Second Book Syndrome

On Christmas Eve this year, my relatives – the ones I don’t see so often during the year – were all agog with the news of the two-book deal I’d signed with St. Martin’s Press earlier in 2014. At one point, one of my aunts asked me, “So is it easier to write your next book now that you’ve done it once?”

I didn’t even need to pause to consider my answer. “No,” I answered immediately. “It never gets easier.”

From talking with my fellow writers and reading various websites, articles, and blog posts about the craft, I know I am hardly the only one who feels this way. Yet I’ve also been noticing that several other authors have experienced – or are experiencing – the same thing I’ve been going through in the last few months. I’ll use the name I’ve seen most often for it: Second Book Syndrome.

My aunt’s question was a reasonable one. Once you’ve written one book, shouldn’t it be easier the second time around? But it’s not – in many ways, it’s harder, or so I’ve been finding.

1. You don’t have the same amount of time you did for your first novel.

I spent a total of five years writing, researching, and revising my first novel, from the day I began the first chapter to the day I signed with my agent. I was working on my own schedule, could work on it or not as I chose on any given day, and could take all the time I felt I needed to polish it and make it the best it could be. Given that I’m something of a perfectionist, I took quite a bit of time. Yet with a contract already signed and sealed for my second book, I don’t have the luxury of taking my time. In many ways this is helpful – having a deadline helps me to focus and plan my time more efficiently – but it can be a bit intimidating when you’ve never worked that way before.

2. You KNOW that people are going to see this one.

Since I signed a two book contract, the book I’m working on now is one I’ve already discussed with my editor, and she approved the idea and told me to go for it. So – barring the possibility that this book turns out to be an unbearable mess – this one is definitely getting published, is definitely going out into the world, and will definitely be read by lots of people that I don’t know. When working on my first novel, of course I wanted to get published – that was the goal I was working towards, and it was always in the back of my mind (even though, quite frankly, I loved – love – the story so much that even if you had told me it would never be published, I would still have kept at it, because I couldn’t NOT work on it). But it was never a sure thing – far from it. And while I always imagined readers reading and loving the book, there’s a difference between imagining it and knowing it’s actually in the future for a book as you work on it. It’s a different kind of pressure, one that I haven’t experienced before and so am still coming to terms with.

3. You have to let your first book go.

As I mentioned above, I spent five years working on The Violinist of Venice, and I fell so in love with the book and the world and the characters (I would say I loved every minute of it, but all writers know that no matter how much you love a work-in-progress, there are moments when the writing process is still agony). Five years is a long time, and so it’s been a challenge to pull myself out of that world and that story and switch gears to something else. My new work-in-progress doesn’t feel the same way that Violinist felt, and I need to remind myself that that’s okay – each book does and should feel different.

4. There are expectations now.

This is somewhat related to #2, but as my debut hasn’t been released yet, there are not even any reader expectations for my second book yet. But there are so many people in the publishing industry that have supported me thus far – my agent, my editor, everyone at my publishing house – that I don’t want to let them down. I want them to love and champion my second book as much as they have my first. And even these expectations pale in comparison to the ones I have of myself (see above note about being a perfectionist).

5. This time around, you know everything involved in getting a book ready for publication.

There’s that hackneyed old saying that ignorance is bliss, and in some ways, it fits writing a book perfectly. Like most authors, I have several “drawer” manuscripts that were completed but will never go out into the world, nor should they. So until The Violinist of Venice, I didn’t really know all the work that goes into writing a publishable book, then making that publishable book actually ready for publication. After signing with my agent, she and I did one round of revisions to the book before it went out on submission. I’ve already gone through one round of edits with my editor, and there will be at least one more – and that’s even before copy edits. It’s a long, exhausting, labor intensive process, and so when you start down the road to doing it all again, it’s pretty scary and intimidating.

Mix all these things together – plus the usual uncertainty that every writer goes through, every day – and voila: Second Book Syndrome.

With all of that said, though, there are still benefits that come with experience. For instance, as I got into the long slog that is the middle of this manuscript, I started to feel like the story was meandering a bit. But by now I’m familiar with that feeling; I always run into it in the middle of a project. So I know I can push past it, know that I’ll ultimately keep things on track.

And it’s so, so nice to know that my agent and editor are in my corner, are cheering me on and are excited for what I’m going to write next. It’s a support system I didn’t have before, and knowing it’s there is a big help.

And at the end of the day, I just remind myself how lucky I am that my editor and publisher like my writing enough to want me to write another book. That is nothing but awesome.

This second book has been a journey, and will continue to be one. On the day when I finish the first draft, when I’ve made it through Second Book Syndrome and all its pitfalls, you will probably all hear me yelling in celebration.


6 thoughts on “Second Book Syndrome”

  1. You share some fantastic insights here, Alyssa. As a writer working on a book that I plan to send to agents once it’s ready, I know that if I reach that same point, I’m going to freak out about #1 as well. (It’s taken me 25-ish months to write the first draft alone, just because I’ve been taking my time.) But I read this and understand it’s all part of the process, and I feel encouraged and a little more informed. Just know that despite the time-crunches and the expectations you may put on yourself, you’re in a truly exciting and incredible time in your life, a place known as “Your-dreams-are-about-to-come-true!!!” 🙂

    Thanks for writing this, Alyssa!


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