Victoria Lee On Moving Forward After Your Debut

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.

Today's guest for the SNOB is Victoria Lee author of The Fever King. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student.

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

I’m working on drafting two different books right now: one is a contracted sequel to my debut, The Fever King. The other is an unrelated fantasy novel that I started writing while I was on submission with The Fever King. And for both books, I’d say yes—it’s been really hard to move on from my first book to focus on writing new material, but for very different reasons.

With the sequel, there’s a fear that it won’t be as good as the first book. I wrote The Fever King in just two months, but then I spent over two years revising. I don’t have nearly that much time on my deadline for book 2! I’m worried that whatever readers love about the first book won’t come through in the sequel, and people will end up disappointed. And…on a more recent timescale, that the same might happen with my editor. So there’s a lot of self-imposed pressure on the sequel for it to feel like a good follow-up to the first book, to tie up all the loose threads and feel like the natural and inevitable conclusion to the story.

With the new book, the pressures are very different.

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

There’s a big chunk of time between sending off your edits and needing to begin promotion. Usually promotion shouldn’t start in earnest until six months before your publication date—and really, more like three. I tried to use that chunk of time to get a large amount done on The Fever King’s contracted sequel. But…promoting your debut is fun. At least, I think so. I constantly had to distract myself from planning promo and focus instead on actually writing the second book! I also had the pressure of a new grad school semester beginning, and studying for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, so I was pretty motivated to get as much done on the sequel as possible before I got too sucked into grad school again. It’s still a process, though. One thing I find helpful is scheduling out time during my day for both tasks. I’ll block a few hours for preparing promo materials, then another few hours for writing book 2, and so on.

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

As I’m writing the sequel, I’m thinking of my potential readers. And of myself. I have a definite vision of the “ideal reader” in my head—the kind of reader I think will most like my books, who my books will speak to. And that ideal reader is a whole lot like my own younger self. I want to write the book that will satisfy young, creative, slightly-pessimistic yet idealistic queer Jewish teens hoping to see themselves represented in SFF. I want to write a conclusion to this series that will make any reader who fell in love with the first book feel like the second book didn’t let them down. But for myself—I want to spend more time with these characters. And in a lot of ways, I feel like I have to do the characters justice, too. I’ve fallen in love with them. It’s hopeless.

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

Oh, definitely. Not just between promoting your debut and working on a sequel, but planning the book that comes after that. And the one after that. I have way too many ideas I want to write, and it can get frustrating to know I have to wait to get to them. …Especially now that I know how much editing effort is involved in polishing a book for publication.

I was already pretty good at time management; it was a skill I learned in grad school. I just had to apply it to a new domain, too. I’m actually one of those weird people who functions more efficiently when super busy? I like to have as little free time as possible. Free time breeds procrastination, for me. But if I know that this is the only hour today I’ll be able to work on my book, then dammit, I’m gonna get so much done on that book in an hour.

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

I outlined more.

I wrote my debut as a “connect-the-dots” writer—I had a few major milestones I needed to hit, but then I just kind of discovery-wrote between them. Now, I have more than just a few milestones planned out. I still discovery write, sort of, but the way it works now is that I’ll religiously plan in detail every next 10,000 words. What comes after those 10k is still undecided until after I reach the next milestone, but I’ve learned that I definitely need to at least plan 10k in advance to avoid rambling on for pages with character introspection that—while fascinating to me—proooobably doesn’t propel the story forward.

I also cut myself a lot more slack in drafting.  I’ve learned this book will likely go through ten drafts and at least two rewrites before it’s published, so, no need to obsess over line-level prose. I’m just trying to get the story down. The nuts and bolts, even—right now my draft pacing is all off. It’s way too fast. But I’ll get the story skeleton on paper, and I can expand it later, once I’ve established what bits of the character arcs and subplots are really integral to the story and need to be fleshed out.