Writing a hit book is easy. There’s nothing to it.
Sure, there’s some talent and skill and luck needed. And it all needs to be multiplied by hard work.
But no one’s watching. You’re just singing karaoke in the dark, belting out tunes, and maybe, just maybe, one of them comes out right and perfect at the right time.
That’s what a hit book is.
As a writer, you could pull out all your tricks and gadgets and pour them into one great book. Or at least you think it’s great. It could just be a flop. But no one’s watching. So you just tuck away that flop, put it in the pile of first drafts and earlier disasters, and start working on that hit book again.
And once you’ve finally sweated out enough time and effort and pain, writing that hit book was so easy.
Now writing the follow-up? That’s hard.
My first big book was a children’s book. I had motivation – I was going to be a new dad. I was getting heaps of crappy books given to me by well-meaning aunts and cousins. Books I would later hide, so that just in case my son didn’t take a shine to them.
And I wrote out an idea – The Monster Alphabet. I loved the concept of it, and I searched out the 26 monsters that I needed to make it happen. I convinced Obsidian Abnormal, my artist partner on the webcomic Hello With Cheese, to illustrate it. I found a printer, and found that it was going to take at least $5,000 to print it up. I had about half that, and a credit card ready to cover most of the rest. And when I finally put together the Kickstarter for it, I thought that I might be able to get $1,000. At least $500.
So I put up that modest request, just $500.
That first Monday, we hit $4,926.
We had 1,166 backers sign up, and a slew of fans have depleted all of the first printing. People still like to talk to me about that silly percentage of over-funding we did – 5,015%. I checked, it’s not a record.
In the year that followed, I began to understand the pain of a newly-famous garage band. Such a band can spend six years just playing small parties and building up one really good album. And that one really good album can become an instant hit. Now all the band has to do is improve on six years of work in one year to get a good follow-up out and prove that they’re not a one-hit wonder.
Monster Alphabet hung over my head. Reading it to my son, I could feel the natural follow-up. Parents know that the aforementioned boring board books for kids come in four flavors – letters, numbers, shapes and colors. And they’re usually in that order of popularity.
Clearly, numbers had to be the sequel.
So I started grinding through the permeations. I started working on a book called The Magic Numbers of Science. I was doing my normal research on it, even finding out that Magic Numbers are an actual scientific thing. And I was trying to boil down climatology and atomic research into a children’s book. It was working, too, if you ask my ego.
But it wasn’t a sequel to a hit book. It was a weak connection at best.
There’s a space of about 10 days from where I finally finished plotting out the Magic Numbers of Science to shelving it to finally having that one sleepless night when the whole right idea came spilling out of my head.
The Monster Numbers.
Seriously, it took me just over a year to figure that the sequel to a book about monsters needs to have monsters in it.
Initially, I was starting to write a book about counting X number of monsters on each page. And I was picturing Obsidian slowly strangling me for making him draw the same monster over and over 10 times. That, and when you can just pick 10 of anything out of a list of thousands, there’s a bit of paralysis from over-stimulation.
It was my son that helped me figure out what I needed to do. Possibly the one thing that we had the hardest time teaching him was the names of body parts. There’s only so many times you can sing Head Shoulder Knees and Toes (Knees and Toes). And the phrase, “The Cyclops has one eye” just lodged itself onto the page and refused to move.
From there, I’d love to say that the process was easy, and the book magically wrote itself. But as I also noted, I am an idiot, and I enjoy upping the difficulty rating for no reason whatsoever.
I decided that I was going to do one monster or legendary creature per number, and to never repeat a body part or country of origin. After three tries, we got it to work.
The hard part is now past us on The Monster Numbers. We’re now in the phase of telling every person we see about it, letting them know about our Kickstarter, and hoping that a lot of people think Veronica Mars is spelled “Monster Numbers.”