Posted On April 11, 2011 by Print This Post

Writing the SECOND Book with Susan Sey

Join us today as we welcome Susan Sey, author of Money, Honey – a favorite of mine! Today Susan will tell us about her journey with the second book – Money Shot. She’ll be giving away a copy (as soon as it comes out!) so don’t forget to leave comments!

Susan Sey at Romance UniversityWe love firsts, don’t we?  First kiss, first love, first book, first sale.

Now I like firsts as much as the next girl but today, I’d like to talk about seconds.  Specifically, I want to talk about the second book.  My second book, MONEY SHOT, is due out on June 7, and it is without a doubt the best, strongest book I have ever written.  But I won’t lie to you people.  Writing it was a career-shaking disaster.

Because here’s the thing about second books.  That magic formula you finally discovered, allowing you to write a book that actually sold?  Yeah, you’re not allowed to use it again.  You can’t write the second book that same way.

And why not?  Because when somebody buys your debut book in a two-book deal, you have to give your editor a proposal outlining what exactly it is you’re planning to write for that second book.  And then you have to write THAT.  Or something approximating that.

As it turns out, I have two problems with this model.

Problem one:   I don’t know what I’m going to write before I write it.  Even when I outline it in excruciating detail, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.  Or, wait, I do know what’s going to happen–the broad strokes, anyway–but I don’t know to whom.  Or exactly how.

See, when I outline a book, it looks mostly like dialogue, only without any attribution tags.  Because it’s not the who that’s important to me, it’s the what.  It’s the argument.  When I write a story, it’s all about letting the two opposing viewpoints in my head duke it out.  The characters are just vehicles for the argument.  And back in the day, when my writing was just another invisible mommy chore I sandwiched between loads of laundry, this was no big deal.  Draft one rolls around and I assign my heroine Opinion A and my hero Opinion B because, hey, it seems reasonable.  And if, three drafts down the road, I realize the book won’t work unless it’s my heroine who holds Opinion B, and the hero who’s all about Opinion A?  No worries.  Nothing but time, baby.

Except now?  Not so much.  Now there are deadlines and expectations and oh dear lord I’m disappointing everybody who ever believed in me or–worse–cut me a check which I’m totally going to have to give back because I can’t write this book.  Not only is it not what I said it would be but it sucks, too!

Which brings us to problem #2:  charm.

Despite what I just said about the story being about the argument, nobody picks up a romance novel for the arguments.  We read romance for the characters.  We want to fall in love.  And so the argument doesn’t matter until you fall in love with the characters having the argument.  And my characters don’t get charming or loveable until about draft three.  (I’m sad to say three truly is the magic.)  Drafts one and two?  The balance is all off.  Light/dark, humor/gravity, plot/character, it’s all wonky.  But something magic happens in that third draft and it suddenly balances out.  The characters start to sparkle, the argument tightens up, the humor and depth dial themselves into harmony.

Which is why, for my money, you should always write the proposal AFTER you’ve written the book.  It’s way easier.  And more accurate.  And, unfortunately, impossible.  Not when you’re getting paid to write books.

I wish I could tell you I had a plan for fixing this but for me, this was the Lesson Of The Second Book:  You can’t fix how you write.  Your process is your process, and the sooner you embrace it, the better.  And if you can get your editor and agent to embrace it, too, and plan deadlines and/or contract negotiations accordingly, please drop me an email to let me know how you did that particular bit of voodoo.  I’d love to know.


RU Writers, do you have a process for writing? How do you think it will change for your next book?

Join us on Wednesday when Author Steven James talks about the Essence of Story


Susan Sey is the author of MONEY, HONEY, a 2008 Golden Heart Winner released by Berkeley Sensation in July 2010, as well as MONEY SHOT, her dreaded second novel, coming June 7.   She lives in the Twin Cities area with her wonderfully supportive family where she studiously avoids the laundry and dutifully rewrites everything three times, because three truly is her magic number.   (She wishes it were two.  One would be nice.)  You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, blogging with the Romance Bandits ( or on the web at  She loves to hear from readers.

