Publication of your first book is a euphoric event. All those hours alone with a keyboard, or walking the dog, or sitting in the bathtub, or whatever helps you achieve a state of contemplation that works for you, have all been worth while, and you have never been even close to as happy with anything you have ever done. (I speak as a man, and allow that giving birth is even more rewarding.)
What’s more, people approve what you’ve done, whether they read your book or not. You get to sign your name on the flyleaf, to have your hand shaken by strangers, to see your face in the local paper. If you Facebook and/or Twitter, you’re covered in “LIKEs”. Life is good.
Long before you’re ready to stop grinning and trying to be modest in the face of all this praise, the honeymoon is over and the world, or your particular corner of it, no longer smiles upon you. Unfortunately, you are usually the last to notice. You’re still thinking that Oprah might yet endorse your book, or Peter Jackson buy its film rights, or at least it could become Book of the Month. After all, it’s The Book of Your Life, so why not?
“You just want people to sit at your feet while you read from your book,” said my wife, and such was the extent of my besotted state that I heard only a reasonable observation that mirrored my own thinking. I replied, completely sincerely, “Yes.”
First book publication is a fleeting moment that draws quickly to its close the moment your editor asks you, “Well, when can we expect your next?” Since there’s a good chance that no matter how quickly it got onto paper, your first book took years in the gestation process, it’s tempting to answer vaguely with something like, “In a decade or so, maybe.”
At that moment, you face two roads as different as Robert Frost’s. Spend the rest of your life Facebooking and Tweeting about yourself and what you wrote a steadily increasing time ago, or get on with writing another.
When you actually do get your second book published, you realize just how revoltingly pompous you were over number one, and how casual both you and the world can be about your second opus. It’s like having children: we celebrate the first-born as a unique miracle, hand out cigars, pour champagne, shake hands and slap backs, but number two is, well, business as usual, or worse. “Not as big as his older brother, is he?” And, sadly, you agree.
If you really are more than a one-book-wonder, you go back to writing the next one because that’s what you do, what you (at times, masochistically) enjoy doing, and what is now something you just have to do, whether it’s published or not, whatever whoever thinks, even if the whoever is an editor who doesn’t like what you’ve written.
It’s the difference between, on the one hand, being a writer, which is a bit like being male, or female, or gay, or Born in the USA or something else that you didn’t choose, and on the other, wanting to live for ever in first book euphoria, which you secretly lusted after for years, reveled briefly in, and then discovered that, wonderful as it was, the passing moment was once-in-a-lifetime unique.
On the third hand, it may just be that you need to stay ahead of the bills and mortgage payments.