Publishing Journey, The True Queen, Writing Process

My publishing journey: How to write second book?

I am really nervous, sitting down to write this — almost more nervous than I am about the fact that The True Queen is out today. (You can buy it! Please do!) But I promised myself I’d do this once the long nightmare was over, because it’s helped me when other writers have talked about the hard parts.

Second book syndrome

I had second book syndrome in spades. Two things contributed to this. The revision process for my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown had been extensive and emotionally challenging. Now, I have absolutely no doubt it improved the book, and it also developed writing muscles I hadn’t even known existed. But by the time I was done with the book — or by the time it was done with me, which is more how it felt — I had spent so long considering external feedback, working in a way that I found quite counter-intuitive, that it was very hard to find my way back to the inner voice that tells you what you want in your writing, what you are trying to achieve.

The second thing was the attention. Sorcerer wasn’t a huge bestseller or anything like that, but it did receive a measure of buzz and it led to far more people reading my work than ever before. This was great and what I’d been working towards, of course, but it was also stressful. Suddenly I had to contend with the pressure of reader expectations. I really, really wanted to get the second book right. I was terrified of putting a foot wrong, and that’s death to creativity.

What happened

I started writing the second book in January 2015, right after turning in final edits on Sorcerer. I’d originally written Sorcerer as a standalone and we sold it as the first in a loose trilogy — the next two books were to be standalones set in the same world but focusing on different main characters.

I slogged through the first draft, trying to avoid googling “how to write second book???” more than once a day. I never really got to grips with my new protagonist, but I kept working, hoping this would remedy itself in the next draft. (It often takes me a whole draft to work out what a book should be about.) I completed a 120,000-word “this is not for showing ANYONE ever” zero draft in June 2015, then started revising.

As I revised, though, I started to worry. I still didn’t know my protagonist and that didn’t seem right — I had felt very sure of Sorcerer‘s Zacharias and Prunella from the start. I spoke with my editor, who suggested among other things that readers would want to see Zacharias and Prunella again.

All right, I thought. This draft and protagonist clearly aren’t working. Maybe the answer is to go back to the characters I — and my readers — already know and love.

So I decided to put my 120,000-word MS in the bin. It was painful, but I hoped I’d got all the wrong words out of the way, so I could write a good book now. I outlined a completely new version, with a new plot. This time it was a more traditional sequel, focusing on Zacharias and Prunella’s further adventures.

Between October 2015 and March 2016 I produced a new draft. I turned it in, keenly conscious that it was more holes than cheese, but hoping I’d be able to work it up into something decent with my editor’s help.

A couple of weeks later, my editor was let go.

I was passed on to my (great!) current editor, but before my former editor left the company, she very kindly sent me her notes on my MS. They required a significant rewrite of the book, but I’d known that was coming and it was a relief to have specific feedback after spending so long flailing in the dark with my draft. Sure, I was in for a lot of hard work and the publication date would need to be pushed back, but at least I had a place to start from and an idea of what to fix. Apprehensive but determined, I dived into the revision.

In total the rewrite took six months; I turned the revised MS in in August 2016. The draft clocked in at just short of 124,000 words. I told myself that it was all right that the draft felt terrible. It probably wasn’t as bad as I thought, and they could help me make it better, right?

In September 2016, my agent rang and told me that the revised MS I’d turned in was not publishable.

What it felt like

I felt like my head had been kicked in. I felt like I was failing over and over again, with no end in sight. I felt like a total loser.

At some point during the almost 4 years when I was working on this book (these books? they were not really the same book), I asked an author who’d published a trilogy what it had been like writing her second book. She said, “Have you watched The Night Manager?”

I had not. She said, “There’s a scene where someone gets beaten up, a torture scene, and it’s really brutal, really gritty. This person gets absolutely battered, and it just goes on and on and on. That’s what it felt like.”

We’ve got to go through it

After some discussion my publisher agreed to grant me yet another extension to allow me to start again from scratch.

There was something freeing in having been broken down so completely. This time I tried something I hadn’t done before, that I hadn’t quite dared to do. I stepped outside Regency England. I started from home — from Janda Baik, a fictional island in the Straits of Melaka, the stretch of water along which my family has lived and died since our forebears left China for Malaya. And I started with a protagonist with no memories and no magic, embarking on a perilous journey.

In the course of 2017 I wrote the book that would eventually become The True Queen. In 2018 I edited it and now, in 2019, it has been published and the thing is done.

The True Queen felt better than the previous versions from the outset, but that didn’t mean the process of writing it was not painful, full of stops and starts, clouded by doubt and uncertainty. At least once I had a screaming meltdown and had to be talked out of emailing my agent to say I couldn’t do it, I had to pull out of the contract.

