Guest Post: Susan Bickford

Please welcome today’s Mysteristas guest, Susan Bickford, author of Dread of Winter!

Dread of Winter Journey: Learning to Love My Second Book

When my editor rejected the manuscript for my second book, she said, “Your first book was so strong. You simply cannot publish a second book that isn’t at least as good as the first.”

When I went crying to my agent, she told me, “Don’t get discouraged. This happens to lots and lots of writers. You’re a good writer. Start again.”

Really? At the time, I hadn’t heard of Second Book-itis or the second book slump or… It seems to be a bit of a shared secret. No one wants to jinx their next book—or anyone else’s, but it does happen and it had happened to me!

When I finally did finish my next version, I had no idea if the book was any good or not. I knew I liked it, but I wasn’t sure anyone else would care for it. I tentatively sent out ARCs for blurbs and quotes and was thrilled to find that some of my favorite authors loved it. William Kent Krueger wrote, “I’m a newcomer to Bickford’s work, but I’m putting her on my list of must-read authors.  You should, too.” And Publisher’s Weekly ended their review with, “Bickford is a writer to watch.” Terry Shames and James Ziskin chimed in.

Filled with new optimism, I’m knee deep in my next book, and I can now look back at my Book2 journey and recognize the path was my transition to becoming a professional writer from talented amateur.

If I had been self-published, I probably would have gone ahead and sent the book out. Being traditionally published, this wasn’t an option. I had a contract and received part of my advance for that book. Backing out or tossing it over the wall was not possible.

After about a month of going through guilt, denial, anger, and pouting, my editor and I had a long talk. She pointed out a number of key flaws. For example, I write thrillers. Time must be dense and compact. I needed contract the story timeline, and the action had to pick up. Many babies were tossed out with the bathwater. She also made a suggestion that seemed minor but became the heart of the story. “Maybe your protagonist has a sister she never knew about.”

Next I had to stop pantsing. I had written my first book completely based on intuition, with no outline and was very reluctant to give up the thrill of discovering the story unfold spontaneously. However, my editor wanted a detailed outline. I found that outlining can be its own discovery process and it still allowed me to innovate as I moved along. I’m always amazed how the process of writing reveals layers and connections, adding richness to the story.

After about six months, I had a new first draft. My editor said, “Great. Get the revised version to me in early January.” That was only about six weeks away! With no time for beta readers, I revised and revised like a mad woman. My sister, who thinks of me as a retired person, complained that she only saw me for Christmas breakfast and opening presents, particularly since I had done the same thing with Version 1 of this book.

My agent loved it. My editor loved it. I felt I had crossed a major hurdle in my writing career that was much bigger than the actual manuscript. I had failed, persevered, and succeeded. I even decided to push further and asked several sensitivity readers to submit their impressions and suggestions, which has enriched this story still further. That is a tale for another post!

Meanwhile: huge thanks to Michaela Hamilton, my editor, and Anne Hawkins, my agent, for sticking with me and refusing to give up. Have you struggled and persevered in your personal or professional life? I’m guessing I’m not alone.

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23 thoughts on “Guest Post: Susan Bickford”

  1. Ohmygosh, Susan, that gave me all kinds of sweaty-palms panic! I’m in the throes of revising a book for a new editor that’s due October 1st. After I sent the first version to my beta readers, I picked it up again thinking I’d just tweak language here or there while waiting for their comments. But I saw so many things I meant to do but hadn’t, or worse, didn’t do very well … and I DO outline! So now I’m working like a madwoman to hit my deadline and not turn in something that she’ll be disappointed in. You’ve given me hope, though!

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  2. Loved your post, Susan! I’m in the throes of writing book 2, and there’s something especially nerve-wracking about the process. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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  3. Great to see you here, Susan, and congrats on the book! I absolutely love this post and that you shared this part of your journey. With the “Instagram-ing” of the world, we so often see a carefully curated image rather than the reality we all struggle with. I think the sophomore slump is more common than we think because it’s not discussed, and your response is a testament to your dedication and talent. I’m even more excited to read this book!

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  4. I’m writing book 4, and this one is proving very difficult. I am independently published (I’m 67, and didn’t have the luxury of playing the please notice me game with agents for five years or so), so I don’ t have the luxury of a developmental editor and must rely primarily on my beta readers to keep me on track. I am also a pantser because I hit a wall every time I try to outline – there’s just something different about writing creative prose and writing text – the former stimulates creativity, but the latter does not. I’m 55K into my WIP and I’m contemplating a major POV change, which would make it different from the other books in the series. Right now,the plan is to get the first draft finished in my standard POV, and the reassess.

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    1. It is very true that humans are natural story tellers. Everyone has a tale to tell. But being a writer is hard, hard work. You have to be both supremely confident and humble at the same time.

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  5. One of my favorites was from a reviewer who said I’d managed to avoid the sophomore slump with my second book. My only explanation is that I had a talented editor. Plus, I had no idea what a sophomore slump was so I didn’t know what to be afraid of.

    Congratulations on your perseverance! In some ways, I struggle every single day.

    Continued success to you!

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    1. They were definitely a huge lift. Thank you to Hank Phillippi Ryan, William Kent Krueger, Terry Shames, and James Ziskin. Great authors.

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  6. Inspiring post Susan. Good job pushing through! I agree with the shifting from pantsing to outlining, at least for the main plot points. I didn’t for book 3 of my series and now I’m stuck. I’ll copy your perserverance.

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