Kristen Lippert-Martin Talks Second Novels

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 is Kristen Lippert-Martin. Kristen is a mom of four, a practicing geek, a holder of many opinions. She earned her MFA from Columbia University. Her debut YA thriller, Tabula Rasa (EgmontUSA), is about a girl whose memory is forcibly stripped from her and so naturally she must kick everyone’s butt in retaliation. She lives with her husband and merry band of misfits in Arlington, VA.

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

Yes and no. My debut was bought as a stand-alone, and I wouldn’t say that I didn’t think about a sequel at all while writing it, but there was no guarantee there’d be one, so my true “second book”—the one I wrote while editing/revising/etc. my debut—was totally unrelated. Writing it was kind of refreshing, actually.

Then, about three months before TABULA RASA came out, my publisher expressed interest in seeing a sequel proposal. So I put one together, and wow, was it hard after taking such a long break from the story to get back into my characters’ heads again. I believe the expression I’m looking for to express this level of difficulty is, “Like, whoa.”

I think if I’d written the sequel directly after writing the first book, it would have been very different. Hard to know, of course, but ultimately, I’m glad I had the break because my thinking about the characters and the story evolved in a very good way.

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

Most times, books and their sequels come out about a year apart, but because of the way things worked out for me, I was drafting the sequel right when my debut published. Oy. Not so fun. The weeks leading up to and after my book came out, I felt like I was failing at everything. I either wasn’t doing enough to promote my debut or I wasn’t putting in the time to write the sequel.

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

Them! Me! Everyone! I thought a lot about what people are looking for in a sequel—what I want from a sequel, whether it’s a book or a movie—and basically we want the same thing only different. So I want to give readers the same reading experience they got from TABULA. The sequel will be just as pacy and full of twists and turns, but it’s not going over the same ground as before. There are new problems, new characters, and different stakes. So, yeah, it’s the same thing only different.

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

Here’s the thing, I’ve got four kids, so I’ve been struggling with this whole balance issue for a long time. I like to believe I have mad time management skillz but even so—even considering the fact that I’ve been juggling flaming chainsaws for years—it’s been really hard.

All the time people say, “Oh, I wish I had more time to write!” But it’s not really more time that you need, it’s focus. When you’re truly focused on your story, you can write anywhere, anytime. You can write whole novels in 20 minute increments. I know because that’s what I did in order to get published in the first place. But the distractions that come with being a published author are so different and so varied. And don’t even get me going on the extra layer of anxiety that’s introduced into your life when a little thing known as “expectations” lands on your shoulders. Whoa, boy. More than once in the last few months, I’ve found myself longing for the peace of toiling in obscurity, when all I had to contend with is four kids and their need for food and clean clothes.

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

I wrote in a completely different way than I ever had before. I did a synopsis and a fairly detailed outline for my proposal and from that, I generated a very lean first draft. I never work like that. Usually I’m an over-writer and I find the story as I’m drafting and then pare back from there. But this time, I had to come at it in a different way. Honestly, it felt like suddenly trying to write left-handed—just totally contrary to my natural writing proclivities.

But, hey, what doesn’t kill you, amirite?