Second Book Syndrome: Authors Share Their Stories
Following on from our previous installment which asked established authors how they went about getting published, the talented bunch have returned to help shed some light on the dreaded ‘second book syndrome’. How do you cope if the words just don’t come to you as freely as the first time around? When inspiration fails you and you’re left blankly staring at a screen? We found out.
Did you or are you struggling to write and publish a second book?
KENYA MOSS-DYME: I had the idea for my second book, A Good Wife, while I was writing the first book, Prey for Me. A Good Wife was a dark romance and it was a completely different genre and style so it wasn’t so much of a struggle as it was a kind of…fear. Fear of trying something different when your new readers are still trying to fit you into a category and here you go – BAM – with something else. But it worked out. I’m working on my 5th book at the moment.
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BRANDON TIETZ: The second one came out in March of 2014 and was surprisingly easy to get through.
C.L. HERNANDEZ: After my first novel was accepted, I began writing a three-book series which was picked up by another publisher. (The Complicated Life of Deegie Tibbs, Winlock Press) I had such fun writing the first installment. (A Jar of Fingers, published May, 2015) I was on a roll. I felt unstoppable. Then it came time to write the second book in the series. (The Witch War of Fiddlehead Creek, published August, 2015) Everything came to a screeching halt. My brain shut down. My muse went shoe shopping. I agonized over that book. I cried. I wanted to quit. Writer’s block and a looming deadline combined equal a special kind of hell.
CHASTITY EARNHARDT: Right now I’m at the stage of waiting on my editors to get back to me. But I’ve had several setbacks with even getting it into the hands of my editors. I got married in June and my release date was the week after my wedding. Needless to say, planning the wedding took all of my time and left me very little time to write. So I postponed my release date and have postponed it once more, but it’s coming out Christmas this year.
LYNN HOUSTON: I am working on a second book of poetry right now. By the time I had my first book under contract, my style had already changed and I was already pursuing some of the topics that will comprise my second book. There was no struggle involved in that for me. I had an experience of almost having outgrown my first book by the time it came out.
CODY WILLIAMS: My next book is called Santa’s Workshop. Technically it is my third written book, so I’ll talk about another book I worked on over the summer titled Drake. That book was difficult to write. It was the second work of longer fiction that I ever attempted and I was a very angry young man when I wrote it. I think that some of that is shown on the page. But I didn’t have too hard of a time writing it. I still have to go back and edit it. Once I finished the first draft I went straight into Santa’s Workshop so I really didn’t get to edit it. Santa’s Workshop was much easier to write once it got off the ground.
A.L. MENGEL: I have written and published a second novel. It was the sequel to Ashes, called The Quest for Immortality, but I wrote it in a style so the reader could start the series with any book they chose.
My main challenge with this book was this: I wrote the first 200 pages or so, shortly after I finished Ashes, and became overwhelmed with it. So I put it away, and didn’t bother to develop it or publish it until after Ashes was out.
The actual publication went very smoothly, since I learned most of what I was doing while putting Ashes out.
WESLEY THOMAS: I was actually much better prepared. I didn’t know it all, and I think it is impossible for anyone to fully know everything. But the second time round I had perfected my craft a little, learned more about cover design and how to market the book effectively. I realized by my second book, this was definitely the right career path for me. The stories kept coming to me, the writing, the prose, the energy and inspiration. So, I know some authors struggle with their second book, riddled with insecurities, but I loved it.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: When I was writing my first book, and even shortly after it was published, I had not planned on publishing a second book. I wasn’t against the idea in any way, but I just didn’t feel inspired towards anything at that point. It’s been about a year since my first book has been published, and I’m in the beginning stages of writing another one. This book, “The Elements of Being” will be a continuation of the first, “The Pieces of Life”. Although I’m very passionate about the newest one as well, I do feel that the first was much easier for me to write.
LAURA LEE: I am trying to sell my 16th book at the moment. The big challenge with it is that I was fairly successful at building a particular brand for myself as a writer of humorous reference. I enjoy writing those and they’re fun. I’m proud of my voice in that genre– but after a lot of years doing that I have different interests. Were it not for the stomach pains associated with starvation I would focus entirely on fiction. Right now I am trying to sell a book on a topic of literary history. As a writer, you’re always focused on what you have the potential to do, but the market place is focused on what you have done. So it is another instance of starting again and trying to persuade publishers that you have other facets and that these can potentially be successful for them.
