MarcyKate Connolly On Switching Gears In Between Projects

The second novel is no easy feat, and with that in mind I put together a series of questions for debuts who are tackling the next obstacle in their career path. I call it the SNOB - Second Novel Omnipresent 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 MarcyKate Connolly, author of the MG titles MONSTROUS and RAVENOUS, available from HarperChildrens. MarcyKate has written poetry as long as she can remember, and began her first full-length novel in 2008. Since then she's completed many other novels including MONSTROUS (Upper MG Fantasy, Frankenstein meets the Brothers Grimm) and have several others languishing in various states of incompletion and disarray.

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

It definitely can be. You spend so much time writing, revising, and planning for the launch of book #1, that when it’s finally accepted as “done” switching gears can be tricky. However, in my case I think the fact that my second book was a companion novel set in the same world and involving some of the same characters made that transition easier than it might have been if both books were completely unrelated standalones.

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

You don’t (or at least, I didn’t) and that’s what makes it tricky. Once the editing on that first book is complete, you need to start writing the second. And at the same time, you also need to plan and begin to carry out promotion for the first book. Unless your books are slated to be published more than a year apart, chances are you’ll be doing those things concurrently. It can be hard to balance, but it certainly keeps you busy :) I found using a project management tool to be very helpful in keeping me on track with all the tasks I had for both writing/editing and promotion.

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

All of the above! Which is pretty weird (also awesome). When you’re writing the first book the only real expectations are coming from yourself. But now that the book is out there, your agent and editor have professional expectations of you, and your fans have expectations for the next book too. It’s both wonderful and stressful.

It can be hard to do, but the best advice I’d have is to try to tune all that out as best you can. I would have psyched myself out if I’d been focused on writing for someone else. For me, the key was to keep writing the book I wanted to write. If I hadn’t loved the book and the characters and their journey, it would have been a lot more difficult. Also, having a great team of people to work with at HarperCollins certainly helped a ton!

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

Definitely! I thoroughly underestimated the amount of time I would end up spending on emails, let alone everything else. Again, investing in a good To Do list app or project management tool is what really helped me. (If you’re looking for a recommendation, I use the free version of Zoho Projects – it also has an iPhone app).

It takes some trial and error to determine how much you can reasonably take on, and I definitely took on more than I probably should have with the first book, but that gave me a more realistic idea of what I could accomplish the second time around. Basically, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right on the first book. Just do the best you can.

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

With editing I had a much better idea of what to expect and of what red flags my editors would be looking out for when I was writing my second book. That meant my first edit letter on Ravenous was only 8 pages instead of the 20 page edit letter I got for Monstrous. I learned from the initial experience (thankfully!) and grew as a writer.

When it came time to promote, I made a more realistic plan for myself. I adore blogs and bloggers, but I found that outreach directly to librarians, teachers, and booksellers was more effective for my particular books, so I added in more of that and fewer guest posts. I cut a couple other things I did for Monstrous that saw no returns (press releases, for example) and expanded some of the things that were effective (for example, personalized packets to local librarians). Really, the key for me is to be flexible and chalk up things that don’t work as well as you’d hoped as learning experiences. :)