Writing, like marriage, is an odd mixture of passion and duty. The same writers who speak of “falling in love” with a story complain about “having to” edit it. Some marriages are easier than others, and that’s also true of books. Some pearls make it to publication with few edits, but often, by the time a novel reaches readers, its writer is sick of working on it. Given these conditions, it’s not surprising to learn that the second book in a series frequently disappoints readers. Preventing this from happening to your second book requires a look at this syndrome’s causes.
A debut novel usually benefits from years of labor as its author polishes it over and over in order to land a contract. But a second novel, when contracted from a synopsis and likely written in a matter of months, doesn’t go through as strenuous a process.
- Simply being aware of this as a problem is half the battle. Commit to giving your second book your all, just as you did with your first.
- Before you submit your second manuscript, make sure you put it in front of a number of “eyes.” Accept knowledgeable critiques, remarks from beta readers, and/or paid editorial advice.
A writer often has to set aside writing the second book in a series to work on edits and/or promotion for the first. While necessary, interruptions stifle the creative flow. Most writers find returning to a cold manuscript difficult.
- Have all books in a series written before you submit them for publication. Previously, writers held off on writing a second book until the first had sold. This made sense because publication usually went through traditional publishers. These days it’s harder to win that traditional contract but easier to become published. Take this advice if you would hire an editor and independently publish your work, should it fail to land a traditional contract.
- Learn to write your first draft quickly so that, by the time edits for the first book hit, you’re ready for them.
- Dedicate part of your day to writing and part to editing, with a break in between. Your brain will learn to readily switch gears.
During edits, writers must face, accept, and overcome their own weaknesses. The angst this causes can attach itself in the writer’s mind to the series itself. To draw a parallel from marriage: While undergoing marital counseling , it can be hard to remember first love.
- Go back over your notes or read earlier entries in a writing journal to remind yourself why you love this series.
- Reconnect with your novel’s theme, which you hopefully drew from one of your passions. Prayer and meditation can help.
It’s common knowledge that artistic people are their own worst critics, and that’s certainly true of writers. As a result, while dealing with edits it’s easy to lose confidence and take fewer risks with the second book, which can rob it of zeal.
- Re-read any endorsements or encouraging comments you received for your first novel.
- Remind yourself that your publisher believes in you enough to work with you.
- Give yourself permission to dream about what could happen in your story. Don’t censor your ideas, but simply write them down. And when you go back over your brainstorming session, be wise but bold.
When the passion in a marriage fizzles, it’s tempting to look elsewhere for fulfillment. In the same way, when a writer loses that loving feeling for a project, other tempting ideas can siphon creative energy and distract attention. This has an adulterating effect on the work at hand.
- Rather than ignoring new ideas, write them down (briefly) and save them for later. This keeps them percolating on the back burner until you’re ready for them.
- Stir your passion for the work at hand by dreaming about the story, exploring the nuances of its characters, and mentally writing the next scene.
If you follow these steps, you’ll soon recapture your passion for your series.
Can you suggest some other ways to revive your writing mid-series?
How to Avoid the Second-Book Slump was first published at Live Write Breathe, Janalyn Voigt’s website for writers.
7 Replies to “How to Avoid the Second-Book Slump”
This is excellent. I find myself in this very position. I finished my first book last spring, and it’s been a busy year getting it published and promoting it and having book signings and whatnot. I’ve made a lot of the “errors” you mention above, i.e., waiting a long time to start the second one, having lots of interruptions, trying to publish the first in the series before finishing all three… etc.
But I don’t feel like that’s going to stop me one bit, I’m extremely confident once I’m ready for it, that the next book will come very easily. The first one was so complicated, but now that I’ve done it and know that I can, I’m not afraid of the second one.
I liked this post a lot, and I shared it on my twitter. I see your comment about moderating comments with links, but I just wanted to let you know.
Thanks for sharing!
Pearson, your comment touched me. Thanks for taking the time to endorse my article. These problems can apply for any book, really. We writers are often masters of angst. They stand out more sharply when writing the second book, I believe, because it’s the first time we face some of them. How we cope and adapt is a matter of choice.
Brilliant post. I am so heartily sick of both my novels, they are on ice.
Thanks, Cate. I can sympathize.
I’m on book number 3, but it is the sequel of my first. Book 2 is in final edits. As I struggle every day on getting the sequel moving, finding it’s correct path, I needed to read this today. Thanks.
Sandy, I’m so glad to have helped you. Keep the faith!
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