When I was young English major in college, dreaming of being a bestselling author one day, I can remember reading interviews from successful writers who talked about how crippling it was to write another book after a massive bestseller. This seemed especially true for first-time authors who struck gold with that first book, setting the bar extremely high for anything that should come after it. Heap on even higher stakes if the second book is part of a series.
I can’t think of too many examples of sequels that were as good, or better, than the first. Can you? Exactly.
For more seasoned authors who had to write their tails off to get to that bestseller, the second book anxiety is a bit watered down, but still, how can you avoid that nagging voice in your head that you want to keep that momentum going?
Turns out, this fear is so common, there’s a name for it. This is called “Second Book Syndrome”. And, to be honest, I think I had more second book syndrome with my first book than anything else. My biggest fears oscillated between two scenarios:
- My first book is a huge flop, everybody hates it, the reviews are terrible, and this crippling response would paralyze me, making it impossible to write anything else. Sometimes, in the scenario I played out in my head, I would have to publish future works under a pen name, hiding from the horrible, deplorable failure of that hated first novel. Yeah, it’s a bit dramatic, but that’s how fears usually play out.
- Or, my first book would be a smash hit, everybody would love it, it would transform the landscape of multi-cultural romance novels as we know it. Interviews requests would pour in, fans would flock to find my books everywhere, and movie deals would fall out of the sky. Unlikely scenario? Absolutely, but any author who tells you they didn’t at least think – at least one time – of this happening to them, is probably not being totally honest. But, if this debut novel success actually happened…how exactly would I follow this up? Could it be possible to win the lottery two times?
So, as you can see, the merry-go-round fears of a first-time author are no picnic. But, my fears at least had a common theme: I was scared of writing that second book before I had even released my first one.
Now, before you think that I spent all my spare time crying in my bed about that second book, don’t worry. That only happened two times.
I’m kidding. I’ll admit that most of the time, I had very realistic expectations for myself. I’d read the Reddit boards and joined the Facebook groups and heard enough self-published authors talk about how they needed at least 10 books or so to see things moving (in both sales and established reader interest). I tried to prepare myself for this to take time.
I’m grateful that when I released my first book, it really was like a soft launch. My ARC reader reviews were good, some were great, a few were mediocre. None were terrible.
Miss Indecisive has made some sales, nothing fantastic, but not horrible. I read stories of people who slaved away on their books for years only to have it rot in the land of forgotten books. I am very grateful that I have experienced at least some interest and sales.
And, I have even had some readers enjoy the book enough to follow me on book sites, like Goodreads or BookBub, sign up for my newsletter and even reach out on social media. There is nothing quite like the feeling of a total stranger taking their precious time to reach out and say that they really enjoyed this little piece of art that you created and sent off into the world.
What About Second Book Syndrome?
So, what did I do then, about second book syndrome? I’ll tell you exactly what I did.
I started writing my second book before I had even released my first one.
Yup. That was my strategy. I got to work on book two while the first one was with my editor for a few weeks. I rode the high wave of feeling really good about myself for finishing a novel in the first place right into writing my second book.
At that point, I had not experienced any constructive criticism at all. The readers who had read the book already – loved it. I knew criticism was coming (and I wanted it), but I also knew that it could curb some of my enthusiasm for book two. I wanted a strong running start before anything brought me back down to the ground.
This ended up being a very good strategy for me, because I didn’t end up getting very much criticism from that editor. In fact, I didn’t start getting some harsh critiques until my ARC copies went out.
At that point, the book was pretty much finished, I had put a lot of money into editing, a book cover, and lined up promotions for after the book’s launch. I had spent countless hours on the book and on learning how to self-publish successfully.
Had I waited to start my second book until after some of that criticism had come in, writing Game On would have gone a lot differently.
5 Tips for Second Book Syndrome:
Now that my second book is out to ARCs and available for preorder on Amazon, I’ve learned a thing or two about going from the first book to the second, as well as second book syndrome.
Here are my tips if you are nervous about writing that second book or currently crippled from second book anxiety.
- Start writing book two before you see what people think about book one. That way, you’ve already got a head start on it, whether the results to the first one are good or bad. This also helps give you a great distraction from reviews on the book that is out. I found that channeling my creative energy into writing book two helped me release some of the anxiety from book one.
- If you’ve already missed the opportunity to start book two before book one is fully out, then my next piece of advice would be to just sit down and write whatever makes you happy. Break through writer’s block by getting back to basics. Heck, you can even tell yourself nobody has to read it. Just sit down and go with the flow. Usually, these are the best stories anyway. A lot of writers started book one because they had a great idea and they needed to get it out. While we all dream of having a bestseller that everybody loves, most of us assume that isn’t going to happen, so we are blissfully writing without worrying too much about what people will think. Once you start getting real feedback from real people, that ignorance is gone for good and this can make writing another book terrifying. Get back to basics, Write what you love.