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51 Responses to “Writing the SECOND Book with Susan Sey”

  1. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for joining us at RU! In a few short weeks, I’ll be working on Book 2. Actually, I’ve already started it, but had to set it aside for Book 1 revisions. Interestingly enough, other than a short paragraph blurb, my editor hasn’t asked for an outline.

    However, I did start an outline not long after I got The Call, but I’m only able to plot to the midpoint. The rest is a black void. I need to get back to it, because I’ll be finishing Book 1 edits soon.

    Thanks, Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | April 11, 2011, 4:57 am
    • Hi, Tracey! Congrats on getting those revisions finished up & getting back to book 2. You have my complete sympathy on all the black space where the second half of your book should be. I have that. A LOT of that. It’ll come, though. Chin up, & write into the blackness.

      And hey, when’s book 1 coming out? Title?

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:20 am
  2. Hi Susan,

    My book 2 has been revised so much it defys an outline. My characters’ argument comes as they get to know each other. I plant some seeds until one of them notices and decides he’s allergic.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | April 11, 2011, 5:50 am
    • Mary Jo wrote: I plant some seeds until one of them notices and decides he’s allergic.

      ~~This made me laugh out loud. Talk about an organic way to write–complete with allergies! Anybody developing allergies in your outline-defying book two yet? That’s the magic, isn’t it?

      p.s. I tried to snip your comment & put it in italics but I’m not sure html tags work on this site so if this comes through all wonky, I’ll apologize now. 🙂

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:23 am
  3. Hi Susan,
    Congratulations on you second sale! You process sounds much like mine, especially the laundry part, except I have the luxury of taking longer since I’m not published. I rarely know what’s going to happen other than a few scenes in my mind. And if someone taped my characters mouth shut I’d be in trouble because I love listening to them as they get to know each other through conversation. I’ve discovered lots of funny factsby just letting them have their say.
    Are these books “Money, Honey and Money Shot” part of a series, or with some of the same characters? I love to follow trilogies and especially like discovering old friends in the new stories. Is it hard to follow time lines when you do this? Thanks again for being here.
    Happy writing!

    Posted by Tereasa | April 11, 2011, 6:09 am
    • Thereasa wrote: And if someone taped my characters mouth shut I’d be in trouble because I love listening to them as they get to know each other through conversation

      This is so true, Thereasa! I love hearing my characters go back & forth,even when I don’t know what they’re talking about. Sometimes, though, it’s falling down the rabbit hole, isn’t it? Suddenly you’re places you never dreamed about…

      As for Money, Honey & Money Shot, they’re actually books 3 & 4 in what I think of as my Grief Creek series. Not truly connected books, but I wrote book one & stumbled across this character who needed her own book. So I wrote it, & it was my 2006 GH finalist, Double or Nothing. That pair of characters (Mara & Jonas) appear in Money, Honey as my hero’s sister and brother in law. And now Money Shot features Goose, my Money, Honey heroine’s secret service colleague.

      Confusing, no? Especially since Book 1 & Book 2 have never been & likely will never be published. Though if you’re really curious about Mara & Jonas you could visit my website ( I have a couple chapters excerpted there on my extras page.

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:28 am
  4. Hi, Susan. Thank you for being with us today. All I can say is, “Amen, sister!”

    I just submitted a proposal to my editor and felt the exact same way. At one point, I wondered if anyone ever turned in an outling that said ‘some really cool stuff happens here.’ Well, maybe I opted for another “s” word rather than stuff 🙂 but you get the idea.

    For me, it was torture trying to give the details of a book I hadn’t yet written. I usually have an idea of my beginning, middle and end, but the scenes in between generally come to me as I’m going along.

    I have to say, it was an excellent lesson in organizing my thoughts! LOL.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | April 11, 2011, 6:23 am
    • Adrienne wrote: I have to say, it was an excellent lesson in organizing my thoughts! LOL.

      Or losing your mind. 🙂 I know mine took a few hits trying to put together a one page blurb on a story that I haven’t written yet & not only capture the charm of the characters (which doesn’t actually exist until draft 3, did I mention that?) but also my particular voice. Crazy-making. If I weren’t already nuts, this would have done it, no?

