Christina June On Pushing Yourself & Changing Your Writing Routine

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.

My guest for today is Christina June, author of It Started with Goodbye and Everywhere You Want to Be. Christina writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor. She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

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

Yes! The debut year comes with so much hype, and I sometimes feel like waving my hands and saying, “but wait, there’s more!” In many ways, I’m lucky that my second book is a companion to my debut. It is set in the same world and takes place a year later, narrated by a different character; often, it feels like an extension of the first.

On the other hand, I had to figure out how to see the characters I created through a different set of eyes. I’ve been praised for developing a real, genuine teen voice in the first book and trying to meet that bar for round two was quite the journey. Readers seemed to really connect with Tatum in It Started with Goodbye and I’ve really struggled with believing that my new main character, Tilly, is just as authentic and likeable, even though she is completely different.

I finally understood, when my husband was reading it, that every character has a reader. He kept saying how he really connected with Tilly, because he’s had similar experiences, and that was the moment I realized I’d done my job right.

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

I was preparing the final version of Everywhere You Want to Be a few weeks before It Started with Goodbye was published. At that time, I was not only working on polishing the new manuscript, but writing blog posts and answering interview questions, planning a launch party, and posting on social media, on top of having a full time job and being a parent.

It’s been a challenge to stay in the headspace of two novels at once, talking about one with readers and talking about the other with my publishing team. I imagine it gets harder as you add more books to your catalog, but I’m up for the challenge. I’m so lucky to be able to do this more than once and fully expect that each book will teach me something new to take with me to the next.

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

I never planned to write a set of companion novels, but I’ve long admired Miranda Kenneally and her ability to connect characters and keep an inviting contemporary world going. When my editor wrote, “ Tilly fascinates me,” in my first edit letter for It Started with Goodbye, the wheels started turning. I realized she had her own story to tell and it was my pleasure to draw it out of her.

I guess I would say that I did write this one for myself—I challenged myself in new ways, and indulged myself by setting it in New York City, one of my very favorite places. Writing about a dancer also allowed me to do something really fun. One of my dear critique partners, Katherine Locke, wrote an adult romance series about dancers and she graciously allowed me to borrow two of her characters. That part was for both of us.

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

I’ve always had to be good at managing my time, fitting in writing time around work and parenting and adulting. I’m a champion at finding small bits of time in my schedule and using them efficiently. The part that surprised me was how much time promotion takes. Even when you’ve got a marketing team with a great plan, a lot of the legwork falls on the author. We’re always hustling. So I’m still trying to find that balance—which includes speaking up about what doesn’t work for me and saying no to the things I just don’t have time for.

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

My second book sold on proposal, which meant a full synopsis and three chapters. I’d written a one-page synopsis before, to use while querying, but never one that contained every little plot detail. Before this, I mulled over things a lot in my head, wrote down character sketches and the biggest plot points, but never really planned more than that. But knowing the book wouldn’t sell if I didn’t work out all the details was a lot of pressure.

Writing that seven-page synopsis was excruciating, and my agent and editor can verify that. In the end though, I ended up with a detailed road map and I knew exactly where to go from there. Drafting was easy. That process taught me that I am capable of changing my routine and pushing myself harder. And, in fact, we just sold my third book and the proposal process was so much easier this time. I am someone who marinates on a story for a long time before putting anything down on the page, and, knowing what I know now, getting it all out of my head before I even begin to draft is something I plan on doing from now on.