Great Novel! When Can I Read the Next One?

A question from blog commenter, Natalia Sylvester, inspired me to write this post about how I got a two book deal.  I’ll share my story in hopes that any writers reading this do something very important:

Keep Writing

Before I get to the specifics, I’ll take you back to some wise words from Donald Maass at his Breakout Novel Intensive Conference I attended in September. He said that the most common complaint of his authors was that they wish they had the time they’d had before publication to write stories. Many publishers expect a book each year once they sign you, and this can be quite a challenge.

When I finished HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and sent the book on submission to agents and eventually, to publishers, I was tempted to lean back, relax, and play more Jewelquest. After all, I’d just completed two and a half years of devotion to the book. I felt as if I deserved a break.

But something happened; I didn’t want a break. An obsession with a new historical figure had been brewing. While my agent submitted my novel to publishing house editors, I fed my new obsession and felt a story growing around it.

Then, an editor from Penguin wanted to speak to me on the phone. She loved HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and had many questions for me about the story and about my background. We had a great chat about the novel, but she was also very interested in what I was currently writing. My level of interest for my new subject was such that I was able to speak clearly on the new novel. It showed the editor that I was a serious writer interested in a career. I believe that question was the deal maker.

Writers, I know that saving the final revision on a novel is a moment of extreme triumph. Crafting a novel is an emotional journey–ask the spouse and family of anyone involved. When you complete a novel you do deserve to breathe for a bit, recharge your battery, and reset your mind for a new journey. If you need a significant amount of time, however, I’d recommend holding off on the query process until you are ready to jump into a new novel. There are several reasons for this:

First, it will give you something to focus on so you don’t obsess over agent/editor responses to your work. Nothing stifles creativity like a self-addressed stamped envelope carrying a form letter rejection. If you invest all of your energy and emotions into one project it places too much importance on it.

Second, when you do get an editor interested in your work, you will have an answer for, “What are you working on now?” I now know, firsthand, how important it is to have an answer to this question.

There is one final reason you should be working on your next novel: your readers. I self-published my first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, and was blessed to have had wonderful reader responses. The most common, however, sometimes made me feel wrung out. It was this:

“When can I read your next one?”

Don’t get me wrong, this is music to a writer’s ears. On the wrong kind of day, however, it actually sounds like this:

“When can you mine history for obscure facts, make dozens of time lines, uncover universal themes important enough to share, while packaging them neatly within three hundred pages splattered with your deepest fears, longings, and judgments for my consumption?”  

Let me reemphasize, the former are words every writer longs to hear and provide the best possible compliment, but if you don’t have something ready to say in response, a dissatisfying experience in communication results for all involved.

Writers, if you are able, keep working on the next project. Life gives us both welcome and unwelcome breaks from writing that are beyond our control. If you’ve finished a story, recharged, and have the time and energy, start your next project. Your editor, the world, and your SELF will thank you for it.

*Photo courtesy of PszczolaM at


14 thoughts on “Great Novel! When Can I Read the Next One?

  1. Hey there! Great post, as usual. I’m editing the second novel in my trilogy, and have the third one plotted out. I’m hoping that when I get to that conversation (oh, please please!) the fact that I’m well underway will be a bonus.

    I agree that you MUST keep writing throughout the submission process. I wrote that first draft of book 2 while querying, and the creativity definitely kept me sane!!

    Of course, can’t wait to read Hemingway’s Daughter and whatever else you whip out. Let me know if you need a beta. 🙂

  2. You are wise beyond your years, my dear! Great advice!

  3. I find the rate that writers are expected to crank out new books a little daunting. Whatever happened to taking a few years to write and polish a really good book? Aren’t there any agents/editors out there anymore who work with enough writers to allow for that?
    But then historicals of the type I write tend to be longer, so I guess it’s really like writing two books. Sword of Mordrey is 153,878 words. And easily could have been longer, but I was worried about the length with everyone saying novels should only be 100K. And yet Pillars of the Earth, Outlander and Game of Thrones are all fat tomes.
    Good advice to plunge right into the next project, Erika. Once the habit of writing everyday is established it’s probably not a good idea to put it down for long.
    What fun (and terror) to have an editor actuall y phone you! Yikes =)

    • Erika Robuck says:

      If it makes you feel any better, Cynthia, I only have a first draft of my second novel due next year. A book a year is a special challenge for historical novelists, but I’ll give it a try with these two and see what the future holds.

      Best of luck with your writing!

  4. Thanks for answering my question in such great depth, Erika! This is such great advice, and so helpful.

    I think writing is a lot like exercise; it’s hard to get into a routine, but once you get into it, it feels great. I’m in the initial planning stages of my next WIP and I can’t wait to dive into it next week! I only wish I’d started it sooner, because it would’ve been a welcome and necessary distraction from querying 🙂

  5. Erika Robuck says:

    Exercise is a great comparison!

    Good luck with the next WIP! I love all the promise and possibility of the first draft.

  6. heather webb says:

    Thanks for sharing your insight. I’m waiting with bated breath for Donald Maass’ workshop at the end of this month, myself.
    I have SO MANY ideas in my head on the back burner for book number two. I can’t wait to finish the revisions of book one and move on to research my second! I have to admit, though, the idea of cranking out one book per year is S-C-A-R-Y! It has taken me two and a half years to research and draft my first…and now for edits. I’m hoping my, ahem, expertise, will help move me along for books two and three, etc.

    I loved this:
    “When can you mine history for obscure facts, make dozens of time lines, uncover universal themes important enough to share, while packaging them neatly within three hundred pages splattered with your deepest fears, longings, and judgments for my consumption?”
    So right on. Keep up the good work, Erika!

  7. Erika Robuck says:

    Heather, I am so excited to hear how the workshop goes for you. It was a game changer for me.

    And, yes, I’m scared to death of “a book a year.”

    Thanks for commenting!

  8. erikamarks says:

    Erika, I loved reading this post. I had a VERY similar experience with my two-book deal and will always feel certain that having had a second novel in the works–while not yet finished–that was well-developed, made a huge difference in the decision.

    That’s why I think it is so important to show that we as writers have more than one book in us. Editors want to know that. Agents, too. That’s also why I think, as hard as it is (and I know how hard!), if a book isn’t garnering interest after many revisions, the best thing we can do is let it go and start on something new.

  9. As a fellow historical writer, oh how I can relate. 🙂 Well, not to the published author thing…yet. LOL, but to all the research you have to do just to start writing the first draft. Congratulations, BTW. I read about your deal on Publisher’s Lunch and I remember thinking how intriguing your novel sounds! Can’t wait to read it.

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