Climbing the Second Novel Summit

I know a few people who have written a novel, and content with checking the task off their bucket lists, never started or completed a second one. To them, the one completed work represented many things. An itch to be scratched, a whim, a challenge, a story that needed to be told. My cousin, a musician, felt compelled to write a novel about his band. It was a pretty good novel, and he loved writing it. But having told it, he moved on.

Frankly, I don’t understand how a writer can stop at just one novel, but I also don’t understand why some people like black licorice or sheep brains or boxing, either. Or why my husband can open a box of Oreos, eat one cookie and put the rest away. The world is a strange and fascinating place.

But as I get ready to publish a second novel, I’m looking at this writing stuff from a new perspective. It’s like I’ve climbed a mountain, and now that I’m sitting at the summit scarfing down Gatorade and trail mix and feeling pretty good about myself, I look around at all the other, higher mountains and think, “Damn. The view might be a lot better from up there. But I also might have to run from more bears and rattlesnakes. And I might get a cramp.”

I hate cramps. And rattlesnakes.

It’s exciting, yet scary, to be near the top of that next summit. I’m all sweaty and out of breath and my cheeks get so flushed people look at me funny and ask if I need a ride to the emergency room. But when else in my life will I be able to say I’ve done something that Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, Sylvia Plath, and John Kennedy Toole have not? (Well, to be fair, I’m sure Plath and Toole would have written second novels if they hadn’t offed themselves.)

The other exciting part is that having written and published a first novel, I am better prepared for putting out a second. The experience of working with a small press taught me how to handle most of the marketing tasks myself. Not that I’m necessarily going to be a pro at it, but I’ve learned the basics. I now know that I need a release plan, one with built-in flexibility, because invariably something goes wrong. I’ll need a few reviews. A good sherpa. Friends to help me pimp-uh, spread the word. And hope that my preparation will meet with luck.

Then the scary stuff rains down. What if the myth is true that second novels often fail to live up to the expectations of the first? What if this one totally sucks? What if people hate it so hard I consider alternate career paths? Those ladies who do makeovers at the Macy’s cosmetics counter always look like they’re having a good time. Maybe I can do that.

Or, even scarier…what if it means I’m in this thing to stay? In that case, there’s only one thing to do: put my head down and start writing the third.

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Laurie Boris is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the five-star novel, THE JOKE’S ON ME. Her second novel, DRAWING BREATH, is due out in early May. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her website: http://laurieboris.com.

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26 thoughts on “Climbing the Second Novel Summit

  1. Completing my first novel may kill me, which will make the planned sequel much harder to write.

  2. I hear readers like to know they can expect more from an author. Once they befriend you, they want more out of the relationship.

    So, writing once means, if successful, you should try again. For the sake of the readers.

    • Thank you, Shoba…that's an interesting view. And you were right, I was wrong about Capote. Two novels and one he left unfinished upon his death. I will smite my poor source!

  3. The second novel, might I warn you, is almost impossible to write. It is much more than just difficult. So get it out quickly, sharply: discipline youself and get it off the to-do list because it can hold you back like no other manuscript ever will.

    And you are very right … the third and fourth are much, much less of a challenge, although writing is never easy.

    My second novel never went anywhere, so I quickly wrote a third, which the world now knows as my second. Does that make sense to you?

    Each one you write reveals a part of you, and an aspect of the role of author, which you hadn't discovered before. Some of it is scary, and some of it a brilliant find – at least in my case.

    Each one you write takes care of a slice of your concerns and interests. You then move on to unfold more of yourself and look into more peculair interests. I can see how some authors simply keep churning them out.

    It is the same reason that makes others stop at one.

  4. I started doing research for the second novel long before the first one was out the door. It took me a while to realize I needed some space to figure out that my writing style changed over time, so it slowed me down as I worked on the first draft of the second novel. It's been a few years longer than I wanted it to be, but I'm ultimately glad–writing the first novel was intense on so many levels (it served as the centerpiece of my master's thesis, so that amplified the anxiety!)–I needed time to process all of that experience.

    What I have now is a good work in progress with my second novel–though I did have moments of doubt as I got besieged by the "what-ifs"–and getting distracted by doing research for the 3rd novel, the 4th novel, etc. In the long space of time between the first and second, I've created a clear path for the ones that follow. I can't imagine giving up, though, no matter what. Quitting writing would like akin to quitting breathing. It's been a hard but rewarding journey! Those views from the summits are amazing! :-)

    • Thanks, Christine. Even though my first published novel was rather light-hearted, the experience of producing it was intense And I'm very glad I stuck with it. So many people told me that the best way to market a first book is to write a second book. Guess I took them seriously!

  5. I've got fifteen novels under my belt (not including the five with a traditional small press) and book number two was dead easy! Not all of them were, some I had to drag kicking and screaming into the light, but even those were such a great challenge. They say that you should write what scares you, and succeeding at that is incredibly gratifying.

    Did I sometimes kick the walls, curse and scream in frustration? Sure… but looking at that finished product, seeing the reviews that showed that someone *got* it…Priceless.

    • Yowza, Valerie! That's fantastic! One writer told me each of her books was like the birth of a child…some easy and some wrenchingly hard. And scary.

  6. Those 'what if's' can cause inertia so don't let yourself go there. I, too, found the second one more difficult and number three is proving even more of a challenge. I think it is, as you indicate, that we keep setting the bar higher, reaching for that greater height, wanting to be better than before. But I think that desire is also the mark of a good writer. When we stop trying to improve we will stagnate.

  7. Thanks for this post, Laurie.

    It is very timely as I put the finishing touches on what I will now officially label a manuscript. And my second completed one!

    This one was lots of fun, too.

    Good luck to you. I don't like black licorice or sheep brains, either. Yuck. But I will eat chocolate and foie gras. :)

  8. Great post Laurie,

    You said it pretty much right on for how it is playing out for me. It's taken way too long to complete, mainly time issues, not writing issues. Thanks for the encouragement!

    There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  9. Love the piece. Thanks for sharing. I’m afraid of bear and rattlesnakes too, but since I’m done with the first novel I won’t know what to do with myself if I don’t write a second! lol.

  10. Great post. For what it's worth, Joe Cafe was my second. The Biker, my third. The first exists only on my computer. I don't believe in the second novel curse.

    • The Joke's on Me was the fourth novel I'd written, but the first with publication possibilities. Drawing Breath was the fifth. I wonder sometimes if some authors absorb the second novel myth until it becomes fact.

  11. All myths are true if it happens to you. My second one was a kind of carousel off of which I could not jump.

    There's also a myth that once you get your second one off your chest you can write several others with no pain. Not so, but others have felt that.

    There is also a myth that once you have a great body of work out there, it'll all sell – not so. But some authors have experienced that, too.

  12. Pingback: Climbing the Second Novel Summit | Laurie Boris, Freelance Writer

  13. My first book The Wolf's Moon is out in the world now and my second There Are Monsters is being drafted but I'm in no hurry to finish it. I'm working on a sequel to the first. I found that I cannot stop writing. I was told at a young age I would starve before I ever solld one. That was by my parents. I wish they were alive to feel what I feel. I'm lucky that my wife and kids encourage me to keep going. I never quit anything in my life and now I couldn't quit if I had to. Everyone in Crawford County Missouri would be every irked with me. They want the next story, and the one after that. The stories will come. Selling them is another matter but I have a great Business Agent – my wife.

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