There’s a lot of talk on the internet at present about the bind that debut authors find themselves in, trying to launch their first book when the usual things like launch parties, author talks, writers’ festival and other literary fun are not available.
And it’s been lovely to watch the author community throw itself behind those debut authors, trying to boost their launches online.
But what if it’s your second novel?
Second novels bring their own set of challenges, right from the moment the author types ‘Chapter One’ and then watches the cursor blink and blink and blink.
And now there’s the challenge of getting the word out about your book; hoping that your established readers find it, hoping that it will find its way into the hands of reviewers and bloggers.
Because the reality is that the biggest marketing push you’ll ever receive from your publisher is likely to be around your debut novel. That’s the moment of discovery, of excitement, of ‘could this author be the next big thing?”
After that, it’s one word at a time, one reader at a time, building on the foundations that are set up around that novel.
One author who knows all about this is Lauren Chater, whose debut historical novel The Lace Weaver was published in March 2019 and went on to become a bestseller.
Then Lauren had to write a second one, and discovered, as she shares below, that Second Novel Syndrome is real.
These are her tips for writing your way through it, which Lauren did, producing a second beautiful historical novel called Gulliver’s Wife.
5 things to know about writing your second novel
After publishing their first book, most authors experience a strange sense of loss. The excitement of the launch and all the accolades that go along with it can trick us into thinking that if things aren’t constantly happening, we aren’t making progress in our career. It can leave us feeling as if the world has moved on and left us behind.
More experienced authors will tell you that the antidote is to ‘write the next book’. This is sensible advice but following it can prove tricky – as I learnt when I set about working on my second novel, due for release on April 1st this year (but popping up in shops and online already!).
Here are my tips for surviving the dreaded second novel syndrome (and getting through to the other side with your sanity mostly intact).
Lower your expectations
Your first draft will be bad. It won’t matter that you have written and published a book before. It won’t matter that you’ve read widely or done workshops or undertaken mentorships.
When you start writing another book, all the skills you thought you’d mastered the first time around will mysteriously vanish and you’ll be left facing the same challenges which plague most writers: self-doubt, procrastination and the fear of rejection.
Only by overcoming these difficulties can you elevate your book to a publishable standard and one of the best ways to achieve this is to let go of the idea of perfection and allow yourself to write a really shitty draft (or two).
At the end of the day, the truth is that published or not, we are all novices of the craft but with each book we write, we will hopefully get faster and better at editing ourselves.
I know some authors dislike reading books by other authors while they’re working on a novel but I find it reassuring.
While I was writing Gulliver’s Wife, I read both fiction and non-fiction. There are so many moments of self-doubt during the writing process that I found it incredibly comforting to know that other authors forged through the dark, difficult hours and reached the other side.
There’s also the added bonus of picking up tips on structure, voice and rhythm from some of the best in the business.
Trust your editor
This one is so important. Your editor is your best friend, whether you know it or not. They can tell you what’s working and what isn’t and like any best friend, they keep all your secrets (aka your bad prose) and never reveal those secrets to anybody else!
Because of the way publishing schedules work, you will probably have less time to polish your next book to the same level you did with your debut novel (assuming you have a contract).
On the plus side, the second time around you’ll have a working relationship with an editor who has years of experience under her belt. Listen to your editor, trust their advice. They know what they’re talking about.
Resist the hype
The first time you write a book, it’s as if you’re living inside a beautiful bubble.
Then your book gets published and suddenly, you’re painfully aware of so many things you never knew about – how sales are tracking in Neilsen Bookscan, the nervous energy/terror that comes from delivering a talk in front of dozens of people at a book festival, the importance of advance reviews.
All of these things come with their own challenges. But perhaps the most challenging thing to wrap your head around is the sudden weight of expectation – the perception that you, as an author, now have a readership and a publisher who are counting on you to deliver the goods – again.
Paradoxically, in order to write well, second-time authors need to forget that those pressures exist. You can’t create something brave and beautiful if you’re worrying too much about what others think.
My advice is to write what you’re passionate about. Remember why you wanted to tell this story and try to forget about external pressures. You’ll be glad you did!
Share with others
Now that you’re a seasoned professional (ha!) and have some experience with the editing process, you might want to consider sharing your work with a group of trusted readers or your writing group (if you have one).
When I first started writing, I found it hard to accept feedback about my work. Everything felt very raw and while I appreciated my friend’s feedback, there was always this voice of doubt sitting at the back of my mind, telling me I would never be able to produce anything better. Of course, I know now that voice is a liar.
Asking for feedback is not only a fantastic way of improving your work, it’s kind of liberating. What? I hear you ask. How can having someone scribble in red pen all over your lovingly crafted prose make you feel better and not worse?
Well, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that starting over – again and again and again – actually builds up your sense of confidence. Every time you kill one of those writing darlings that made you sound clever/insightful/talented, you show that doubting voice how much you are prepared to sacrifice for the good of the story and how confident you are in your ability to make more.
Asking for feedback from members of your writing group is a great way to shortcut this process. And let’s face it, nobody is going to be harsher on us than our editor anyway…
My final tip for pushing through the hard yards of Book 2.0 is to make sure you give back to the literary community.
One of the wonderful things to come out of publishing a book is how the process exposes you to artists, editors, writers and creators.
The industry is often kind to debut novelists (thank you!) and writing festivals, book launches and online media channels are all great ways to meet people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
When it comes to writing your second book, this community becomes even more vital. So make sure you’re giving as well as taking. Buy books by Australian authors, cheer on their success and send messages of support.
When it’s time to celebrate the publication of your second book, these people will be the ones cheering for you!
Lauren Chater’s latest novel, Gulliver’s Wife, is out now. It tells the story of Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, whose husband is lost at sea… and returns three years later, fevered and talking in riddles. Find out more about Lauren and her books here.
Would you love more writing tips and advice? Check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo and based on our top-rating podcast.
What a coincidence, as I wrap up my first novel and start work on the second I find this article. I am going to have an overlap between my first and second novels which should ease some of the pressure.
Also, I am thinking of shelving my first novel and querying the second one first. I have heard that some writers treat their first novel as a practice novel and I am considering doing this as well.