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:30 am
  5. Hi Susan!

    I loved “Money Honey”, especially the snappy dialogue and your hero’s interaction with his niece. I’ve pre-ordered “Money Shot”. Is it Goose’s story? 🙂

    I know everyone has their own method of madness. I’ve outlined my new story, but I think I’m going to write the synopsis first and then see how far I deviate from it.

    Great to see you here on RU!

    Pink P.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 11, 2011, 7:06 am
    • Jennifer wrote: I know everyone has their own method of madness. I’ve outlined my new story, but I think I’m going to write the synopsis first and then see how far I deviate from it.

      Hey, Pink! Great to see you here, too! And good luck on the synposis. Sometimes, just for fun, I like to re-read my synposis once I have a final draft in hand. It’s good for a laugh. (For me, anyway. I don’t know how my editor feels about it.)

      And yes, Money Shot is Goose’s story! She was so much fun to write. All slick & polished & charming & impossible to get to the heart of. Except that Rush–my stoic, yummy, park ranger–cracks her like an egg. It’s a favorite story line of mine. I hope you enjoy it!

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:33 am
  6. Susan, I really enjoyed MONEY, HONEY so I’m glad I have another book of yours to read soon. I’m sorry it tortured you in the process though!

    I’m a pantser but I try to loosely outline things after I’ve gotten the 1st 50 pages written, just to give the characters a chance to tell me where they think they’re headed. LOL They’re often unsure too, so it’s always interesting to see how things change along the way, as they learn things or drop information bombshells. 🙂

    Posted by Donna Cummings | April 11, 2011, 7:21 am
    • Donna wrote: I’m a pantser but I try to loosely outline things after I’ve gotten the 1st 50 pages written, just to give the characters a chance to tell me where they think they’re headed.

      This is so wise, Donna. Write to a turning point, brainstorm to the next turning point, write, repeat. I heard once that Nora Roberts, when asked for an outline of her next book, wrote the entire book & handed that in instead. (Oh, to be prolific….) When her editor, taken aback, explained she only wanted an outline, legend has it Nora replied, “But I didn’t know what was going to happen until I wrote the book.”

      Amen. Now if only I could write faster….

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:36 am
  7. Holy cow, Susan! You. Are. Me. Does that make sense? I have the EXACT same problems! After book 1 I felt high on life. I’d done it! I was going to be a published author! Then I needed to do a synopsis for book 2. (Which I strayed from by chapter 3!) And I had to write book 2 by a specific date. Come to find out my muse does not appreciate feeling pressured. Then there were the two comments about book 2 that made everything even worse.
    1) A helpful? writing friend said, “Book 2 will be the hardest book you’ll ever write.”
    2) After book 1 was finished I asked my editor what happens next. She said, “You make your next book even better.” GULP!

    Well book 2 is now done. I feel if I had a bit longer to go through it one more time I could have made it perfect. Although I fear I will always feel that way.

    Great post, Susan! I’m so happy to know it isn’t only ME!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | April 11, 2011, 7:29 am
  8. Morning Susan!

    I loved Money Honey, and am looking forward to Money Shot!

    As a total pantser (who has taken innumerable classes to try to have that beaten out of me) I just know whoever got the proposal for my second book would be a little um….surprised at how it turned out. Heck, *I’M* surprised at how they turn out! Maybe it’s time I took another plotting class…lol…someday I’m sure it’ll take.

    Can’t wait for Money Shot! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 11, 2011, 7:33 am
    • Carrie wrote: Heck, *I’M* surprised at how they turn out! Maybe it’s time I took another plotting class…lol…someday I’m sure it’ll take.

      Honestly, if you find one that takes, please email me immediately. I need one, stat.

      In lieu of that, though, I’m taking a lot of comfort in the relationship this Book Two Hurdle has forced me to develop with my agent. She’s of the mind set that you want to turn in the best, cleanest book possible to your editor these days when they’re so pressed for time, so she’s very hands on in terms of giving feedback & holding my hand through revisions.

