit and read at the same time –I like multi-tasking!
First book was pretty good from my perspective as a more-or-less middle-aged guy. I know several teenage girls (14 or so at that time) who were absolutely obsessed with it and nearly keeled over each time the publication date for the second book was pushed back. I’m sure they’ll be happy that it has finally come out!
It seems like you’ve struck a good (if not hectic) balance between writer and self-promotionist…curse those world time zones! Best of luck with ENDERS, it sounds like a winner.
Out of curiosity, why was Enders published later in the US than elsewhere?
Also $2.99 at the Apple iBook store. Downloaded just now, to add to my digital pile of ‘books to be read’, which is getting as big as my physical pile…
mgwa, buy me a drink at a con sometime, and ask me then.
Did not buy Enders (yet) …. just bought Starters though. Sounds like a cool series. Thanks for taking the time to write a Big Idea piece.
Lissa – wish I could, no money or time for cons :(
It’s that second book that’s the killer :) We spend so much time trying to get the first book in the hands of someone who will champion it, time we often have in abundance (since a first work can go through hours and hours of edits if you’re not careful to move forward). That second book comes with a deadline (these days a year seems to be standard for the first draft?) and a whole set of expectations from yourself, the fans of your first book, your agent, your editor. It’s insane, and it’s a wonder more first-time authors don’t trip and fall.
The somewhat over-indulged sci-fi part of my brain pleasantly surprised by Starters (which doesn’t happen too often anymore) and the bits and bobs I am hearing about Enders has me on the pre-order list. Good work (and here’s hoping you revisit the universe sometime :)
I loved both books. I read starter and waited for enders to come out once it did I read starters again to refresh my brain with it. I loved both books. I hope you make a third book. (=