Second Book-itis

im sorry

Oh shit.

The memory is clear, as if it happened yesterday. My buddy was crying in her chardonnay over having her second book kicked out by her editor. I tried to console her. “Your first book was nothing short of a masterpiece, so you set the bar pretty high in terms of what your editor expects from you.”

And that’s it in a nutshell for any of you who may be experiencing Book Two-itis. Your editor picked you up because your writing is amazing, so your literary rockitude is all she knows. If you turn in anything less than that, she’s going to wonder what happened.Are you a one book wonder, or are you a writer with a career?

It’s devastating to know how hard you’ve worked on your book only to be told your attempt wasn’t good enough. Eeech. So you begin second-guessing yourself. “Do I suck?”…which is exactly what my friend asked.

No, she didn’t suck, and neither do you. And here’s why…


There’s nothing quite like writing your first book. There’s no pressure, no deadlines, so you can take as long as you want. You can rewrite, edit, revise, and massage every sentence until it’s airtight. But now that you have a book deal, your world has changed – be it a 1 book or 2-3 book deal, .

Now it’s all about deadlines. Since your focus has been on writing and selling Book 1, you may not have much more than a working idea or outline for your subsequent books – and now the clock is ticking. You don’t have the gift of time as you did with Book 1, which means the process is entirely different. Now you’re not writing for just you – you’re hoping like hell your editor will embrace Book 2 with screeches of “You’re brilliant!”


A helpful thing to remember is that you’re going to be compared to your first book – which your editor loved. How many of have read someone’s Book 2 and felt it was a huge letdown? Once you’ve burst on the scene with a blazin’ book, it’s hard to recreate that level of fabulosity. Your editor is expecting you to hit it out of the park with every subsequent book. Anything less, and your editor is worrying about sales impact.

Track Record

With your first book out, you have a track record, and your editor is checking your sales closely to see what kind of traction you have – or are gaining. If your sales are doing well, then your editor has higher expectations of those subsequent books. You’re now a brand.

Knowing is Half the Battle

This is a heady time. You’ve wanted this publishing deal from the time you wrote your opening line. But any multi-published author will tell you that Book 2 is the hardest because you’re trying to duplicate what’s already been done. Some hit, some miss. If your Book 2 is a miss with your editor, I recommend having a good cry, tip back a few if that floats your boat. After that, increase your BIC Index (Butt In Chair) and write. You’re in the big leagues now, and you’ve learned the valuable less that publishing is nothing less than unpredictable.

The good news is that you’re still sitting at the grownup table, so have a discussion with your agent, your editor, and your beta readers to see if there’s anything salvageable. If not, start over because, hey, thar be more than one great book in you. And yes, you’ll survive it. My buddy did. Her experience forced her to dig deep, and her next book apexed her first book.

Are you struggling with Book 2?

4 Responses to Second Book-itis

  1. John Allan says:

    I’ve noticed that several best-selling novelists seem to be getting slack with their latest efforts. Perhaps the editor and/or agent is also getting slack. But the very things that editors/agents swear will see a debut thrown out – superfluous narrative, overly detailed descriptions and unnecessary information, uncharacteristic dialogue, particularly with series characters, sloppy attention to detail, etc – are appearing with monotonous regularity.

    Either they think it no longer matters – it does – or they have become overly confident in their already proven writing ability.

  2. John, there comes a point where a bestselling mega-author can pretty much write something on a roll of toilet paper, and it’ll get pubbed because the fan base is enormous. We’ve all read the phoned-in books, and it irritates us to no end.

    Then there are the cases when the mega author gets so mega big that he believes his writing comes directly from the hands of the Cosmic Muffin, and insists that no one touch his manuscripts. It’s never a good idea, but it’s why we’ve seen big writers go downhill.

    Then there’s good old-fashioned attrition. Someone who’s written 20-something books simply can’t knock it out of the park every time.

  3. ericjbaker says:

    Luckily, I’ve already gotten my not-good-enough manuscripts out of the way with unpublished novels 1 and 2. Third time’s the charm?

    Seriously, if I ever get a novel published, the first thing I’m going to do is hunker down with my agent and editor and come up with a business plan to avoid exactly what you are talking about. It seems like a lot of second novels lack natural momentum and try to compensate by being bigger and broader. I want to write the second novel that makes people say, “Yes. This guy knows his audience.”

    We’ve all heard the entertainment axiom, “Give the people what they want.” I agree with it wholeheartedly. That doesn’t mean copy what you did before, but understand the qualities that led people to embrace your previous effort and make sure you don’t disappoint them in that regard. Easier said than done, of course.

  4. T. M. Hunter says:

    I think I’m suffering from Fifth Book-itis, myself…

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