      My first book was pretty clean when she got it–it had been through the contest circuit a LOT–but she was with me every messy step of the way with the Dread Second Book, . If she didn’t drop me after that first draft, she’s never going to run screaming.

      It was very comforting, after I reflected on it (and stopped crying because my agent hated my book.)

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:44 am
  9. Thank you Susan! Very timely to see this today as I wrestle with Book#2. It is always heartening to find a kindred voice. I have heard (and hope this is valid) that deviating from a synopsis is fine, and forgiven by editors. But I have days when panic sets in– and I decide to change locale, characters, plot and genre — suddenly three or four new books begin to seem like the ‘one.’ So yes, the pressure of fulfilling a deadline and the expectation of an advance play all sorts of mind tricks that weren’t there when no one was paying attention. Thanks — you’ve restored my focus and discipline today…and I’m keeping my wayward brainstorms for books#3 and #4, should I make it through #2!

    Posted by Ellen Horan | April 11, 2011, 8:29 am
    • Ellen wrote: Thanks — you’ve restored my focus and discipline today…and I’m keeping my wayward brainstorms for books#3 and #4, should I make it through #2!

      You’ll survive, Ellen! There’s an entire sisterhood of neurotic writers out there struggling with book two–we’ll hold your hand & we won’t let you fall.

      And, hey, write those ideas down! Don’t let them disappear–open a file & call it Book 3. Write the stuff you want to, then cut it out of book two & stick it in the file. It’s wonderful when your agent/editor says, “Okay, what’s next?” and you have something fully fleshed out & ready to go. Think of it as brainstorming, not deviating from the plan, & hey, you’re ahead of the game!

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:47 am
  10. I’m going to add another “Amen” – I haven’t sold yet, but I’m already worrying about how (if I do eventually sell) I would deal with this issue. I write in much the same way you do – I love the magic of pantsing, and the more I plot the less I am able to write.

    Oh, I can do it – I can write a query and synopsis early on in the writing process, and I’ve done it many times before. But the synopsis usually ends up like The DaVinci Code on steroids or it becomes irrelevant as the story changes as I write it.

    When I start a story, I have an idea and I have characters, and the rest evolves. My writing process sometimes involves trying out different paths for the story, which can drive critique partners insane! Seriously, my CPs should be issued medals of valor.

    Once I get a feel for the direction I want the story to go, I can relax (ha!) and write. I’ve learned to work with anchor scenes instead of an outline – I like that much better than sticking to a synopsis. On the other hand, writing a short pitch or a query doesn’t throw me off – in fact, it sometimes helps by forcing me to identify the goals and conflicts in a few short lines.

    Your process may drive you crazy, Susan, but it definitely worked for MONEY,HONEY – I loved it! I can hardly wait to read MONEY SHOT – I preordered it ages ago!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | April 11, 2011, 8:37 am
    • Becke wrote: I’ve learned to work with anchor scenes instead of an outline – I like that much better than sticking to a synopsis.

      Oh, oh, oh! I love this idea! Anchor scenes! I have these too but I didn’t know what to call them. Like, in the book I’m working on now, I know I want a scene where the heroine accuses the hero of railroading her into going public with their relationship. She’ll lambastes him with all his supposed motives and machinations, only she’s completely wrong & by yelling at him she reveals way more about how she feels about him than she wanted to. I’ve been writing toward it for weeks. It’s all I really *know* at this point.

      It’s an Anchor Scene. Oh, it feels good to have a name for it! Thanks!

      And keep writing, Becke! The Call will come for you one of these days. And when it does, and you have the book two crazies, I’ll have a spot saved for you in the Crazy Corner. 🙂

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 8:52 am
      • I’m pretty sure I’m already IN the Crazy Corner!

        Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | April 11, 2011, 9:14 am
        • I love the term ‘anchor’ scene too… when I wrote book#1, I found I could pop around and create those scenes with the most ease, as they were the most dynamic in my imagination. So I did not write the book in its proper sequence. Later I put the scenes all together in a draft, and fiddled with the structure, keeping place holders for the ‘in between’ scenes that I hadn’t written. It sounds easy only in retrospect. As far as the angst involved as one hits a wall, I do know that ultimately the doubt and struggle we encounter can be put to good use: when we apply that emotion to our characters dilemna’s — it can bring them to life.

