Monday, March 31, 2014

Sophomore Novel Slump

Today I'm hosting Historical Novelist Jessica Dotta. Since she's nearing the release of her sophomore novel, it's fitting that she's here to talk about the difficulties of writing that second book. So, let's have a big round of applause for Jessica Dotta!

Born in the wrong century‚ except for the fact that she really likes epidurals and washing machines‚ Jessica Dotta writes British Historicals with the humor like an Austen, yet the drama of a Bronte.

She resides lives in the greater Nashville area‚where she imagines her small Southern town into the foggy streets of 19th century London. She oversees her daughter to school, which they pretend is an English boarding school, and then she goes home to write or work on PR. Jessica has tried to cast her dachshund as their butler‚ but the dog insists it's a Time Lord and their home a Tardis. Miss Marple, her cat, says its no mystery to her as to why the dog won't cooperate. When asked about it, Jessica sighs and says that you can't win them all, and at least her dog has picked something British to emulate.


It’s about a month away from the launch of Mark of Distinction—a book that will be called my sophomore novel. Okay, I have to confess, I had to Google the term when I was invited to blog about it on Novel Rocket. Here, all this time, I thought, I'd graduated.

I did some reading and here's what I found.

Some call it the Sophomore Slump. (Ouch.)

 Some of have posted articles on that sophomore novels t have unexpectedly been surprisingly good. (How delightful, apparently people utterly doubt our abilities as writers.) 

The popular and successful ones have their own shelf on GoodReads. (Woot! How do I get there?)

But my very favorite was this article entitled: Why a Sophomore Novels Is So Different from the First. Here's a quote:

"After their first books come out, a lot of writers are left with a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It reminds me of one of my grandfather’s bird dogs who got lost during a hunt and spent the night outdoors in an electrical storm. The dog made it home the next day, but, for the rest of his life, he remained what my grandfather sagely described as “not right.  Recently published authors often have the same wild-eyed look of that bird dog, as if they’ve been through such a prolonged series of flashes and booms that they simply can’t begin to articulate the experience.

That quote made me laugh. By golly, she's right! Launching a potential publishing career is hard. And I even knew it was coming. For nearly a decade before publication I worked alongside a number of authors as editor, critique partner and publicist. Yet despite that and countless hours of working with media as a book publicist, I barely made it through the first storm. And there was still a book to be re-edited and a book to be written.

The article goes on to talk about how during this season a writer can lose their zeal. The ideal is gone but the reality remains, possibly affecting the writing. Here at least I'm thankful, for originally I wrote Born of Persuasion and Mark of Distinction as one book. (Only later did I discover 400K word novels are not welcome.) It worked out nicely for me, because my sophomore novel has always existed alongside the first book. They were twins, so to speak.

I did however walk through the Sophomore Novel Experience with the last book of the trilogy—in the midst of whirlwind or launching a book, editing a book, writing a book and working full time as a single mom, I realized I only had months to accomplish what first took me a decade to do before.

I now understand why it took me so long to break through the publishing wall—and I'm so grateful.

In the book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell studies what made high-achievers thus. He discovered there are factors already in place behind successful people. One of those was called the ten-thousand-hour rule. Simply explained, the hours invested into an interest or hobby needs to be approximately ten-thousand-hours. He cites the Beatles as an example. They hit the scene with mega success in 1964, but it wasn't as overnight as it seemed. Lennon and McCartney started playing together since 1957, and in 1960 they'd played in Hamburg, Germany. 

Here's a quote from the book: "It was a huge nonstop show, hour after hour, with a lot of people lurching in and the other lot lurching out. And the bands would play all the time to catch the passing traffic. . . . And what was so special about Hamburg? It wasn't that it paid well. It didn't . . . It was the sheer amount of time they band was forced to play."

"They had to learn an enormous amount of numbers—cover versions of everything you can think of, not just rock and roll, a bit of jazz too. They weren't disciplined onstage at all before that. But when they came back, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them."

When I read that section of the book, I felt relieved because I knew I'd invested ten-thousand hours into the craft and marketing. I clung to that knowledge every time fear arose that I couldn't complete the series. I remembered the Beatles and the ten-thousand-hour rule. I would remind myself of how diverse their ability was simply because of the experience they garnered, and how because of it, they wrote music is identifiable their sound (or in our case, because we know our voice.) Eventually, much like I imagine the Beatles hitting the stage, I remembered who I was as a writer and blocked out the fears, reviewers and critics, and the predictions of what my editors would say . . . and just sat down and wrote.

It wasn't too long before I found myself on familiar ground . . .


Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great post, Jessica. I can totally relate. It's tricky when readers are asking when that next novel in the series is releasing and if you're honest, you've only written the first 2 chapters (I admit NOTHING). Honestly, staring down the barrel of edits and formatting (I self-pub), not to mention finding cover art and marketing that baby...not to mention writing the story that NEEDS to be written in the proper way...well, daunting doesn't really cut it. I'm planning to take a several-month break just to wrap my head around it and let that story simmer. I'm thinking a social media hiatus might also be in order. In the end, we're artists...and we have to recharge or the muse will just shut-up.

Congrats on your upcoming novel and I have been so impressed with your marketing campaigns! The cover art on all your books is lovely!

heatherblanton said...

Jessica, really enjoyed these honest thoughts! You're so open and sincere. I'm sure your next book will be as good as the first!

Jessica Dotta said...

Thanks and Heather & Heather! I appreciate it!