But somehow I made it to the end. My feeling for the book now is like my feeling for its ordinary, long-suffering, well-meaning protagonist — Muna, who must leave her home and almost everything she cares for to set off on an adventure with an uncertain end.

I tried my hardest with the book; its aims are worthwhile aims. Whether the book achieves those aims is for readers to decide now. I hope they find in it what I always try to put in my stories — entertainment, reassurance and heart.

The True Queen is out today from Penguin Random House in the US. It’s due out on 21 March in the UK and Commonwealth, published by Pan Macmillan.

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My Stories

Sequel to “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”

Update (May 2020): This short story sequel is no longer available online as I’m planning to self-publish a bundled ebook containing the original novelette and sequel. You can still read the original novelette for free here: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. Thanks to everyone who supported it at the Hugos!

Towards the end of last year I wrote a short story as a coda to my novelette about a failboat imugi striving to be a dragon, which was sent out to subscribers to my new release mailing list. I’ve now posted it to my website and you can read it here!

Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon by Zen Cho

Also I hear Hugo awards nominations are now open for 2018 publications! If you enjoyed If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, I’d be thrilled if you’d consider nominating it in the Best Novelette category. (My dream is to have a Hugo nomination in a year I’m actually likely to make it to Worldcon, so I have an excuse to bring a fancy outfit plus get to attend the Hugo Losers Party. But of course you must nominate as your heart directs, unswayed by my dreams of frivolity!)

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My Stories, SFF, Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen

Site update: THE TRUE QUEEN and a new novelette!

I’ve let this website go to pot somewhat while I was busy finishing my book, but I’ve now updated it!

The follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown is in the bag and will be published in March 2019. The True Queen is a standalone novel set two years after Sorcerer, about a young woman from the Malayan isle of Janda Baik who goes on a quest to break a curse and save her sister — and becomes enmeshed in intrigue in England and Fairyland along the way. It’s about sisterhood and magic and growing into yourself, and also Hijinks with Dragons (my brand). It follows new characters and explores the world beyond England, but readers of Sorcerer will recognise a number of familiar faces. You can find out more — and preorder a copy! — here:

The True Queen.

Speaking of Hijinks with Dragons, I’ve got a new novelette up at the B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog, called If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again:

A hapless imugi is determined to attain the form of a full-fledged dragon and gain entry to the gates of heaven. For a long time, things don’t go well. Then, it meets a girl.

It’s about dragons and failure and what happens when life doesn’t go to plan. It’s also my only awards eligible publication this year because I write and publish at the approximate pace of a distractible snail _(┐「ε:)_ Read it here!

And I’ve been finding it hard to make the time for blogging, but whenever I do manage a ramble, it goes out to my Cakap Angin newsletter. You can check out past newsletters here: Cakap Angin archive. For alerts about new fiction, though — including the occasional free short story sent right to your inbox — you’ll want to stick to my new release mailing list.

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Sorcerer to the Crown, Writing

An update

Just a brief post to say Happy New Year and apologise for the radio silence here! I’ve been travelling, as you’ll have seen if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, and I’ve also been working on my book.

This is a follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown and it’s not going to be out before 2018, notwithstanding reports elsewhere (including by me /o\) that it was due out this year. Sorry! The delay is entirely my fault, but I am working steadily on it and it will get done. I’ll post about the details when I can.

Till then, there’s not likely to be too much activity on this blog, though I do plan to start posting more about writing and publishing and all that sort of thing once I’ve got the MS in a state I’m reasonably satisfied with. Consider it a fallow period — I gotta build up my nitrates!

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Sorcerer to the Crown

SORCERER TO THE CROWN is out in paperback!

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I did a little post about my Disney’s Gargoyles feels for the Tor UK blog to celebrate! Gargoyles was so good. *_* If you’ve been waiting for the paperback, here’s where you can buy the book!

USA
Penguin Random House
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s
Hudson Booksellers
Amazon
Walmart

UK
Pan Macmillan
Wordery
Hive
Waterstones
Blackwells
WH Smith
Amazon UK

Worldwide
These sites offer free shipping worldwide
Book Depository (US and UK editions available)
Wordery (UK edition only)

I had all these great plans to write more Publishing Journey posts around this time but er I’m a bit busy at the moment. Once I’ve emerged from the haze of book 2 rewrites and day job stuff I’ll do more! In September it’ll be a year since Sorcerer came out so that might be a good time. Do leave a comment, email or let me know on Twitter or Facebook if there’s anything in particular you’d like to hear about my experiences of writing and publishing.

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Giveaways, Sorcerer to the Crown

Preorder SORCERER TO THE CROWN in paperback & win Coryographies earrings!

