The Trouble With a Series, and the Upsides to Self-Doubt

One of the crazy things I did this year was put out two novels in the space of ten months.

I know, it’s not really crazy at all for most self-published authors. Many of you release five or six a year. Honestly, I could maybe draft that many in a year–as long as none of them had to see the light of day for awhile–but I’m pretty sure two full-length fantasy novels is my limit as far as publishing goes.

I’m learning that, while I love writing, publishing can be the pits. I take awhile to recharge creatively anyway. And not just awhile…a long while. Deadlines are my friends, for sure, but since publishing is so stressful, I need to factor into each draft/revision/rewrite a couple of extra months [for writer-brain mutiny] in which I dally off to dance around with old projects or start new ones or pen short stories or songs. If I don’t give myself permission to do this, I cease to be able to write. I end up bumming around the internet or staring at the ceiling. I also need to factor in a month (or four) after the pressure of each book release in which to wallow in ice cream and try to reacquaint myself with the joys of literature. Otherwise, I’m not likely to have the wherewithal to pull that excellent plot twist or profound line out of my hat, and I end up having to extend my deadline anyway.


Rise of Orion came out on December 2nd, and I was practically radio silent about it. There were so many weird little hitches with getting it distributed, it made me cry at times. Neither of the first two books in the series gave me this many problems. I mean, the first one was difficult, for sure, mainly because I was a publishing rookie. But for reasons beyond my control, release day came and Rise of Orion was up on Amazon and iTunes only.  It was not available though some of my favorite bookstores–Barnes & Noble, for one–and I just didn’t feel like proclaiming its existence to the four winds when the buy options were still so limited. (I appreciate Amazon for sure, but I don’t like to solely distribute through them. I love indie bookstores and smaller online retailers and I want to be a part of the book culture they propagate, even if I’m only a tiny part.) There’s always a low after the amount of adrenaline expenditure preceding a book release, and although I was extra bummed, I chocked it up to the fact that I didn’t feel it was real without the paperback in bookstores (especially since bookstore appeal was a lovely new thing I experienced with Knights of Rilch).

But maybe putting out the third book in a series was sure to be a downer, since there’s really no way to pitch it, to share about it, to be excited about it, outside of the group that has already read books one and two. There’s just nowhere to go with that indelible feeling that this is my best work yet. This is the masterpiece of my life so far. I’m damned proud of it, and yet it’s weird to even breathe a word of its plot because, without context, that produces the strangest looks.

But come on. It’s not like it’s the only 110,000 word novel I’ll ever put out. The final installment in the series will probably be that long (err, yes, there’s a fourth book). And after Serengard, I’m going to move on to new things. I’m going to write in other genres for different audiences. It’s strange to think that the manuscript I’m toiling over this very moment will someday be that little book I whisper under my breath about, “I can do so much better now!”

That’s one of the things with a series. Though I busted my butt on it, my first book is truly Rookie Me. It’s humbling every time I tentatively tell a new reader that my latest release is the third in a series and they have to start with book one. Because the now Better Writer in me winces at that less-seasoned debut and knows that it will be awhile before they get to the third, if they ever do. Pfft, they’ll never read my good stuff. They’ll never know I can do better. Oh God, where is the gin.

Or if they do…if they read Coldness and Knights and Rise…and read the fourth book…and ten years from now I’m spinning out literary historicals, will I blush awkwardly when someone mentions my foray into Epic Fantasy when I was still a twenty-something with two little kids and no one to talk to bookstore owners and work with editors but myself? Will it be real embarrassment (it shouldn’t be–I work hard, I make my own destiny), or just that touch of insecurity that every writer has deep down, that deep-seated self-doubt? It’s not like I’m not proud of my stories. I am. But I wonder how natural it is to see flaws with your past as soon as you can do something greater? Is it just me?

There are some books I am in complete awestruck euphoria over. I hug them and love them and put them on my shelf and gush over them, re-read them every Christmas break, and buy copies for all of my friends. I do this with wild abandon. I feel this way over books whose authors I’ve never met, authors who are dead, and authors who have an audience of twelve. And I always wonder if somewhere, someday, someone will feel that way about one of my books. If such a thing ever happens, you can bet I will still feel insecure. I will still have all the writerly doubt that comes with putting art out in the world. Is it possible to kill that doubt? Maybe. Would that be healthy? I don’t know. At the moment, I’m apt to think there is something good about this vulnerability. It’s what’s driving me to produce something more stunning next time, to make every novel I write more powerful than the last, to write every chapter of every story tighter, cleaner, stronger.

And that is always a good thing. I don’t even know where I was going with this, I just wanted to get it out. I may still have a touch of separation blues, but I’m glad I have another manuscript to give my full 100% to. There’s always another story. I’ll write more books. I’ll find new horizons. Maybe another series, even. (Don’t say the word “series” around me for awhile, though. Seriously.)

7 thoughts on “The Trouble With a Series, and the Upsides to Self-Doubt

  1. Brett Jonas (@BookSquirt) says:

    Well, just so you know, I hug and love and share your books with everyone I know and squeal and cry and gush and basically love them (and you) to death. I know that release day wasn’t the best but RISE is absolutely amazing, and I’m so proud of you (and RISE)! <3

    I'm usually around if you ever want to talk – you've got my number! *hugs*

    1. Rachel O'Laughlin says:

      Awwww, BRETT. Gah. You’re wonderful. And I honestly didn’t intend for this post to sound weepy! Rise did excellent as far as sales. It’s just so quiet out there, you know? Kind of eerie. I love to he ar the chatter, the love an hatred for a story, and there’s not much of that with this book. I love you, and thanks for telling me this. <3

  2. cmsgardnerblog says:

    I’ve just started Book 3 of a series too, Rachel, but I didn’t know, when I wrote Book 1, ‘Stony Creek’, that there would be others. I decided to write the 2nd, ‘The Road to Karinya’, because the 1st was doing so well and also because there was a minor character who I felt had a story to tell. Now I’m writing the story of a minor character from Book 2! There’s little chance of writing more than two a year though, now I’m battling RSI. Have to take it slow and steady, which is frustrating, to say the least.

    1. Rachel O'Laughlin says:

      Cool! And I’m sorry to hear you’re battling health stuff. :( It’s tough to fit in writing, editing, publishing, and life at all, let alone take care of yourself too. I hope you find a balance that works for you. All the best!

  3. deshipley says:

    Boy, do I hear you loud and clear. It feels like I just released Book 5 in my Wilderhark Tales series (oh, yeah… because that wasn’t even a full month ago, yet… *cracked laughter*), and I’m already having to get my act together for Book 6, and egad, why did I think I could shove out all these books in a year-and-a-half and live?? I don’t know where I’m going to pull the energy for the next launch, and all-ll-ll-ll-ll the prep work that goes into it.

    Somebody tie me up and make me take a vacation.
    …In 2016.

    Also, everything you say in that paragraph about Rookie Me? Yes. D’aaaarrrrrgh, yes. Drat the blessing/curse of improving, book by book!

    1. Rachel O'Laughlin says:

      I admit, I am downright AWED by the fact that you’ve released five books in the amount of time that I’ve released three. I can’t imagine. So there.

      Duuuuude, we need a serious mutual hug on the rookie books. Even though they’ve been toiled over and had soul and blood poured into them at least as much as their subsequent releases (maybe even more so), still. The first manuscript to see the light of day is such a new thing. Having an actual public read instead of critique partners is baptism by fire. It’s just…I wrote for seven years before I started this series. I had this thing polished to a shine, as did my editors! How can I still feel it’s somehow inferior?

      I feel you, girl. So much.

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