Author Kurt Dinan on the Sophomore Slump

Today’s guest for the SNOB (Second Novel Omnipresent Blues) is Kurt Dinan, author of Don’t Get Caught, available from Sourcebooks. Kurt is a high school English teacher living in Cincinnati.

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?

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

My hope was always to write a sequel to Don’t Get Caught, but the publisher said they wanted to see how sales went before committing to another. Knowing that meant I’d likely be waiting a year or more, I decided I had to move onto other characters, which, yeah, proved harder than I thought it would be. Luckily, I’d been taking notes for a different book, so I just threw myself into that. My head, however, kept returning to the world I’d established in DGC, and so I’d jot stuff down when it would come to me in case I ever use those characters again.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

Promoting a novel becomes a second job, or if you’re writing another novel and working a “real” job, a third job. I did a lot of preliminary promotional work prior to DGC coming out, but once it was out, I didn’t do too much that took away from working on the next book. I’m not sure how much control you have over the sales of your book, anyway.

I also go back to that great line from Searching for Bobby Fischer where someone says, “It’s unsettling, isn’t it? When you realize there are only so many things you can teach a child. And finally…they are who they are.” Eventually you have to move on, and I did that pretty quickly.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

It’s a terrible balancing act, right? You’re to write the book for yourself, but your agent and editor are thinking about the fans, so you have to take all of them into consideration and hope that somehow you hit that sweet spot where everyone is happy. I spent two years writing the follow-up to DGC, and my agent came back with, “great characters and great world, but this isn’t the story they deserve.”

So I’m starting again, which is frustrating, but you have to trust that the professionals know what they’re doing. You can write a book completely for yourself, but that doesn’t mean that anyone else will like it, so you have to learn to collaborate.

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

I’m not sure how and when other writer’s write, but once I sold DGC, my writing routine didn’t change all that much. Because of…well, life (four kids, full-time teaching job, etc.), I’ve had to carve out my writing time, and that means working from 3:30-5 in the morning. I don’t write full time like I’d like to, but if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be working those stupid hours. But you do what you can, right?

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I’m a lot more patient with the writing process. I have a better understanding now that bad writing days come (and in some cases, really, really bad writing weeks), but it’s all part of the process and it shakes itself out eventually if you keep working at it. I’m better now at handling the frustration that comes with writing because I have some evidence that I can be successful at writing, even if I don’t believe it all the time.