On Writing: The Second Book Slump

Why is this taking so long?
Why does this draft feel so unpolished?
What is another synonym for "darkly"?
How many times can you idiots smile, smirk, and nod?
What if my readers hate it and come after me with pitchforks?

I've asked myself these questions every day this week. I carry the red binder under my arm, a purple pen holding my place and a mini comic of Axe Cop marking my husband's place. He's not done yet. And neither am I.

Your first book is like your first child: it's your world, the sun around which you orbit. You pamper it, watch it sleep, joyfully clean up after it again and again, pass it around proudly to everyone you know. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, it goes back and forth for cuts, revisions, more cuts, further polishing. In short, until your first book sells, it's the only thing that matters.

But once you're under contract, the process changes.

Your second book? It's like your second child.

The deadline sneaks up faster than anticipated. You go into labor early, wishing for one more week as you expel it forcefully. And then you stare at it. Was the first one prettier? Mine was.

The second book is important, but it's not the sun. It's just another moon you tug around with you. You still have to take care of the first book, plus all those other responsibilities that have developed. Marketing, social media, blog posts, interviews, spreadsheets, conferences, possibly some e-novellas, which are basically the new puppies of your family. Not as important as the children, of course, but if you neglect them, they'll destroy everything you love.

My first book was written in three months and polished for a year before selling. It went through two major revisions with my agent-- the kind where you cry, fight it, throw the manuscript, slash things with your red pen, and murder characters you thought were imperative. And then we did two rounds of line edits. And that's before it went out on sub and sold and landed in the editor's capable hands for further fussing.

My second book... did not get to learn baby sign language and go to music classes. It's lucky if I'm carrying it right side up. I wrote it in a month and a half. Didn't have time to send it to betas. The agent gave it a quick read and said, "It'll get fixed in edits." The editor asked for one big revision with no major changes and one secondary revision.

And now I'm carrying it around like a frachetty toddler, trying desperately to dab all the applesauce out of its neck folds before anyone can see it and judge me. The first book made me proud; the second book is still a bit of a hot mess, and it's taking longer to clean it up.

Second Book Slump is a thing. A real thing. A thing authors fear.

If people liked your first book, you want them to like your second book. It needs to have enough in common with the first book to inspire the same love, but is has to be different enough to give them a new experience, one they'll keep coming back to for your third book. So the same, but different, and preferably of a higher caliber, stylistically, because you've grown as a writer since then.

Easy right?

Uh, hopefully. I'll tell you next April.

So my advice to you is this: Enjoy the first book. Give yourself more time than you need on the second book. Start early. Love it, no matter how it looks and acts compared to your first book, because it'll be with you forever. And take a risk, because there's nothing worse than a boring second book that's clearly intimidated by its big sister.

And be kind to yourself. It's easy to forget those tearful moments with your first book, when you cradled it close and thought, "I'm not up to this. Who handed me this gift, and why did they think I was capable of helping it reach its potential? I should probably have gotten a hamster. Or, um, written a haiku."

You did it once. You'll do it again. It's going to take time and hard work, but it's going to be worth it. 

Because if you think the second one is tough, just wait for the third. Books, like children, don't get any easier. But we love them, even if they're impossible.

Because they're impossible.