You’ve typed “The End” and sat back beaming with pride at the tremendous accomplishment of having completed an novel. Now what? Well, if you’re truly finished and your novel is on its way to publication, it’s time to start the second book. Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to think that writing a second book is an easy feat after the first, the sad reality is that completing a second novel can be more difficult. In fact, this is so well known in the writing community that it has a title: “second book syndrome.”
So what is second book syndrome? It’s when an author’s second work fails to shine in comparison to their first. This is a particular fear for series writers (who will lose read-through to the next book in the series if the sophomore book doesn’t impress)—but it also happens to standalone novel authors. The good news is you don’t have to succumb to that sophomore slump. With a little spit-and-polish, you can make that second book just as good as the first. Here are some tips to get you started:
Ignore the Outside Pressure
For many writers working on their second novels, the block that disturbs the creative process the most is the external pressure—whether real or perceived—that makes them feel that their second book is being held to an impossible standard. If the best thing someone has ever read is the very first thing you write, it’s going to feel overwhelming to write the second book. In fact, it may even feel as though there’s no way you can ever live up to the first.
Conversely, if your novel came out and was widely-praised but didn’t quite get the sales track you were hoping for, it may be difficult to see how you’re ever going to get your book in the hands of the readers you want.
But think about what made writing the first book so exciting—the sheer act of creating, the joy of imagining your book being read, the daydreams about your story world. The creative process that helped guide you through the first book is the same that will help you with subsequent books. It’s everything that’s on the outside pressing in that can disrupt that. Find a way to tap into that creative joy that got you writing in the first place and ignore everything else.
Use What You’ve Learned When Writing Your Second Book
Somewhere along writing the first book, you probably picked up some good lessons on craft. Maybe you figured out a method for writing that worked better than you initially attempted. If you learned in writing your first book that you really do well with a solid outline for your book, use that knowledge! Don’t revert to habits that you discarded along the way in your first book.
With each book you write you should, in theory, be able to write smarter and edit yourself better. This does not mean your first draft will be perfect. What it means is that you should have the confidence in the skills you have learned to start at a place that has evolved. Lean into those skills.
Find Another Hobby
This is a particular bittersweet tip—but it’s one that merits a mention. Most writers start out writing as a hobby. Somewhere along the way, that hobby we love consumes us to the point that we want to share it with others. The moment you become an author, though, writing can cross from hobby to career.
The point of a hobby, though, is to give yourself something to reset the stresses of career. Work-life balance is incredibly important and, as a result, hobbies are vital to careers. Writing can and should always continue to be fun. When you’re writing your second book, you may need to find another hobby that helps you unwind from stress. Many writers find a great deal of joy and inspiration in these other hobbies and they end up being part of their creative process. It’s okay to admit that writing has brought stress to your life once it becomes a job; just find a different outlet for that stress. Here’s a good article on Self-Care for Writers.
Whatever it takes to keep that creative spark alive, remember that there are boundless possibilities out there to explore as a writer. The best part of being a writer? You get to write. And if that second book seems frustratingly difficult to get out on paper, just take a deep breath and remember: you did it once. You can do it again.