While U Wait: Build Inventory

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office

Weather: 89º and sunny

Yesterday I shared Susan Lawson’s journal entry. She, like so many waiting writers, asks what to write next? It’s a valid question. Does one begin the second book in a proposed series? Does it make more sense to start something fresh? Or should we think economically and keep from writing something that may never sell, holding off until someone shows interest in our first book?

Before I answer those questions, let me go back to something we’ve discussed here before. Too often a writer’s first book is far better than the next few. Strange, when we expect a writer’s skill to grow with each book, but here’s what too-often happens: a writers lavishes time on the very first book. It may go through edit after edit. The writer faithfully takes it to critique group and might even employ the help of an outside editor. The book is polished until it gleams. There may be years from first concept to contract. If that book releases and is successful, a second book is contracted. The writer may have nine months to write that book–maybe even less if the publisher wants to satisfy your emerging fan base. It begs the question, can you write a second book in nine months that compares with a first book that took half a decade to perfect? Maybe, but maybe not.

One way to anticipate this sophomore slump is to begin to build “inventory” while you wait for that first contract. When you’ve typed “the end” on one book, open up a file on the next book. To paraphrase Thoreau, move confidently in the direction of success. What do you have to lose? Some time, if you never do get published, but if you don’t love those hours spent writing you’re in the wrong business anyway. Look at successful authors. Many of them were able to go back and sell multiple books they wrote in those early years.

It doesn’t make sense to be time-stingy at this point in your career. In most industries we are encouraged to consider ROI– Return On Investment. At this point in your career you have no idea if there will ever be a return on your investment of time but perfecting your craft takes practice. If you are committed you need to keep writing until you decide to hang up your dreams.

Susan asked what to write. She’s a novelist and has a three book series planned. She already has book two and three sketched out. I would advise her to leave those for now and write something new. That way if book one never resonates with agents or editors, she’s on her way to a fresh possibility. As for the book she’s circulating, since she’s already spent time with the settings and characters it will be easier to pick this up and move forward if book one is contracted.

For a nonfiction writer there are a couple of possibilities. If you are well-branded and the book that is circulating is your signature book– the book that encapsulates your philosophy or your message, you might want to start working on some connected ideas. Line extensions are always an interesting way to go. For instance, if your flagship book is How To Talk Your Way Out of Anything, you may want to start on a book for women called How Women Can Talk their Way Out of Anything. Or instead, perhaps you need to turn your message on its head and write the opposite How You Can Talk Your Way Into Success.

If you are not a well-branded, go-to person you may just need to explore other nonfiction subjects and come up with your next new idea. Nonfiction writers can fill time by writing articles as well. You build writing credits, get exposure and make some money– all at the same time. Not a bad way to wait.

You need to use your waiting time well. Think how happy you’ll be when an editor asks you, “What else do you have?”

Let me ask you: What do you write while you are waiting for that big break?

13 Responses

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  1. Nicole says:

    Another novel. Working on number eight. Have started number nine.

  2. Lynn Rush says:

    I’ve blogged on this waiting thing a lot over the last year. The best way to wait is to write. It passes the time, you get more experience, and learn the craft…can’t go wrong with that, right?

  3. Lynn Dean says:

    Thank you! This confirms the wisdom of advice I received from another trusted source.

    I write historical fiction. My first story was set in the Southwest around 1870, and I developed a synopsis and the first three chapters for two sequels before setting them aside. For “something new,” my wip is set on Mackinac Island during WWI. I’m about halfway through that one and honestly glad for this window of time to learn and grow.

  4. Teri Dawn Smith says:

    That’s the question pounding in my head, Wendy. I’ve got three different ideas, all three different directions, screaming for attention. I’m ready to type “Chapter One”, but how do I decide?

    In any case, thanks for the sound advice.

  5. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Wendy!

    I’ve written articles, weekly humor columns, devotionals, stories, speeches, Bible reference contributions–and, of course, new proposals.

  6. Wendy says:

    Because I did exactly as you advised in this post I learned how much I’m at home writing women’s fiction. The genre suits me. I discovered this as I wrote novels two, three and four. Hoping by the end of summer I’ll have two polished novels and a children’s book to pitch. I’m all about building inventory.
    ~ Wendy

  7. Wendy. This is a helpful article..and timely for me. Thank you for sharing this topic.

    Perhaps the biggest difference between a contracted writer and the yet-to-be contracted writer are deadlines. In the absence of a well-meaning editor or agent cracking the literary whip we need to provide our own means of time accountability.

    One of the most useful tools I’ve discovered are writing conferences. I always like to have something fresh and well developed to share at these events. Because there are deadlines associated with submissions and having proposals and manuscripts to present, I find conferences to be powerful incentives to keep the ideas and projects flowing.

  8. Terri Tffany says:

    Wendy,
    Great post! I’m ready this fall to start writing my 5th book. Try to do one a year if I can. But after attending a writer’s conference earlier this spring only to hear that historical and romance are selling, it makes me wonder if I should stop with the women’s fiction and try romance again now that I’ve grown in my craft.
    Suggestions? Thank you!

  9. patriciazell says:

    Since I have a blog, I will keep on writing posts after I finish the posts for my book. I’m brainstorming different paths to go and looking at possibly asking my visitors for questions that they have. I could also go in the direction of favorite scripture passages or of something like a verbal photo album from my 40+ year walk with God. Everything that I would do will directly relate to God’s absolute love (my brand).

  10. Wendy Lawton says:

    Terri, you can never “write for the market” because by the time your book is ready, the market may have moved on. You just have to write what you love and wait for the market to circle around– and it always does.
    If you are dreaming about writing romance however and that IS what you love, do it. There has always been a strong market for romance.

  11. Lori Benton says:

    A companion novel to the one being shopped around now, both of which can stand alone, but which a sequel would tie together. I’m world building, in other words. One aspect of writing fantasy that I’ve not been able to shake, though I stopped writing fantasy back in the 90s.

  12. Morgan Busse says:

    Thank you for this post. I am now working on my second book as my first one makes the rounds 🙂

  13. Thanks so much for this post! I am working on book two right now as I wait. I missed my characters so much that I couldn’t wait to get back to them. 🙂