Note from D_Sidd: Marcus Wearmouth is back with a great guest post to wrap up 2015 on the Everyday Author. Just like last year, we’ll be taking the month of December off to regroup for 2016, watch Star Wars repeatedly and spend time with family over the holidays (read: catch up on all the revising and editing we’ve got to do on our books before the end of the year). We wish you all a safe and happy holidays. From us, that means Merry Christmas! Now, here’s Marcus. Enjoy!

It’s slightly easier than many people think to write a breakout novel and become an author.  Merry Christmas and keep that simple notion with you when writing in the New Year!

Although the definition of a breakout novel is an economy of scale, to most it would be thousands of sales and high ranking on Amazon charts.  You have to be realistic.  The very peak of sales for breakout books is reserved for celebrities and the 0.001% rest of us.  Even so, there is a catalogue of authors who struck gold with their first book/s then made the jump to a full time writing career.   It takes hard work, ideas, a basic understanding of language and dogged persistence.

On a first book, pent up feelings and thoughts on the world gush out on the page/screen.  A lifetime of interactions, whimsy and storytelling coalesce into a magnum opus.  Like mining on a rich seam that you’ve kept hidden for years waiting for the right time to pull it all out into the sun.  On a first book, characters are raw and the plot feels unique.  It’s an inspirational experience to publish, market, sell and hopefully (fingers crossed etc.) receive an offer from a publisher (the warm feeling).  I perhaps missed out beta reading, content and copy editing that corrects English and tweaks the plot but essentially we all have a book inside us.

That’s all there is to it.  Years of ideas compressed into a jam-packed breakout novel that catches on and before you know it, a critic is praising your satisfying denouement (sic).  A lot can be forgiven in reviewing the work of a first time author.  If the narrative is strong then reviews sometimes overlook minor mistakes or weak characterisation.  There’s a difference between writing a story and being a wordsmith.  X Factor to Beethoven.  McDonalds to Michelin star. Can the first come close to the second with enough talent and effort?

The next book

So you begin to write your next book and discover the definition of writers block.  The seam is nearing empty but the writing needs to be stronger.  Writing the tricky second book is when problems begin to beset your brainwaves.  Carrying a story around in your head for years practically writes a novel.  The full plot has been imagined.  Every scene visualised.  When you start again with another new story, even if the idea was vaguely formed, it’s a bigger challenge.  It’s easier to rework the original story with a few tweaks and different setting.   That’s why a strong lead character series is a brilliant but insipid fallback position.

Changing genre dilutes your audience and diluting an audience is the single most perilous risk of a second novel.
As a spunky newbie, your rough edges are smoothed in the editing process but essentially it’s your original vision that is unique.  With the second novel you try to be all things to all people.  Maintain your momentum and so on.  Even in the same genre, writing a different story is challenging.  Remember that you can’t change genre.  It’s a rule of lower level writers that changing genre dilutes your audience and diluting an audience is the single most perilous risk of a second novel.

You hesitate over colourful language, erratic behaviour and anything contentious.  Desperately trying to appeal to a mass market and maintain your faux popularity.  It’s easier to say nothing than something controversial.  Not only are your ideas running out, but your creativity is watered down by the need to be popular.  The result is a slightly better written but ultimately uninspiring book that waters down your world view.

The challenge is to be both fresh and exciting but recognised and familiar.
The challenge is to be both fresh and exciting but recognised and familiar.  If writing is art then we should strive to elucidate our understanding of the world through narrative.  If writing is predominantly for sales then it is ultimately unfulfilling for the writer or reader.  At some point unless you are established, the ideas will dry up and your output will become hackneyed.

Never be a full time writer

As a fulltime author you can lose your connection with the world that you interacted in to stimulate your ideas.  So keep juggling your current responsibilities.  Feel pressure to write in bursts and store your thoughts while you’re busy with a day job.  Use interactions with people and situations to fuel your creativity.  Embrace those feelings of frustration and humility.  Continue to mine your mind.  Let your subconscious do the work with internal wanderings that trigger moments of inspiration.  When you can feel a truth at the very edge of your consciousness or turning over an idea until that eureka moment pops into your head.  Write it down and save it for later. Writing is an act of passion not a trick of grammar.

My advice is to never be a full time writer.  Maintain your creative control by being independent of writing revenues.  Eliminate the need to gratify a mass market with rehashed versions of the same story and characters.  Be bold.

If your writing can strike the perfect balance of inspiration, humility and skill then you can hit the sweet spot.
If your writing can strike the perfect balance of inspiration, humility and skill then you can hit the sweet spot.  You can force open a gap in the market that not only describes a story but lives the story.  A book that is onomatopoeic.  One that hits the mark so perfectly that it transcends your first novel and all others you have read.

Of course you then have to think about the next book and that’s a whole other story!