Second Book Struggles
Second Book Syndrome (secundus liber syndromos): an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, creative depletion and doubt at one’s life choice to become an author, often marked by physical signs, such as staring at blank Word documents, talking to self, Netflix binging, obsessive baking, and other distracting behaviors. Symptoms may vary writer to writer.
So, you wrote and sold your first book! Yay! Congrats. You’ve got everything you dreamed of.
It all started with snagging an agent, then the editor falling in love with the manuscript, and it ended with the validation of a book bound and sitting on shelves in actual stores with your name printed on the spine. You probably even had some readers gush on Instagram about how much they loved your book.
You’re feeling pretty good about things, UNTIL…
You realize you have to do it ALL over again!
Now, instead of feeling amazing about yourself, this is where your thoughts go.
So, I wrote and sold my first book! Yay! Congrats. Guess what, about a thousand other people did too. A lot of them are selling better than mine and getting more recognition on social media. Some even have movie deals. And guess what? More are coming out every week! My debut year is OVER. All the attention is on next year. Oh my gosh! Next year! How many months is that, wait that’s only weeks in publishing time for me to write if I want to get a book out NEXT year…
These feelings are compounded when you’re confronted with the famous question from bloggers, podcasters, or students during school and Skype visits: When’s your next book coming out?
You’ve done it once. Why can’t you just do it again and again?
Here’s why: We are equal parts better and less confident as writers than when we first started this process of publishing. We have grown through the experience of working with an agent and editor. At the same time, we’ve seen others do it too, and it’s difficult to know where we stand. We put the success and accomplishments of others onto our backs and create expectations for our future.
In all honestly, it’s difficult to be motivated when you put pressure on yourself and set expectations sky high from the get-go. It plays with your psyche to go into a project already defeated. Notice, the only person to blame here is YOU! We put these expectations on ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong, we should improve, but we have to acknowledge that every book is a different experience, and each writer is going to have their own unique journey in the process.
Another pressure we face: Deadlines. At least we can’t blame ourselves for this one! I recently heard someone say that we have a lifetime to write our first book and less than a year to write our second. Deadlines are a blessing and a curse. If you had a two-book deal and sold an idea, or if you’re like me, who wrote an entire second book before selling it, it stinks both ways. Living up to what you’ve sold or writing hoping your editor loves it are both equally pressurizing.
So, how do we move forward? If you’re looking for an easy step-by-step post on how to get the second book done, it’s simple.
- Sit your butt down.
- Keep your butt in your chair.
- Where are you going? I said sit down!
It wasn’t until I was on the third round of edits with my editor that I finally fell in love with my second book since writing its first draft all the way back in 2014 during NaNoWriMo. After a lot of hair pulling and head scratching I came to terms with the struggle. It boils down to one four-letter word: FEAR.
Fear we don’t have it in us. Fear we’re a one-book wonder. Fear all of our ideas are terrible. Fear we have nothing to say. You get the idea.
How do you overcome fear? I don’t know if there’s a cure-all, but here are a few things that helped me through Second Book Syndrome.
- Forge Ahead
- sEt Goals
- Ask for help
Forge Ahead. Your book isn’t going to write itself. Write until all the bad drafts are out and something wonderful evolves.
sEt Goals. Give yourself small deadlines. Anything to ensure you’re getting words down on the page. Reward yourself for reaching page or word counts, or just for figuring out the exact phrasing of a sentence.
Ask for help. We have critique partners for a reason. They ask for help and we happily offer suggestions. So, now it’s your turn. As writers, we innately want to figure things out ourselves, but more often than not this translates to wasted time. For example, I’m not sure how long I spent Googling city and town names only to have my eldest child give me the town name for my book in five seconds.
Writing my second book showed me how invaluable input from the people around me is. My editor and I shared a five-minute phone call that was the turning point for my story. I just needed to hear someone say out loud what I already knew. Only after struggling with book two have I learned to trust that my agent is sincere when she offers to Skype me if I need to talk through my projects.
Recharge. Yes, I did say write through it, but I do believe in recharging your creativity. Replenish the well. Read, run, walk, sew, crochet, embroider, cook, bake—whatever — it takes to get your creative juices flowing again. The one caveat is that you shouldn’t let your writing muscles grow weak.
Second Book Syndrome is a real thing. Maybe we psyche ourselves out. Maybe it’s all part of the process. Whatever it is, whenever it manifests itself, keep going. You’re not alone and, more importantly, you’ll get through it.
Kristi Wientge is originally from Ohio where she grew up writing stories about animals and, her favorite, a jet-setting mouse. After studying to become a teacher for children with special needs, she spent several years exploring the world from China to England, teaching her students everything from English to how to flip their eyelids inside out. She currently lives in her husband’s home country of Singapore. She is the author of Karma Khullar’s Mustache/em> and Honeybees and Frenemies.