It’s been a while since I posted. In fact, I’m sort of planning to close this blog and start a new one but… well, I’ll come back to that. My last post was pretty optimistic in tone, but that optimism turned out to be sort of misguided. In fact, to be honest, I am having A Bad Time.
Here’s what I’ve done since Rescuing the Prince came out.
First, I half-planned a sequel to RtP. As I mentioned in my last post, I ended up ditching that because I’d been disappointed with RtP’s sales and it seemed not-smart to sink several more months of work into a sequel. This was, admittedly, against the advice of many of my writer colleagues, because the general consensus in self-publishing is that you won’t make any money with a single book but can expect things to take off once you have a series. However, since this was very much not my experience with my first two books (where the first one sold very well and the second didn’t, at all), I found that advice hard to take.
Having put that aside, I had a good, hard think about what to do next, and I realised I was becoming more and more tempted by the world of traditional publishing. Ideologically, I really like self-publishing, because I really like the idea of readers having access to a wider range of books than the traditional model can afford to invest in. I’ve also always been very keen on having full creative control and of getting involved in all the design and marketing stuff as well as the actual writing. It has, however, become increasingly clear to me that I’m just not very good at that stuff. Which is fair enough, actually. After three books I finally feel okay about saying that I’m a decent writer, but there’s no reason I would also be good at a bunch of totally unrelated disciplines. I can be good at writing but bad at publishing, and that’s… pretty much the case.
So, the next thing I did was to set myself a sort of research project. As a self-publisher, I sell almost exclusively in the US. (This isn’t true of all self-publishers, by any means – I think a lot of UK writers like me find their audience closer to home – but it’s true across all my books.) So, in as much as I know about any market, it’s the US one. But, if I were to start working with a literary agent, I’d like one in the UK. I also know that an agent is going to be looking for a manuscript that’s clearly on-genre and has a hungry audience, so I wanted to make sure I had a genre very firmly in mind before I started working on something. (This is probably one of my biggest problems – writing to market – and it’s something I hope an agent could help me with, but I’d have to get one first!)
I chose romantic comedies, which I think are a little different in the UK than in the US – not to mention much more popular here! In fact, here’s a quick illustration. Remember the US contemporary romance Amazon chart, which I linked to last time? Here’s the UK one. At the time I’m posting this, there are a few of the same titles on both, but the overall look of the charts, even just glancing at the covers, is very different. The US one is dominated by the sexy, dark, emotional-looking covers, lots of bare chests. The UK one? Lots of cheerful, brightly-coloured illustrations. (This is probably partly why, as I mentioned last time, I ended up mislabelling RtP, which is basically a romcom, as contemporary romance – because that’s kind of what contemporary romance is over here!) UK romantic comedy books tend to feature escapist settings (the coast, the countryside, a cute cafe or teashop) and the overall plot is really about the woman making some sort of change in her own life (e.g. leaving her hectic, unfulfilling life in London to open a teashop on the coast), though of course she meets the perfect guy along the way.
I like reading them, and I liked the idea of writing one, so I bought a bunch of recent bestsellers and spent a very pleasant few weeks in May reading them in parks and even once at the beach and feeling very leisurely – well, aside from the detailed note-taking. And then I planned one of my own. It had everything: a beautiful setting, a successful-but-jaded London businesswoman, a quiet-but-confident guy with an idyllic clifftop garden… plus, a socking great plot hole at the end of Act One that I just Could. Not. Fix. I spent a lot of time tinkering with it, but eventually concluded that I was going to have to throw out so much of what I’d done that I’d effectively be starting again. That, well, took the wind out of my sails, to put it mildly, and all the ideas I came up with after that seemed too similar to one or other of the books I read for my research, so I decided to shelve that and try something else.
Having abandoned two projects in the space of two months, I found myself mostly on the lookout for something I could, you know, finish. I decided to try to ease up on the obsession with what would sell (whether to an agent or directly to readers) and just concentrate on finding something I’d enjoy writing. I ended up settling on an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while – sort of a modern reworking of Pride and Prejudice but with a twist. (Ironically, this might have been the most commercially-viable idea yet, because Jane Austen fanfiction is HUGE on Amazon, as I understand it.)
So I planned it. And I got all the way through the plan this time, without giving up or stalling on a huge plot hole! Yay! (To clarify, my plans are all like 15-20k words long, so I’m talking about having thrown out some fairly hefty chunks of writing, albeit in note form.)
