Gail Shepherd on Balancing Writing Time As A Published Author

Welcome to the SNOB (Second Novel Ominipresent Blues). Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?


Today's guest for the SNOB is Gail Shepherd who received her creative M.A. from the University of Florida in poetry. She has collaborated on radio plays, written comic serial magazine stories, and published her own biweekly indie newspaper. She currently works in the K-12 education industry, supporting teachers and schools with training and technology. She is a fourth generation Floridian on her mother’s side, and she lives in South Florida now with her little family, two dogs, and an awful lot of mosquitoes. The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins is her debut novel.

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

Actually, not so much. Most debut novels go through multiple developmental revisions (I did three full revisions with my agent and three with my editor), and once the developmental revisions are done, there are several rounds of copy edits and smaller line edits on the pass pages. By the time you’re through with that process, you are pretty much sick of reading the book (or writing it). I do find that I think about the first book a lot—but in a quite different way. I ponder on how I might talk about it to a bunch of 12-year-olds in a classroom, or to an audience of other writers, or how I might use elements from it as an example in a writing workshop. I think about my process, about notes for teachers who may be presenting the novel in class, and about sideline material that I’d like to offer readers to help them go deeper.

My middle-grad debut, The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, is about a girl obsessed with history and also with discovering the truth. I find myself now reading books like Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, and thinking about how a history class might look at Lyndie’s quest to find out the truth about her family and her town’s history. In that way, Lyndie is still very much alive for me.

But also: How incredibly refreshing it was to turn to my next book! My new main character is very different from Lyndie. I really love the process of discovering her.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

Boy, that’s a really tough question. As a member of two debut groups, I find that a lot of time is going into pre-promotion. You’ve got to get your website up, your business cards done, your swag, your video. You’ve got to organize any author appearances and plan your launch. And you try to do a lot to promote your fellow debut authors, as well as keep up with prior commitments to critique partners. At the same time, your publisher has ongoing requests for you. I’ve also signed up for some sideline gigs, for example, I joined the staff of From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog, so all those extras tend to pile up. I now have to keep a really, really detailed calendar or I’ll blow my commitments.

Ideally, you would have started the second book while drumming your fingers waiting for the first book to make the rounds, go through edits, etc. It didn’t work out that way for me. I had two other books partially or fully done, but my editor and I decided to go in another direction for book 2, so I was starting from scratch with less than a year until I was supposed to deliver the second manuscript. To ensure that I kept working on book 2, I signed up for an intensive six-month online class that will keep my nose to the grindstone, and, I hope, help me deliver that second manuscript on time.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

That’s complicated. You can never write entirely “for yourself.” What you do, ideally, is filter your own unique sensibility through the lens of the marketplace. Right now, I’m interested in historical fiction with a southern voice. But I have to consider how my 11- or 12-year-old readers will relate to my historical character, how many similar books are being published, what makes my book different from those, and the many questions that will come from my editor, Kathy Dawson, who is brilliant at finding the kernel of your best story and helping you flesh it out.

I find that I also struggle a bit with the social and cultural considerations that are very much part of the current conversations in kidlit. I know want to write characters of color and diverse backgrounds, I’m deeply drawn to these characters, or to any characters who are underdogs of some sort, but I’m hyper-aware of the pitfalls of doing so as a privileged white middle class author. So there are a lot of forces that act on a novel, from within and without.

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

Absolutely, and I don’t think I have a handle on this yet. I’m a bit of a procrastinator, so any shiny thing that can grab my attention away from the hard work of writing exerts a tremendous draw. I have to fight this tendency to go chasing after something that feels easier than sitting my butt in the chair and plotting out my 300 page novel, or writing a thousand words, or struggling through a stuck point, every day.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

Well, I’m not technically published yet, and won’t be until March 26, 2019, although The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, is already up for pre-sale. And I’m still just baby steps into a “second time around.” I find the business of writing pretty fascinating, so I’m lucky that the promotion and planning doesn’t feel like a drain.

I think if I’m honest, as a published author, I’m going to have to commit to and prioritize my writing time, every single day, even if I’m doing no more than just thinking about the next book and making notes. I can tell you that at certain points during writing my first book I was breaking down in tears, because I found it so, so hard. And then at other times, I was vibrating with pleasure. I do love the process of learning to write, and I will never stop pursuing getting better at it. But there are times that writing a book just doesn’t feel good. And as a human being, I’m pain avoidant. So the sooner and more firmly I can get into a daily writing groove, on book after book, the better off I’ll be.