- Read somebody else’s book. After I published book one and got halfway through book two, I hit a major slump. I just wasn’t connecting with the characters I had created. They weren’t going in the direction I thought they were going to go. I was a bit lost with it – and also, I was feeling tired. I had written about 500 novel pages in just under three months. My brain was a little fried. So, I downloaded a bunch of books in my genre that had great reviews and just started reading – with all my spare time. I was reading while waiting in my car for my kids. I was reading when my husband watched TV at night. I went through 6 books in a week. It was wild, but it really helped me. I had my own thoughts on each book – things I liked, things I didn’t like. It helped put things into perspective for me. There is no perfect book.
- Read other people’s bad reviews. This is one of my favorite things to do. I’m not kidding. It’s so cathartic. After I finish a book, I go to Amazon or Goodreads and I read the best reviews and then I read all the bad reviews. Some of them are genuinely laugh out loud funny. We’re talking tears rolling down your cheeks, can’t breathe, funny. Readers can be harsh; but they can also have incredible feedback. I have learned A LOT from reading people’s bad reviews of books I liked or didn’t like. Sometimes, I agree with a lot of the reviews and other times, I am completely shocked how much people hated a book that I really enjoyed. What does this teach you? First, none of us are going to get out of this publishing thing unscathed. You will not make every reader happy. Second, bad reviews can really teach you how to be a better writer. There was one book that I really enjoyed, but the bad reviews were very poignant. Readers were very offended that a writer put something serious that people struggle with in as a character detail (OCD), but then didn’t resolve it appropriately in the resolution. I think the writer thought of this as just part of the character and didn’t realize that by presenting this in the story at all, they were going to be triggering a lot of readers. So, when the book ended and that particular issue was just poof! magically resolved, people were understandably very upset. I learned a very valuable lesson here about how important it is to resolve anything triggering in a way that makes the readers who struggle with it feel respected and heard.
- Go live your life. Yup, if all else fails, get away from your computer and go live your life. It can be really consuming to tell a character’s story. It can even start to feel like you are living vicariously through the characters and worlds of your own creation. This is not real life, though. Get outside. Go for a walk. Go get a coffee. Go see a friend. Drive around and stare at things. Stop ordering things online and go in the store to get them. Go live your life. Inspiration will strike. Just give it time.
Writing Game On: My Second Book Story
Now that I’ve talked about second book syndrome, let’s talk about what it was like for me to write my second book.
Every piece of writing is its own journey. Whether I’m writing for a client, writing a blog post like this, or writing a novel, that is the truth. No two projects are alike.
Writing Miss Indecisive was a wild experience. It was like I was releasing these characters and ideas that had been stored up inside of me for so long, that they just burst out of me and onto the page. I wrote that book incredibly fast once I got started, because I had been writing it in my mind for years.
Game On was different. It is different. The story is very much inspired from some real life experiences (which always helps – and I talk about that in my first bog post), However, the story has a much stronger, deeper character arc. Millie Barlowe, the MC, really grows from the first page to the last.
But, here’s the thing: she’s not someone I really like in the beginning of the book. She’s kind of wimpy. She’s definitely insecure. That’s not really my jam. But, thats who she was and I needed to do her character justice. Somewhere 1/4 of the way in, I started stumbling. I was boring myself with what I was writing. I didn’t like her. I wasn’t feeling where things were supposed to go. The characters weren’t happy, either. I felt like they were looking at me with their hands out, saying, “What the heck are you doing?”
So, I took breaks. I did other things. I wrote other stuff. I came back to it and I said – I’m going to let the characters run amuck. Screw the outline. Go live your best lives. That’s when the story really caught wind and started to come together.
Once I finished the book, I went back to the beginning and realized the first 12 chapters just didn’t fit anymore. I rewrote the entire first 1/4 of the book and condensed it down into about 3 chapters. It changed the whole flow of the story and it even made Millie more likable, albeit still insecure, but someone you at least wanted to root for. When things start clicking for her, you really feel it and want that for her. You’re proud of her. Or, at least I am, but of course, she’s my creation.
Why am I telling you this? Because second book syndrome is real, yo. It’s tough to break through sometimes. Each story takes its own path. Some flow out of you like the words write themselves. Others you have to force out, then rewrite, then rewrite again, and it becomes a painstakingly slow process that makes you want to chuck your own book into a fire.
At the end of the day, you’re creating something that did not exist before. Art can be painful, but it’s also beautiful. Don’t give up.
Now, what does the future hold for book three? Does second book syndrome move along to something else? I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you my third book is 100 pages down and it’s a sequel to my first book.
Writing a sequel is a totally different animal, so once that one is off to the editor, I’ll let you know what I think about it.
Until then, keep reading and keep writing, friends. Oh, and to preorder Game On – click here.