VALARIE KINNEY: I wrote my second book last year. This time, I submitted it to a small press, a trad/indie hybrid, and it was accepted. Slither was published July 4th, this year.
DAVE EISENSTARK: No struggle. I keep churning them out. I have a half-dozen books that maybe need a polish, then off to the printers!
GABRIEL RICARD: As I said, I’ve got the second book on the line for next year, which is Bondage Night, which will be put out again by Kleft Jaw. Hopefully. I mean, it seems like everything changes all the time. I’m confident. You could definitely say I’m struggling to put it through the grinder of that final edit. Beyond that, I’ve got a short story collection manuscript and a new poetry collection manuscript that I’m shopping around. So if anyone out there in TV land, or wherever we’re living these days, reads this, and wants to publish those fuckers, give me a ring.
KEVIN DOYLE: Even before I’d managed to sell my first novelette as an e-book, I’d begun working on a full blown mystery novel. I’d barely begun it when I received the contract for the novelette, so I had almost a year there when one book was about to be published and I was working on the second. “Gig” came out two months before I’d finished the mystery novel. I thought it would be a long haul to sell a second book. Unexpectedly, though, I received a contract for the second one three weeks after I’d begun submitting it. So the process of selling the second book was unbelievably quick and easy. Pure luck, by the way.
How does writing a second book differ from the first?
KENYA MOSS-DYME: Your comfort level is a bit higher because you’re familiar with the process, so you don’t have that fear of the unknown. You’ve also had a chance to communicate with your new readers and you know what they like and what they expect. This gives you a bit of confidence because you also know that these readers – who have hopefully become fans of your work – they will buy your second book, if for no other reason than to support you and give you another chance. So there’s that. It’s definitely not as scary as the first!
BRANDON TIETZ: In my case the whole process from top-to-bottom was a lot simpler. I had a contract offered to me before I had written any of it. I had a day job that allowed me to write on the job 80% of the time. More than anything though, I actually knew what the fuck I was doing. With my first book I was trying to figure out a recipe. With the second one, I had the recipe and it was more or less a manner of perfecting it.
C.L. HERNANDEZ: I’ll use my series as an example here. For the sake of continuity, I naturally had to keep track of the characters and events from the first installment. I think that may have contributed to my brain’s untimely “vapor lock.” I was constantly going back to A Jar of Fingers to look up names, places, and events. Now I realize the wisdom of keeping a detailed character log.
CHASTITY EARNHARDT: For me I have chapters I have to reference back to from the first book. One of my characters had premonitions in book one and is living them out in book two. So I was always flipping through book one to write those scenes. Book one I was just able to go with it and wasn’t having to make sure I had my facts right, and sometimes I’d forget what certain characters looked like. Another difference is that a lot of my readers have messaged me wanting to know what happens because the next book isn’t out and a lot have said they were mad at me for making them wait for so long, but you can’t rush perfection.
LYNN HOUSTON: My first book was 15 years in the making, but this second book is going to be done in a year. I’m more open to experimentation in this second book than I was in the first. The first was my tentative step into the poetry world. Now I feel like I’m dancing. I’m not exactly ballroom material yet, but I’m having fun. I have a confidence I didn’t have with the first book because I know I have a readership.
CODY WILLIAMS: I think that books get easier to write the more you do it, especially with novels. Once you get through one novel, you pretty much learn the format and how you should write the second one. So I think it gets easier as you go on.
A.L. MENGEL: When I wrote Ashes, I was a total pantser. With The Quest for Immortality, I initially was a panster, until I looked at it, years later, after Ashes was published. I knew I needed to get another novel out within a year. And so I selected TQFI, and I found that I had to transform my writing style, and become a plotter. My first novel poured out of me. Words rained onto the page. But with my second, I had to make sense out of the first novel setup, so I transformed into a plotter. It’s worked well for me.
