'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 22 September 2016

Guest Post: Writing a Modern Day Trilogy with Peter Millett

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome full-time author Peter Millett to discuss the challenges of writing a modern day trilogy. Peter has recently released the third book in his junior fiction series Johnny Danger.

My first trilogy was written in what I refer to as the 20th century of publishing. (Any time prior to e-books). I was paid an advance based on how long it would take to write the books, and then I set about writing them. Pretty straightforward stuff. There was no requirement for me to be tweeting, texting or Facebooking about my progress - just head down tail up writing.

Fast forward to 2013/14 and the process for writing a commercial trilogy had entirely changed. Due to the massive publishing downturn it was no longer possible to simply write three books in advance and then send them out into the marketplace and hope for the best. Johnny Danger book one was poked, prodded, analysed, focus-grouped and pulled apart then reassembled until every single person involved in the book’s production was satisfied it could survive on its own in the land of the booksellers.

Any thoughts of it being accompanied by sequels were pleasant notions best saved for another day. The elapsed working schedule from getting the original 30,000 word manuscript approved to seeing the second page proofs was about 18 months.

Johnny Danger, DIY Spy

Book one was successfully launched and I duly set about embracing the brave new world of be tweeting, texting and Facebooking to promote it.

Six weeks after book one’s debut I got the call that two sequels were required immediately. Or earlier. Ideally they both needed to be written in half the time it took to produce the first book.

This was exciting and stressful news for me. I was thrilled that we were heading back into trilogy territory but I didn’t have the resources required to deliver it in the desired time frame. I’m a full-time writer and I have to move from project to project or else small things like groceries don’t appear when they are most needed. At that point I had already embarked on three separate smaller books that would take a decent chunk of time to complete.

Faced with a tricky dilemma I decided to go into double-book writing mode and wished my family farewell as I would probably not see them outside of my writing study for a couple of seasons.

Round-the-clock writing is intense and disorientating. When you start allocating time available for others on Christmas Day and birthdays to suit your writing schedule you know you are in way over your head.

How other authors can put in a 60-hour working week in a demanding office job and still have enough brain space available to write novels and be a good parent is beyond me.

Book two was delivered on schedule and book three slowly took its form. However I found myself unable to focus on the third book as keenly as I had for its predecessors. I was exhausted from trying to outdo book one by making book two bigger bolder and better. Additionally, trying to complete three smaller books simultaneously had left me spent.

My worst fear was releasing a book that felt tired because I was tired. I’ve read sequels from some of my favourite authors that haven’t been up to scratch in comparison to their earlier efforts. Maybe they had exhausting deadlines to meet. I can empathise with any writer who finds themselves caught in a pressured position these days. I’m not saying it was easier a few decades ago, but certainly managing time, money and resources is exceptionally difficult at the moment. 

Johnny Danger: Lie Another Day

The best way for me to continue book three was to write at a reduced pace and try and get to the finish line with as much of it completed as possible in the way I wanted to do it. The deadline came and I was only three quarters finished. The publisher and I arranged for a one-off extension to buy some more writing time. I also received a major shot in the arm when an editor who I have extensively worked with in the past returned from maternity leave to assist me. She had fresh eyes and was able to look at project objectively and throw down the gauntlet for me to finish it with a bang. Her energy rubbed off on me and I felt like one of those long-distance runners who suddenly receives a kick of adrenaline despite the aching body.

In a two-week period we reshaped the book and gave it the sharper dimension that it needed. I have never worked so collaboratively with an editor on a book before, and the project’s success is entirely due to her input. (Any children’s writer who thinks they can publish in isolation is very ambitious.)

I’m pleased to report that after much Berocca the third book now matches the standards of the two previous instalments.

What’s my next project after Johnny Danger? Reconnecting with my family!

Johnny Danger: Spyborg (Book 3)

Peter Millett is a New Zealand children's author. His books include the Boy Zero Wannabe Hero series and The Anzac Puppy picture book. His latest book is Johnny Danger: Spyborg, the third book in the series following Johnny Danger: Lie Another Day and Johnny Danger: DIY Spy, published by Penguin. Visit Peter Millett's website and Facebook page for more information about his books and writing projects. You can find links to all of Peter's YouTube videos at the Danger Films YouTube Channel.