          Posted by Ellen Horan | April 11, 2011, 10:52 am
          • When I was reading 31 BOND STREET, I would never have guessed it caused problems for you. I think that’s the REAL magic – that what is almost painfully difficult for authors to write can translate into a seamless read.

            Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | April 11, 2011, 11:00 am
        • If Becke’s in the crazy corner, then I’m proud to be there with her.

          And Ellen your process for anchor scenes is inspiring. I’m trying to beat a second draft into shape right now so I think maybe I’ll give your method a shot. I’ll report back…

          Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 1:42 pm
  11. Susan,

    Thanks so much for being at RU today. Your book(s) sound like my kind of read so you can be sure I’ll be downloading the first one soon :).

    My problem? Revisions are normally very painful for me, but my drafts are far, far from clean so I have to do lots of revision. Can you give us some idea of your second and third draft process?

    I don’t yet have the problem of writing the second book, but I’ve had several people tell me it’s good to already have it in my back pocket when I sell :).

    Thanks again!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | April 11, 2011, 8:43 am
    • Kelsey wrote: Can you give us some idea of your second and third draft process?

      First, hugs on revisions. Don’t you wish at least *one* part of the writing process was easy? Or at least not pull your hair out maddening? Sigh.

      As for my 2nd/3rd draft process, it takes a skilled critique partner. I have one–the amazing Inara Scott, who writes YA for Hyperion–and I also have a hands-on agent who edits. So I finish my nasty draft one & send it their way. A waiting period ensues during which I am banned from looking at or thinking about my draft. I do Other Things. (Laundry usually. Lots of it waiting by then.)

      Then I get feedback. And it hurts. Oh, it hurts. My heroine’s unlikeable, my hero’s unmotivated and kind of a weenie. My villain is the only character anybody likes. (This happens to me way more often than I’d like to admit. I love my villains.) What can I say? I write that first draft to extremes.

      Draft two, therefore, is an exercise in dialing it back. Finding the few perfect ways to express what’s inside my characters without going too far or hitting the reader over the head. It’s tightening up the scenes, cutting the fat, making the dialogue sing & the prose matter. It’s making the characters real & flawed without killing any sympathy the reader has for them. Not an easy balance.

      Draft three is smoothing it all out. The puzzle pieces are finally in place & now it’s a matter of making it look seamless. It’s pretty Frankensteined up after Draft 2’s chopping block, after all.

      And, yes, all of this involves colored markers & thumb tacks & index cards. I’m a low-tech kinda girl when it comes to revisions. I have a big ol’ foam board & I plot the story out on index cards with colors representing different plot threads so I can check the balance as I go.

      Shoot, I don’t know. This sounds like a mess. What do you guys do?

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 11, 2011, 9:02 am
  12. Susan, thanks so much for posting with us today – we (the mixed assortment of nuts) had a blast! We’re looking forward to your new book this summer – can’t wait!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 11, 2011, 9:21 pm
  13. I find your three-draft process interesting. I always wonder whether a “draft” is a revision of the first draft or a complete rewriting of the story, infused with all the new information you learned during the prior draft?

    Posted by PatriciaW | April 12, 2011, 11:02 am
    • Hi, Patricia–

      Good question! My second draft involves a great many new pages. If a finished book is roughly 400 pages, I probably keep 200 from my first draft & write a fresh 200 for that second draft. Then in draft three, I keep most of the pages & just polish them like mad. And did I mention my first draft usually weighs in about 150 pages over 400? So I cut those extra 150, plus the 200 that don’t make sense, leaving me with about 200 that do. This is why I need about a year a book.

      Posted by Susan Sey | April 12, 2011, 7:15 pm
  14. This was an interesting blog post. I enjoyed Money, Honey and look forward to reading your next book.

    Posted by Kim | April 19, 2011, 5:34 pm

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