Like firstborn children, debut novels get a lot of attention. I’m a firstborn myself, as well as the first grandchild in a cohort of twelve, and I’ve always liked the role.
But what about second novels? I’d heard about the “sophomore slump”—the letdown and diminished interest, from friends as well as the media, in a second book. I’d also heard that a second book is easier because the process isn’t quite so unknown; experience can bring clarity, confidence, and manageable emotions.
Both descriptions of the sophomore novel made sense to me. Since I was about to launch my own second novel, I was curious to know what others had to say—writers who had “gone before” and could reflect back on what it was like. I reached out—on writers’ groups I belong to, and also privately to authors I knew—and asked three questions:
- How was launching the second book different for you, externally? That is, did you approach it differently in terms of promotion, strategy, finances?
- How was it different for you, internally? That is, were there differences in your expectations, attitude, emotions, personal experience?
- Were there ways in which the two experiences were similar?
I ended up talking with twenty people, some on the phone and some through email. I didn’t explicitly try to find people representing all the paths to publishing, but it turned out that I did. The authors who talked to me included those who were self-published; those who had published through small, hybrid, and mid-size houses; and those who were published under an imprint of one of the Big Five. All were women, and all were novelists—not because I refused to talk with men, but because these were the people in my networks who responded to my query.
I wish I had space to quote everyone in detail! Since I don’t, I’ve tried to identify common themes, with examples, that may be useful to others who will follow in their footsteps. We all want to know: Is my experience similar to what others have experienced? Is what I’m feeling “normal?”
“Normal” is never one thing, of course; it’s always a range. My hope is that other sophomore novelists, including me, will take heart and find direction in the experience of those who’ve been through this already. Because I collected so much data, I will be sharing it over two posts, with the second post to follow next month. Today’s post will focus on the first question—how the authors’ external choices and experiences differed in the second book. Next month’s post will focus on the second question—the internal experience—as well as the similarities.
I’ve summarized what these twenty respondents (named at the end of this post) told me about their experience into five broad themes. [Read more…]