And then I started to write it. And I got all the way to 20k words in two weeks, which is almost the pace I had going with RtP. And I was feeling great! Finally, I was writing again!
And then… I stopped. I just hit a wall and couldn’t bring myself to go on.
This book was hard work. And I don’t mind writing being hard work if it produces good stuff, but it was hard work to read as well. I loved the idea, the things I was trying to do, but those 20k words were slow and overworked and ohgodsoboring. I was trying to be too clever, and to fit too much in.
I think people imagine that retelling an existing story must be easier than coming up with one of your own, but it’s actually much harder. You have to cram so much in so fast, showing readers both that the book does indeed contain their favourite elements from the source material, and that you’re doing something unique and interesting with them. It’s also exponentially harder to dig yourself out of a plot hole, even a small one, if you’re not free to completely rework some element of the plot as required. Problems like that are part of why it took me three years to write The Rose and the Mask and I really don’t have another three years to spare. So, I shelved that too.
After all that, the idea of writing a sequel to RtP didn’t seem so bad after all. RtP is at least in profit now. It’s nowhere near as successful as TRatM, but it’s not the colossal disappointment The Murano Glass Slipper was, either. With all my colleagues’ advice about series still ringing in my ears, I figured I could do a lot worse than write a sequel to a modestly successful book – especially in the absence of a better idea. So, earlier this month, I dug that plan back out and finished it. And now I’ve written about 8000 words. Yesterday I confidently drew up a schedule for finishing it.
And then, yesterday evening, I realised I couldn’t.
Those 8k words have been such a slog. I mean, my attention span is poor anyway (I’ve been on a waiting list to see a specialist about me possibly having ADD for two years… so a mere 5 years to go according to this recent news story, lolsob) but this month it’s been degraded to almost nothing. I’ve been reduced to setting a timer for twenty minutes, sitting down at an empty table with nothing but a pen and paper and banning myself from moving until the timer goes off, because it’s the only way I can do anything at all. (And, man, some of the things I find myself wanting to get up for. Whoa, is that a cobweb I’ve been ignoring for two weeks? Better clean it up right this very second!)
I’ve been lucky if I write 1000 words in a day and I’m honestly baffled that I was often writing 5000 when I was working on RtP. I thought (hoped?) it was the heatwave we’ve been having here, and it probably was, to some extent, because I am not designed for hot climates and found the whole thing sort of unbearable. But that’s over now, and my brain is still avoiding this book like the plague. I cleared out a cupboard yesterday I hadn’t opened for about five years. That’s the level of procrastination and distraction we’re talking about.
And it’s hard to say, because I’ve ditched so many projects this summer, but I really think it’s the book. I mean, it’s me as well, but there’s definitely a problem with the book. Partly, I think I’m not excited about the characters. I wanted to make sure they were distinctly different to the characters in RtP, so I wasn’t just writing the same story again, but I think I veered too far from the kind of characters I actually like to write about. More troublingly, however, I think I just don’t have anything else to say about royalty. I used up all my good ideas for a royal romance in RtP and now it feels like I’m trying to piece together another one out of the offcuts. It’s just not very good.
So… I guess that’s going back on the shelf with the others. And it’s now been over three months since I published RtP, and I have absolutely nothing to show for it. Like, if I’d just taken those three months as an extended holiday from writing, at least I’d presumably feel relaxed and refreshed and excited to get back to work. As it is, I feel tired and sad and disappointed and sort of… hopeless? I mean, what am I supposed to do now? Come up with another idea, spend ages planning it and writing the first 20k words, just so I can throw it out and feel even worse about myself? I don’t understand why these three projects have gone so wrong, so I have no idea how to avoid it next time. And I find it hard enough to scrounge up the energy and concentration to write even when a project is going well. How am I going to do it now that the odds of failure seem so high?
I mean, I will do it, because right now the only thing that seems worse to me than writing is the idea of giving up on writing. Writing is the only job I’ve ever wanted, but it’s also something I’d do even if I won the lottery and never needed to make money again, because (not to sound dramatic or anything) I’m not sure my life would have much meaning without it. Although I’d probably do it a lot slower so I could spend quality time with, you know, my jetskis and my quadbikes and my palace and my army of highly-trained attack peacocks.
But I do feel very lost, and like I really don’t have a clue what to do next. I don’t know whether I’m aiming to self-publish or try for an agent. I don’t know what my next book will be about. I don’t know if I can even still write a book, or if three was just my lot and this is as far as I’m going to get. I just… don’t know, and it’s freaking me out. 😦