I keep meaning to post about things that have happened … but then more things happen and I forget to do it. But never mind my dilatory blogging. Look, it’s a

~*~*~*~SORCERER TO THE CROWN PAPERBACK PREORDER GIVEAWAY!~*~*~*~

sorcerer_front mech.indd Sorcerer to the Crown UK PB
 
 Sorcerer to the Crown is out in paperback on 12 July in the US and 28 July in the UK. (In other countries you should get the respective editions more or less on the same dates, but check with your friendly local bookshop to be sure.) If you preorder and let me know, you’ll get a chance to win these amazing earrings:

Image of earrings made of tiny stacks of books

Tiny awesome book earrings by Coryographies! They retail for £15!

Aren’t they cute? I love my Coryographies Regency bookshelf necklace, which I ordered when Sorcerer first came out in hardcover:

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Look at the tiny quill! The tiny letters! The tiny perfume bottle!

It’s pretty sturdy, but you can tell you shouldn’t be banging it about. And I sort of do, because I take it along whenever I travel for cons or book events and also I’m a terminal fidgeter. Finally the letters on the top shelf fell off in protest1 and I sent the pendant back to Coryographies for repairs — and she sent me the earrings as a gift when she returned it!

Tragically, I can’t wear earrings. But perhaps you can, or know someone who can and would love these! If you tick either of those boxes, plus you love Regency hijinks in conveniently portable paperback form, this is the perfect giveaway for you.

Here’s the deal:

  • You preorder the Sorcerer to the Crown paperback and email me, providing valid proof of purchase, your name and address. (Make sure you email me at the address at the link!)
  • I put your name in a hat.
  • I choose someone at random out of that hat and they win the earrings! It might be you. And then you will look like this!

Picture of me holding an earring up to my ear

Except you will not have to hold the earrings up to your ear because hopefully you will have pierced ears that will hold up the earrings themselves.

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If that sounds good to you, here are sites where you can place your preorder. Once you’ve done that, contact me with proof of purchase, plus your name and address. Don’t forget to take a look at the Terms and Conditions at the end of this post!

Step 1: Preorder the book!

USA
Penguin Random House
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s
Hudson Booksellers
Amazon
Walmart

UK
Pan Macmillan
Wordery
Hive
Waterstones
Blackwells
WH Smith
Amazon UK

Worldwide
These sites offer free shipping worldwide
Book Depository (US and UK editions available)
Wordery (UK edition only)

You can still participate if you preorder the book somewhere else — just send me your valid proof of purchase.

Step 2: Let me know!

Email me at zenchogiveaways AT gmail DOT com, with the subject line “Sorcerer to the Crown PB preorder giveaway”. Please provide proof of purchase, your name and address.

Step 3: ???

This is the part where I process entries using a magical randomiser I will find on the Internet!

Step 4: Profit!

By winning a pair of earrings! Maybe. Only one of you will win them. Everyone who has preordered gets a nice new book, though. And you can always buy the earrings directly from the creator if you can’t be bothered with all this giveaway hassle!

Giveaway Terms and Conditions

  • Open worldwide.
  • Giveaway starts at 12 noon on Friday, 17 June 2016 and closes at the end of the day on Monday, 11 July 2016 (British Summer Time). Any entries received after 12 midnight (British Summer Time) on 11 July 2016 will not be counted.
  • 1 winner will receive 1 pair of the Coryographies Stack of Books Earrings as pictured in this blog post.
  • In order to participate, you must preorder the paperback of Sorcerer to the Crown and email me, providing valid proof of purchase, your name and address. I will not disclose the personal information you provide me to anyone else, and I will use it only for the purposes of this giveaway.
  • The winner will be chosen at random.
  • I will inform the winner by email within 7 days of the closing date and may also announce their name on social media. The winner must respond within 14 days of notification to claim their prize and I will dispatch the prize within 14 days after that.

Let me know if you’ve got any questions by leaving a comment below!

 

1 Just to be clear, if you’re reasonably careful with your possessions you should have no problems. I am pretty rough and even then the letters were only coming away a bit — I pulled them off the rest of the way because I didn’t want them to get detached while I wasn’t looking and be lost forever.

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Other People's Stories, SFF, Sorcerer to the Crown

SORCERER TO THE CROWN on the Tiptree Award longlist

I’ve already squeaked about this on social media, but I’m thrilled that Sorcerer to the Crown is on the 2015 Tiptree Award longlist! The Tiptree is the coolest SFF award IMO, and they’ve highlighted an awesome range of novels, short stories, comics and nonfiction this year.

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I’m particularly delighted to see the shout-out for Kuzhali Manickavel’s Things We Found During The Autopsy.

The winners and honor list look very cool. You can find out more about them at the Tiptree Award website here: 2015 Winners, Honor List and Long List.

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