By Writing Excuses | November 21, 2010 - 7:46 pm - Posted in Guest, Theory and Technique

How do you write the second book? Zombie John Brown joins us for a discussion of that second novel.

(Note: As of this writing, John Brown remains NOT DEAD. Not UNDEAD, mind you. NOT DEAD. John D. Brown, author, is alive and well, and his nose is healing up quite nicely.)

We’ve got three possible approaches to take. The first is “your second unpublished novel.” The second is “your second published book.” The third is “the second book in a series.” All three of these are worth discussing, so of course we give the second one a wide miss.

We start with that second unpublished novel. This is the book where you move past the momentary validation of finishing the first novel, and sit down at the keyboard again. The lessons learned during the first novel are applied quickly. We talk about some of those lessons, and how they applied to each of us.

We then talk about the second book in a series. We look at what works well in sequels, in second acts, and subsequent installments in an ongoing series. We talk about the dangers of sequel-itis, especially as Hollywood suffers from it, and how we can avoid falling into these traps.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, narrated by Richard Ferrone

Writing Prompt: The growth on your nose… is it an alien, is it occult, or are you going to tell a love story?

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This entry was posted on Sunday, November 21st, 2010 at 7:46 pm and is filed under Guest, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. November 21, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

    The second one is so much better!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  2. November 21, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

    My gosh, you guys freaked me out so much. I’m reading his first book and I met him at a book signing (John brown) and I felt so sad. Very relieving to know he’s alive.

    Posted by Andrew Burt
  3. November 21, 2010 @ 11:51 pm

    So, Brandon is back from his whirlwind cross-promoted wanderings of many lands and vacation and you guys come out of the gate with three episodes?! Sweet!

    Posted by Mike
  4. November 22, 2010 @ 4:42 am

    Hey, another good episode. I am so glad that John Brown is walking, talking, and writing… dead or not.

    Maybe now you can do a show about third novels. I struggled to complete my first one, but seeing that I could actually push through and finish something gave me enough confidence to plow ahead and finish my second with much less effort. The third however, has thus far proven to be a bear, with its teeth and claws sharp and ready to fight me all the way. Has any one else had trouble writing past their second novel?

    Posted by Brenna
  5. November 22, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    Never realized Howard had any musical talent, unless it was mentioned before and I missed it.

    So, when are we getting a musical ep of Shlock Mercenary. :)

    Posted by B. Byron Whitten
  6. November 22, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    You guys never cease to amaze me. I am just finishing up my first novel and looking forward to the second (which I hope isn’t as big a train wreck as the first). You guys have given me hope again. Thanks for a great podcast.

    Posted by Metz
  7. November 22, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    You sirs, as we say in the UK are gits!

    You really got me. I was halfway through think ‘Oh Jeez, John is dead?’ t=when you started on the Zombie John thing and I realised you were, again in the vernacualr of the UK extracting the Urine. :)

    Consider me well and truly Punk’d.

    Posted by J Harrowell
  8. November 22, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    I did actually have to pause after the pronouncement of John Brown’s death…I’m glad he’s only un-, er, not dead.

    Posted by Miriel
  9. November 22, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    @B Byron Whittman – I second the request for Sclock Mercenary – The Musical! (Or how about Writing Excuses – The Musical?)

    Another fun episode, and a timely one for me – I’m starting to think about the next book and I’m glad I’m not alone in finding it harder to come up with a story than the first. I’ve also heard of people having trouble because they’ve been thinking for years about their first book, and had all that time to come up with the plot; they don’t have anything like that amount of time to come up with the next book, and book 2 is often much weaker than book 1.

    And I have to laugh at how we all come up with huge world-shattering epic stories when we first start. These days, I usually prefer the smaller, more personal stories. Too often, in the huge scope stories, I feel too distanced from the characters – the problem is so huge, the small personal problems are dwarfed, or even forgotten about while everyone deals with the big problem.

    Posted by Laurie
  10. November 22, 2010 @ 11:20 pm

    Does anyone feel that writing a novel is like raising a child? This year I finished my first novel and became a new parent. Despite all the preparation and hard work neither my child nor my first novel worked according to plan. I’ve found myself learning from both and being forced to adapt to their unexpected needs. I could go on with the connections but my point in drawing the parallel is to see how far the child rearing analogy goes. Writing that second novel is a rather scary prospect for me, nearly as frightening as adding a fourth member to my family. For those of you who have two or more children and have completed that second novel, are there any things you learned from raising your second offspring that would be helpful in writing a second book?

    Posted by Steen
  11. November 23, 2010 @ 6:04 am

    I was visiting Glenda Larke’s website and in her ‘On Writing’ section she basically said everyone should work hard to finish their first novel, and then throw it in the trash and start working on number two because in her opinion, almost every first novel is pure crap. The first novel is just for practice.

