So you’ve written a book, gotten it published, formed a marketing plan, and put it in action. Congratulations, you’re an author!
It’s not uncommon for an author to spend so much time and effort getting that first book (or series of books) out into the world that once that’s done, the prospect of doing it again can seem overwhelming. The good news is, it probably won’t be as hard this time around – you just need to get started! Here are a few ideas to get you reconnected to your muse:
Take a good look at your first book
What worked? What didn’t? What do your readers seem excited about? What, if anything, have you received complaints about? Make a list, and set these as goals for your next book. If you got compliments on your characters, but a few people thought your pacing was boring, then make sure that next time you keep those characters interesting, but maybe put a little bit more pizazz into your plot. Having these goals clearly laid out before you begin can help make sure your next book is even better than your first!
Try something new
It can be tempting to try to duplicate as much of your first book as possible, especially if it’s been successful. The danger in doing this, however, is that it sets your new book up to be constantly compared to the old. Such comparisons are inevitable, but the more similar they are, the more likely people who enjoyed the first one will be disappointed by the second, because what they really wanted was the exact same experience. This phenomenon is perhaps most visible in reactions to the recent Star Wars movies – a lot of people weren’t happy because they didn’t experience the same rush as the first time they ever saw Star Wars, whatever form that introduction took.
By doing something new in your next book, it sets it apart at the beginning as a different experience from what your readers have had before. The change can be something small – a female lead instead of a male, or a slightly different setting. For fantasy or sci-fi writers who have put so much work into worldbuilding for your first story, you may want to set your new story in the same world, but a very different part of it. Maybe your protagonist is a dwarf instead of an elf, or if the last series focused on royalty and court intrigue, this one is the quest of a peasant living in the hinterlands.
Or, you can make a major change. Maybe you’ll write in an entirely different genre, if that tickles your fancy. I don’t particularly recommend switching between fiction and non-fiction (unless they’re somehow related, like a cookbook of recipes featured in your book series), but beyond that, the choices are nearly endless. This has the added bonus of tapping into a different demographic of readers. Some devoted readers will buy your second book even if it’s not a genre they usually read, but a whole new slew of people will be looking at your writing – and some of them may like it so much they go back and buy your first book, too!
Plan for the future – keep notes!
This is less useful advice if you currently find yourself in the what-to-write conundrum, but it can be a big help in the future. While writing a book, it’s important to resist the temptation to get distracted by other ideas that come to you, or you’ll never finish anything. Maybe you had a crazy dream, or heard something on the radio, and the idea just popped into your head. It sounds fun, but you know you have to stay focused.
But don’t let those ideas go! Have a specific place, whether it be a physical notebook or a folder on your computer, where you keep quick summaries of ideas you’ve had for books. Some people call it a “Story Seed Bank,” I call mine the “Plot Bunny Cage.” Not only will writing these ideas down help you avoid this problem in the future, but it’s also a good exercise in writing summaries.
Don’t spend too much time on these. One or two pages should suffice, think of it like a synopsis you would provide to a publisher. If there are any important details, put those in too. Don’t worry about fully fleshing it out – if you don’t know how it begins or ends, it doesn’t matter right now, you can figure that out later if you decide to make it into a book. You might even find that over time you come up with more and more ideas to tack on to a plot bunny. If you keep returning to the same one with details to add, that’s a good sign that it should probably be your next book.
Most importantly, write what you’re passionate about
The latter stages of publishing a book – editing, rewriting, getting a publisher, forming a marketing plan – can be so cut-and-dry that sometimes we forget the joy of what made us want to write in the first place. For all the good of studying your demographics and knowing what people want to read now, the truth is that will likely all change by the time you’re done with it (unless you can crank out a whole book, ready-to-publish, in a month or two).
Even more importantly, being passionate about what you write has a huge impact on the quality of your writing. Which do you think will turn out better – something you’re assigned to write for a class, or something you write for fun? Sure, the piece for class might be more technically correct, but it won’t take as many risks or be as lively as the latter. Writing the book is supposed to be the fun part – terrible stretches of writer’s block excepted – and the rest of it is what makes being an author work.
Besides, you’ve got this. You’ve published a book before, you can do it again. You probably learned a lot of what not to do the first time around, so it will be much easier now that you’ve learned from those mistakes. You’re a published author, after all!