In September, I had the privilege of presenting on a panel about realistic YA at the Northwest BookFest. During the Q&A part of the presentation, an audience member asked about writing second books. It was a particularly relevant question for me because I’m currently in the process of writing my second contracted book (though in no way my second overall book).
Second books aren’t necessarily easier to write than first books. A number of factors go into that second book, all of which can contribute to frustration and slumpiness, but which can also push a writer to expand and explore the boundaries set by the first novel.
Possibly the case in which the second book is most directed is when a writer sells a series. In this case, the series world has been developed, the characters are placed within and the forward momentum of the plot, often with an idea of the series conclusion the plot will lead to, in hand. The publisher's and author's ideas about author branding tend to line up well. That doesn't mean the second book is easy to write—not at all. The difficulty with these second books is developing more: deeper characters, a bigger world, teasing out nuances to make the story feel fresh and new problems to face while keeping the overall series arc in mind. And there may be a lot of feedback from readers of the first book that cause an author to question or reexamine ideas.
Books that sell as stand-alones, but still in a multi-book deal, go through a slightly different process. Or, at least, the author faces a difference process. In this case, the author is figuring out her branding, how to follow one book with another that doesn't divert too far from the themes of the first book, but far enough to be unique and to bring new readership to her stories. And it’s not just the author making that decision. The publisher plays a big role in determining how they want to market an author and may find the author’s ideas aren't in line with their vision. Once settled on, a second book requires new characters, new settings, new plot. The book is hoped to be as good as the first, but is usually written in a shorter period of time as the first and the author may feel rushed. Still, there is the comfort of knowing the publisher believed in the author enough to offer for two books.
Authors who sell in single-book deals have second book experiences that are all over the map. Some have an option, where their publisher gets to see and offer on their second book before another editor at a different house can see it, while others hope to expand their first book into a series and have to wait for the numbers—sales figures—before getting the go ahead. There is some uncertainty here, and that can make finding and writing the best possible next book difficult.
No matter the scenario, second books are rarely easier to write than first. I would hazard that, in most cases, they are harder to write. One of the interesting things about the writing process is that the more you learn, the harder you have to work to write to the standard you, and your readers, hold yourself up to. The second novel process comes filled with new expectations and a creator with new insights and wisdoms. That can make the sophomore effort feel slumpish, but also affords opportunity for added growth and talent.
Have you written a second book? How did you find the process?