Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Avoid the Second Book Slump

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 books in series frequently disappoint readers. Preventing this from happening to your second book requires a look at this syndrome’s causes.
Time Frame  
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 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 before 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.
Conflicting Emotions
During edits, a writer must face, accept and overcome 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.
Eroded Confidence
It’s common knowledge that artistic people are their 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.
Creative Desire  
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.

Janalyn Voigt is an author, literary judge, and avid reader who understands what makes a novel worth reading. Her own writing flows in a lyrical style, creating worlds of beauty and danger in the historical fiction and fantasy genres.  She is represented by Barbara Scott of Wordserve Literary.

DawnSinger, the first offering in Janalyn’s epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, will release with Harbourlight Books in 2012.  Other projects include a Western romance set in Montana’s gold rush. Janalyn publication credits include Focus on the Family, Scripture Press (now David C. Cook), and Pentecostal Evangel. She trained through Christian Writers Guild and maintains active memberships in ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and NCWA (Northwest Christian Writers).

Janalyn is a member of ACFW & NCWA.
Twitter: @janalynvoigt
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  1. Thanks for this. I'm working on a second book right now and really enjoyed your solution-oriented post. (Not many writing posts present the problem AND solutions.) :)

  2. You're welcome, Karen. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed my post. I'm always glad when my analytical mindset helps someone else.

  3. Thanks for an interesting post. I have completed my second book in my MG adventure series. I loved writing it; ideas flowed, words spilled out; it is better than the first book. However... I raced into Book Three (why wait for my poor editor to finish her job on Book 2, I thought) and I find a few of the problems outlined above have cropped up. My book is not experiencing the "Houston, we have lift-off" as per Book 2. I guess each project is different. Lessons learned and thanks for the excellent tips.

    1. Fiona, thanks for pointing out that these problems can also apply to later books in a series. Best wishes with your series.

  4. Thanks, Janalyn, for excellent, useful tips. You were of course thinking of a series, but I believe this applies to ANY second book (or third or fourth for that matter)and the solutions you provide are spot on...

    1. Claude, you're right that we can run into problems on subsequent books as well. I'm glad my solutions chime with you.

  5. Great thoughts, Janalyn. Every story brings its own challenges, but in many ways the more books we write, the more challenging they become. I've never liked the industry's demand for at least a book a year (although I totally get the marketing reasons). I much prefer to work at a pace that allows me to lavish lengthy attention on every book.

  6. These days writing a book a year can be seen as a luxury. :) The best goal is to follow a pace that allows you to write with passion and excellence while sustaining an audience's interest. Not an easy task.

  7. Great thoughts here Janalyn. I can attest that the pressures of marketing, blogging, and social exposure do take time from writing those subsequent books. Not to mention keep up a website, creating book trailers and the myriad other demands that tug on our time. These are well thought out points to help keep the stress down and creativity up.

    1. So true, Lynnette. Even with all its stresses, I wouldn't trade being a novelist.

  8. Wonderful tips, Janalyn. My second book is written and represented, but believe me, your tips apply to the third, too!

  9. Thanks, that was insightful and now I know what to expect. Since I'm still working on my first, for now, I'm going to file this under "problems I'd like to have." :)

  10. LOL! That's a great file name, only maybe vary it slightly to: "Problems I'll Have

  11. Janalyn, this is good stuff. I'm currently editing a manuscript and know I've got to go through it at least ONE more time before I let my editor see the full.

    I've been so tempted to work on the shiny new project begging for my attention, but I don't want to lose the edge on the current project.

    Maybe I'll be brave enough to do that soon, when I only have a few minor tweaks on the one that's almost ready to go out! lol

    Thanks for the tips!

  12. I know the lure of a new project, Pam, but stay true! :o) You're welcome and best wishes.