Twenty Authors Talk About the Second Time Around

This content has been archived. It may no longer be relevant

From Writer Unboxed:

This is a continuation of my report on the experience of launching a second novel.  If you missed the first part, no worries! You can read it here.  To recap:

Everyone loves a debut. A new star bursts on the scene, with a world of possibilities still ahead. A friend publishes her first book and has her dream come true. The second book? Not so much.

I’d heard about the “sophomore slump”—the letdown and lack of media interest in a second novel. I’d also heard that a second book is easier because the process isn’t so unknown; experience can bring clarity, confidence, and manageable emotions.

Both descriptions of the sophomore novel made sense to me. Since I was about to launch my own second book, I was curious to know what others had to say—writers who had “gone before me” and could reflect back on what it was like. I reached out to authors I knew whose second books had come out fairly recently and asked three questions:

  • How was the second book different for you, externally?  That is, did you approach it differently in terms of promotion, strategy, finances, and so on?
  • How was it different for you, internally?  That is, were there differences in your expectations, attitude, emotions, personal experience?
  • Were there ways in which the two experiences were similar?

. . . .

A more secure identity as a writer 

When I was a college professor, I taught a course on dissertation design to PhD students. What I remember most about that course wasn’t on the syllabus; it was the “identity work” that the students had to undertake—the empowering-but-scary transition from the identity as a learner (a consumer of knowledge) to the identity as a scholar (a creator of knowledge).

Writing one’s first book reminds me of that. It’s a transition to a new identity, from writer (a person who writes) to author (a person whose writing is public). “Owning” that identity is both thrilling and frightening. As one person put it:

On the first go-around, I didn’t think I deserved to take up space in the writing world. Who was I to think I could publish a book? I was so afraid to say, I AM A WRITER. This time, I’m done with imposter syndrome. I have a small but loyal following and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I deserve that space!

Crossing that threshold, in itself, can be just as important as how many copies the book sold, how many accolades or reviews it receives. As several people put it: “I was just happy to be published; it was a lifelong dream come true.”

Along with that thrill, for many, came a sense of anxiety and vulnerability. The second time around, in contrast, brought greater confidence and relaxation. It was less intense, less seismic. For those of us who are parents, it’s a bit like the arrival of a second child.

The first time around I didn’t know what to expect, so I was extremely nervous about everything from the launch to trade reviews to what my family would think. It was all so new and exciting, but also terrifying, and that was hard to manage at times.

Knowing what to expect—at least in general—helped to mitigate the emotional roller-coaster of launching a book, and to keep it from hijacking one’s entire sense of self-worth.

Overall, the process was a lot less painful. I’m not sure if I’d say the process was less emotional, but perhaps less tied to my general self-worth and self-esteem.

I did have more confidence the second time, since I had been through it and knew it was possible, knew there were readers out there. It was also a better book.

With greater self-confidence came a willingness to take more risks, not only in aspects of marketing like public speaking, but in the writing itself.

Overall, I had much more confidence with the second one, which allowed me to take some risks.  I knew, now, that I had it in me to write and publish a book.  And then with the second one, I knew I wasn’t just a “one book wonder.”

With my second novel, I felt more confident to take on a story that had been in the back of my mind for over a decade. I definitely took more risks with that novel.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG notes that Mrs. PG is currently doing final proofing for what she believes is her 40th book (she’s not obsessive about counting, just about writing).

He’s not certain whether the author of the OP will work her way through this series for the third, fourth, fifth, etc., book for long enough to contact Mrs. PG.

1 thought on “Twenty Authors Talk About the Second Time Around”

  1. The whole problem with the “sophomore slump” was when you had an author with their first book being a smash, runaway, hit in Trad publishing. The critics would build up massive expectations for the second book, and no matter how great the second book was, the critics would slam it, especially if Hollywood turned the first book into a hit movie right away.

    – Critics were jealous of any “first book” that came out of nowhere to runaway success, and punished the author on the second.

    People would be so scared by their own first major success, that they never wrote a second novel, or took years longer to write that second book, cringing at the anticipated scream by the critics.

    I studied that trend in the 2000s when it was getting really toxic. The only people who avoided that “sophomore slump” were those who put out a collection of stories as their second book, while the hit movie came out, then followed that with their second novel a year later.

    The collection gave the critics something to chew on, along with the movie, showing that the author started with short fiction then hit big with the first novel. It settled the critics down so when the next novel came out it could be seen as its own animal, a “progression of learning for the author”. Those authors usually went forward with no problem.

    The OP is talking about regular first books, without the critics noticing it, no hit movie. There is no “sophomore slump” with books like that. She is asking the wrong question with the wrong people.

Comments are closed.