Welcome to the SNOB – Second Novel Ominipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?
Today’s guest for the SNOB is Peter Hoffmeister, an author, rock climber, public speaker, outdoor expert, and athlete gear-tester for Ridgemont Outfitters. He teaches at South Eugene High School: Literature, creative writing, outdoor pursuits, and survival. He also served as the spring 2015 Writer-In-Residence at Joshua Tree National Park.
He is the author of two books of nonfiction and three novels. His current novel, Too Shattered For Mending, was released this fall by Knopf, Random House. The New York Times Book Review wrote that Too Shattered was “A portrait of the heart and will that’s so tragic and beautiful it singes.” Hoffmeister lives in Eugene, Oregon and is currently at work on his sixth book, An American Afterlife, a novel that will be rejected before it is published.
Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?
There are two answers to this. First, if you like how your first novel turned out, then yes, it’s hard to leave it behind and focus on the second. Change is difficult. But more importantly, you should already be working on that second novel. During every glacial delay in the publishing process (for example: while your agent is reading a draft, or while your editor is reading a draft, or while you’re waiting for copy edits to be returned, or while you’re waiting for the publication date, etc.) you should already be working on your next book. Since the whole publishing process takes one to two years, I always aim to have a draft of the next book by pub date. It doesn’t have to be a great draft, but have a full-length draft, ready to revise.
At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?
This is something I’m not good at and I’m trying to learn from my mistakes in the past. So I’m spending more time promoting my current book, rather than focusing on and stressing about my next book. In the past, I’ve mostly left my current release alone and moved on completely. But it’s good to find a balance: Work for at least an hour every single day on your next book, but also spend some time each week to promote your current release. Also, go on social media and build community, message other authors, and post about books you love.
Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?
That’s also a good question. As a writer, you have to write the story that you’re passionate about. If you’re not in love with your idea, no one else is going to be. But publishers are fickle, and they won’t just pick up any old thing that you want to write. So expect rejections at this point even though you’re already a published author. Your publishing house might reject a next book proposal or a partial draft. Even if you have an option, they might reject three proposals in a row. But keep after it. This is maybe one of the most unexpected things in a publishing career. Everyone talks about rejections before you get a book deal. Not many people talk about the hundreds of rejections after you get a book deal. I have five books out now and have been fortunate enough to get starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get rejected all the time. I had two essays and a story rejected this week. As a writer, rejections are something you’re going to face for the rest of your life. So write the story you want to write, but realize that the market will always be tough.
Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?
Yes. For example, I never got interview requests until I was a published author. But the specific demands depend on how much money you’re making, how much marketing is being done by the house, and how much publicity you’re hustling on your own. If you have a huge book deal (and most of us don’t) you’re being flown all over the country, going to every conference, and constantly doing events. For most authors though, it’s 10-20 interviews or essays a year and 3 to 5 events. So time management is really about maintaining the daily discipline of sitting down to write at your own desk. If you want to move on to a second novel, then you have to keep getting in that chair every day. Set a daily word or page goal and hit that goal.
What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?
Since I’ve published with four different houses, I’m sort of eternally working on my “second book.” I’ve never gotten to the place where my editor pledges her eternal love and a house just keeps renewing my contract. So I go through the same process over and over. I write, revise, edit, submit, get rejected, revise, and submit again. From what I know of other authors’ careers, this is more common than you’d think. The days of authors staying with single houses for entire careers are mostly gone. A few authors are that lucky, but most are not. And – truly – none of that matters. In the end, you have to ask yourself, “Do I love writing stories? And am I excited about the revision and editing process?” If so, if you’re in it for the long-term, things will work out. Just keep writing.