    I was wondering how many writers here agree with her.

    Posted by Oletta
  12. November 23, 2010 @ 8:36 am

    Timing! I finished my first novel (courtesy of NaNoWriMo) less than two weeks ago, and now here you are with a podcast about what I should do next. Thanks!

    Posted by Rik Davnall
  13. November 23, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

    BTW, I do trust, Mr. Zombie John Brown, that you are not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with “oogly-boogly?” I, personally, am of the opinion that a little oogly-boogly improves just about anything. :-)

    And I agree that Star Trek removes any stigma from a baseball cap.

    Posted by Laurie
  14. November 23, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    Laurie, Oogly-boogly improves just about anything? I thought that was bacon’s job.

    Posted by Oletta
  15. November 23, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    Yes, bacon also improves just about anything. And I don’t think oogly-boogly would improve bacon. Would bacon improve oogly-boogly?

    Posted by Laurie
  16. November 23, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

    I don’t know Laurie, I’ve never read a book where any one talked about how much they enjoyed oogly-boogly coated bacon with their eggs. But then, I am only half-human and I am not yet fully aware of Earthside customs. Things are much different back home in Otherworld.

    Posted by Oletta
  17. November 23, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

    Oletta, I’m still a novice when it comes to writing novels but I don’t agree with Larke’s comment. As with most things in life, I think it all depends. Training, exposure to authors and editors, education, how you read, and even your age I think all play a role in the quality of that first novel. Wallace Stegner, amazing author and the major force behind building Stanford’s CW department, stated something to the effect that someone in their late 20s hasn’t had enough life experience to be a serious writer yet. Now, I don’t know if that holds true for everyone but I can definitely see a difference in what I was writing in my earlier 20s and now in my 30s. Also, I believe my skills as a writer have improved dramatically because of my association with my wife and her friends. She is an editor and for the in the last six years I’ve been exposed to the publishing world and authors in ways I never experienced before meeting her. Even though I know there is a lot work I still need to invest in the novel I just finished, it is my first, I’m sure if I had written it seven years ago, it would be just another throw away novel. I could be wrong though, if I am I hope my first novel is something I can at least place in the recycle bin.

    Posted by Steen
  18. November 23, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

    […] After a cancerous death, I appeared on Writing Excuses this week to groan and hold forth with the guys on writing second novels and second books in a series. […]

  19. November 23, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    @ Laurie, of course not. :) Although I do sometimes feel compelled to have a bite of other cuisines now and again.

    Also, someone just emailed me about the writing debrief I mentioned. I explain it here:

    BTW, I’m really enjoying the taste of brains, folks. Bring yours over some time.

    Posted by John Brown
  20. November 23, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

    @ Oletta & Steen,

    Link to the Hines survey here:

    I think you’ll find the results on how many people sold their first novel very interesting.

    Posted by John Brown
  21. November 23, 2010 @ 10:33 pm

    @ John
    Thanks for the link. In my other life I’m working on a PhD in education. Data makes me happy:)

    Posted by Steen
  22. November 25, 2010 @ 12:37 am

    Gobble, gobble… I hope you are enjoying Thanksgiving!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  23. November 25, 2010 @ 11:52 pm

    To be fair, that’s a more efficient place to mount a microphone than on your shirt. It’s closer to being directly in front of the mouth, which is good, since the mouth is not an omnidirectional sound emitter.

    Posted by Rashkavar
  24. November 28, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    I am working on my second unpublished book and really enjoyed the podcast. After working on my second book I can see how my first needs to be thrown out and rewritten. I am very encouraged knowing that little things like how many books you wrote before you were published. I love the specifics you guys always mention about your writing. It is very helpful.

    Posted by Ehudwill
  25. December 1, 2010 @ 12:44 am

    John, have you read Velocity by Koontz? I haven’t read anything else by the author, but I picked it up from Wal Mart on a lark after I’d moved to a new town and had no tv, internet, or friends to spend time with. Unfortunately, it was so good that I finished it that very day.

    I know you like the setup, so here it is:

    A bartender goes out to his car at the end of the evening and finds a note on his car that basically says he has to choose between the death of a young schoolteacher or elderly woman in six hours. This sort of thing continues, choices about who will die, and the pacing just speeds up and speeds up until you can’t stand it anymore. Great stuff.

    Posted by Bryce
  26. December 6, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    Yes, I have. It was great. Koontz wanted to write some straight up thrillers and VELOCITY, THE GOOD GUY, and THE HUSBAND were the result.

    Posted by John Brown
  27. February 6, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

    Wow, you guys completely nailed everything that was wrong with my first book. It was really eerie.

    Posted by Stephany