WESLEY THOMAS: Oh in many ways. As I mentioned, you find your voice and learn how to better deliver it through words, sentences, metaphors, similes and phrases. You develop a plan, rather than carelessly promoting with no goal or agenda. You put aside a budget for editing, cover design, and produce a marketing schedule. Basically, you are much better equipped. Your tool set has grown tremendously.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: This time around, I am more aware of the publishing process. I know exactly what step to take next, and the time periods involved in those processes. The method is familiar so it does seem quite easier, however, the content writing is what has been more difficult for me.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Writing the second book in a series is both fun and really, REALLY terrifying. On the one hand you get to revisit characters you know and love. Yay! On the other, you have to juggle giving information about the first book to new readers as well as finding new ways to move the story and characters along. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance.
LAURA LEE: I followed up my fist book with three books in one year. One was actually a sequel to the fist book I wrote and I was under contract to the first publisher to give them the right of first refusal on another book. So I pitched some ideas to them.
VALARIE KINNEY: It was much faster. My first book took about 3 years, off and on, to write. The second took about six months. I felt much more confident in my abilities and my voice as a writer.
DAVE EISENSTARK: I think it’s easier. I think you have more confidence. You’ve climbed the mountain once and made it back down.
GABRIEL RICARD: The second book is a novel, so that’s definitely a whole other thing from editing and assembling a poetry collection. I will say that my poetry is very similar to the other types of things I write, in terms of the fact that I generally fall back on spinning narratives about weird characters and troubling situations. On that front, it isn’t much different. Structurally, it’s certainly a lot different.
KEVIN DOYLE: It’s hard to explain because they’re so drastically different. One is 14,000 words; the other is 82,000. One is an example of a little-known genre called rock fiction; the other is a straight mystery. I do have to say, though, that once I had the contract for the first, it was a lot easier to have the confidence to see the second one through to completion.
Do you ever worry that people might not receive it as well as your first attempt?
KENYA MOSS-DYME: Of course, I did worry, especially since it was kind of targeting a different audience. Prey for Me is a thriller but A Good Wife is a romantic tale so the audience for that is overwhelmingly women.
BRANDON TIETZ: No, not with that one. I had a ton more experience under my belt and one of the best editors I had ever worked with. My biggest concern was marketing because the book ended up being this blend of horror and erotica and religion that I knew wouldn’t be an easy sell.
C.L. HERNANDEZ: Yes indeed. I have this weird idea that all my stress and tears somehow imbedded themselves in to the pages of that book. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Although The Witch War of Fiddlehead Creek doesn’t have as many reviews as A Jar of Fingers, I have had nothing but positive feedback from my readers.
CHASTITY EARNHARDT: Yes! I make some religious references in my novels and a part of me worries how people will take that. But it’s not so much that I’m shoving my religion at anyone. And my current published work pertains to a lot of what the average teen goes through — trying to fit in. No matter what you write, you’re always going to worry about how people take it. I just finally got it in my head to just write, and know that I’m not going to please everyone with what I write. Not everyone is going to like it, but there are some people that will.
LYNN HOUSTON: I felt like I struggled a lot to bring that first book into being, that so much of it was trial and error. Now I have a better understanding of what readers respond to, so I’m not worried that this second book will be less well-received.
CODY WILLIAMS: I try not to let that bother me. Like I said, I write to entertain me first and foremost. If I’m not entertained, the reader probably won’t be neither. So I just try to entertain me and if I’m entertained, some people will like it. Some won’t, but you deal with that regardless. Not everybody’s going to love you.
A.L. MENGEL: An author is as good as their last story. If the second novel is not well received, try, try again.
WESLEY THOMAS: I think that has nothing to do with the ‘second book syndrome’. A reader could love your first and not your second, just because of the subject matter. Or the opposite, they may have hated your first but loved your second. It isn’t anything to do with the author, just a reader’s preference.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: With every piece that I’ve written, I’ve always had some doubt about how well it will be received. I think every good writer has that doubt, because we want our readers to be satisfied. We want our readers to be emotionally connected to what we are saying.
