(Unless you want to)
After I finished my third novel, my next idea was to continue the adventures of the undercover agent/priest (now no longer undercover, of course) and the parish secretary (who quit).
Yep. I wrote a sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. Hadn’t even revised. I knew enough about the publishing industry by now to know that this was stupid. But I also knew enough about the publishing industry to know that I was in a very special phase of my career: one without contracted deadlines, publisher pressures, and reader expectations. I could really do what I wanted.
Pretty awesome time!
My co-author finished her parallel novel to Saints & Spies, and wrote a short story sequel, but from there she had no desire to write another parallel, so I was on my own again. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stretch my own words and ideas to novel length, but (woot!) I made it!
The book stats
Title: Finally settled on Saints & Agents
Genre: Romantic suspense
Inspiration: an entertaining idea for a scene that would be uncomfortable for my characters. The scene never made it in the book.
Writing dates: January – April 2009. Editing in January – March 2011.
Length: About 75,000?
Elevator pitch: Happily ever after didn’t last nearly long enough. Now both working for the FBI, the exes may need one another to track down a pair of Irish terrorists. But getting in with the criminals—and working side by side with the one that got away—is even harder than breaking up the first time.
What I learned from writing this book
The joy of a sequel! Yeah, okay, that’s said with some sarcasm—sequels aren’t always easy. There’s a lot of pressure to do it the same, but, uh, different: hit the same emotional notes, have the same or similar characters, develop similar-ish conflicts—all while writing something that’s new and different enough to satisfy readers.
This book is the first time I used an “alpha” reader. My co-author and I wrote scenes together and showed each other our progress along the way. (Yes, the book that was to be my first published novel was actually drafted in Google Docs in 2008. Crazy times, eh?) She became my alpha reader for this novel, but it was a different relationship. Rather than creating our world together, she became a sounding board and semi-audience (although I relied on her for input with her characters’ actions).
I re-learned the importance of subplots and secondary characters. I had to work hard to tie in all the characters I loved from the first novel (well, all the ones who weren’t in jail). But I also had a new cast of secondaries—and, of course, new antagonists. This book was the first time I used the villain’s POV—and it made a world of difference! In a book where the protagonists spend much of the time not knowing what the villains are up to, it’s very hard to keep the tension going (don’t get me started). If you can add the villain’s POV—as I did in revising this novel, since it was already in 3rd person multiple POV—you can help to inject all the scenes with more tension and every 10th grade English teacher’s favorite thing, dramatic irony.
Possibly the most important lesson I (re)learned with this novel is that I will always be able to find another idea. I was most of the way through Saints & Spies believing it was a stand-alone when this idea came to me. I dismissed it at first (no sequels before sales!), but I fell in love with the story, and I had to do it. Not only did I have an idea for a novel, but I also had enough ideas to finish a full-length one by myself. Hooray!
What do you think? Have you ever done something you should never, ever, ever do in your career?
Photo credits: notebook—Tony Hall; idea quotation—Celestine Chua