I have thought about people not receiving my second book as well as my first, but in my opinion, part of being a good writer, is putting that aside and just writing from the heart. As long as you do that, there will be people who can relate to what you write.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Absolutely! I always think about how the previous book was much easier to write. The plot was more interesting, the characters more dynamic and I’m sure the book I’m writing right now is a hack job. I’m slowly learning to turn off that voice and remember not to compare my crappy first draft to my previous work which is now shiny and polished.
VALARIE KINNEY: My first and second books are entirely different genres, so I feel as though I have different audiences. I’ve had messages and reviews from people who have read both and those are generally positive. Slither is my first foray into horror/paranormal, so I am a little nervous about that part.
DAVE EISENSTARK: Not a problem for me since my first book has been less than a runaway bestseller, and my second book, Bleeding Kansas, is an entirely different genre. It’s a Western and something of a Young Adult Western at that (a genre which any decent publisher will tell you doesn’t exist), so I don’t think there’s really much overlap in readership.
GABRIEL RICARD: Not at all. If anything, I think people are going to really, really like Bondage Night. The reception to Clouds of Hungry Dogs has been tremendous and kind in equal amounts. Even so, I think the reception to Bondage Night is going to blow Clouds out of the, well, I guess the sky.
KEVIN DOYLE: Oh, that’s a sore spot. So far all three of my books have received mind blowing reviews. Sales, not so much. The first one, of which I’m proudest because it’s such a radical departure for me, has literally sold less than ten copies since its release. To date, none of my three have sold more than twenty-five copies, so it’s hard to worry about reception being worse than before.
Any tips for anyone struggling to finish their second book?
KENYA MOSS-DYME: Learn from the first book – what worked, what didn’t work, what should you do differently? Pay attention to the feedback! Some writers like to brag that they don’t read their reviews – why not? Good or bad, its telling you something that you can use for your future work.
BRANDON TIETZ: Learn from your mistakes. Ask yourself what didn’t work the first time around and avoid the screw-ups before they happen.
C.L. HERNANDEZ: Stay the course. Remember why you started this journey. Cry if you need to; scream, cuss, throw things (but don’t hurt anyone, of course), then get back to writing. A change of environment helps. Take your writing materials into another room and work there for a while. Look at pictures or listen to songs that remind you of your characters. Befriend a fellow author, someone who’s experienced this before, and ask him/her how they got through it.
CHASTITY EARNHARDT: Just write! If you can’t continue where you’re at look at it from a new angle. I had a short story I wrote that I had to write from the middle in order to even get a beginning or an end. Sometimes you have to write out of order and just put your thoughts together and figure out later what you were going for. If you can’t focus at all, go to Facebook and ask your writing friends to sprint write with you. Sprint writing is where you take a timeframe and just write and at the end of the time you post how many words you wrote in that timeframe. It works great when you’re stuck, it clears your head and gets you back in the zone.
LYNN HOUSTON: Anytime a writer struggles with writing there is a problem with expectations. The writer is expecting the first draft to be a masterpiece. Turn off your internal editor and just get words on the page. The only good draft is one that is finished. In my experience, for most writers the magic happens during revision, after you’ve already got that “shitty first draft” to work with (Anne Lamotte’s phrase, I believe).
CODY WILLIAMS: Keep writing. Just make sure that you keep the process going and make sure that you don’t stop. You can always go back and edit things you didn’t like. Writing the first draft is most of the work.
A.L. MENGEL: Sure. Consider #Writestorm. The process worked wonders for me.
WESLEY THOMAS: Besides starting my own business to help promote authors, I also have a blog with tonnes of posts to help authors. From reviews, motivation, blogging, promoting, blog tours, sales, radio interviews etc. I think in this case, to finish the second book, you need an extra dose of inspiration. Go to blogpostsforwriters.blogspot.com and I have a blog on how to find inspiration and motivation. You will need it for confidence in the ending and to execute it.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: I’ve realized that my second book is coming along much slower than my first. There could be multiple reasons for that. I try my best to write when I’m feeling my best; inspired and positive. I write more than I do anything, but let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t feel up to it. Don’t write when you’re not able to give your best.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Try letting other people look at it. You’ll be surprised at how often something you’re will be viewed as horrible winds up not being so bad. Gag your Editor voice and lock them up in a basement somewhere. You can do this!
VALARIE KINNEY: In ten years, you’ll either be proud you did it or regret not having finished it. You may be thinking, “I’ll finish it later, when everything slows down,” but none of us are promised a ‘later’ and everything may not slow down. You have to decide if this is the most important thing for you to do, and if it is, you’ve just got to push through. You can do this.
DAVE EISENSTARK: Stop. Quit. Do something else. I don’t need the competition, okay?
GABRIEL RICARD: Calm the fuck down. Seriously. Between theater acting and writing, I know a lot about the intense desire to keep the momentum going, to the point where you stop enjoying the process of whatever you doing. If you find yourself in that state, I would honestly suggest taking a break. Chances are, the only person who is screaming at you to make lighting strike twice is you. And you can do it. I swear. Just calm down.
KEVIN DOYLE: I don’t think I’m the one to give tips, as such. But if I had to I’d fall back on the cliche of don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just write your story and move on.
Sum up the experience in three words?
KENYA MOSS-DYME: Exhilarating and empowering.
BRANDON TIETZ: Quick and dirty.
C.L. HERNANDEZ: What a ride!
CHASTITY EARNHARDT: Harder than planned.
LYNN HOUSTON: Get words down.
CODY WILLIAMS: Easier, but more emotionally distraught.
A.L. MENGEL: I wrote that?
WESLEY THOMAS: Reaffirming. Easier. Satisfying.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: My second book has been: slow, poignant, and inspiring.
VALARIE KINNEY: Proud of myself.
DAVE EISENSTARK: Patience again triumphs.
GABRIEL RICARD: Probably worth it.
KEVIN DOYLE: Easy and impossible.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: “I am a young woman who has an intense passion for writing. I’ve self-published my first book about a year ago, and am working on my second. I also enjoy blogging about a wide variety of topics.” Read her book here.
VALARIE KINNEY: A writer, fiber artist and Renaissance Festival junkie with a wicked caffeine addiction. She is the author of Slither and Just Hold On. Narrator for Dragons of Faith. Pick up her book here
DAVE EISENSTARK: Dave Eisenstark is a professional screenwriter who has recently turned to novels: The Video Killer from Spanking Pulp Press, and Bleeding Kansas from World Castle Publishing. Read his work here.
A.L. MENGEL: He has created a “sub-brand” to connect with his readers called The Writing Studio. There, everyone is a Beloved Friend, and writing, music, art and inspiration are shared and discussed, as well as trending topics. Join it here
GABRIEL RICARD: An accomplished poet, writer and spoken word performer, Ricard is a long-time collaborator with CV and the author of Clouds of Hungry Dogs. Pick it up here
CODY WILLIAMS: Cody Williams is the author of over 200 short stories, a novelist, and the author of a few poems. During the summer of 2013, Cody founded TRUE TERROR PUBLICATIONS, an indie printing press dedicated to publishing ebooks. Visit his website.
WESLEY THOMAS: “I am a multi-published bestselling horror author of 6 books, with three more on the way.” Buy his work here.
KEVIN R. DOYLE: Kevin R. Doyle is a high school teacher and fiction writer from the Midwest. His newest book, The Litter, is a horror novel released this year by Night to Dawn Magazine and Books. Like him on Facebook.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: She is the author of the Outsider Chronicles, a five book series starting with NIKO and set in a world where the rain burns like acid and flesh eating monsters roam. Catch her work on Amazon.
LAURA LEE: The author of 15 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Visit her website.
C. L. HERNANDEZ: C. L. Hernandez is a writer of horror, dark fiction, urban fantasy, and occasional poetry. She is the author of the series The Complicated Life of Deegie Tibbs (Winlock Press), and the novel The Curious Case of the Tuscan Plague Doctor (Barking Rain Press) which will be released in 2016. Visit her Amazon page.
LYNN MARIE HOUSTON: Lynn Marie Houston has a Ph.D. in literature from Arizona State University. Her first poetry book, The Clever Dream of Man, came out from Aldrich Press in August 2015. Visit her website.
KENYA MOSS-DYME: Author Kenya Moss–Dyme originally hails from Chicago but now resides in Michigan – land of the subzero winters and nuclear summers. She began writing short–form horror in her teens and won several scholastic writing awards for her creative work. Visit her website.