There have been lots of articles written about writing your first novel, both on how to do it and the struggle and sense of achievement when finally completing it. This is understandable. You only write one first novel and you are one of a select few who having started, manage to get to the end. But what of your second novel? What should you expect when starting book number two and how is it different from the first time? Here are my top five things I learned writing my second novel.
1 It is just as hard as the first but in different ways
Writing your first novel is a struggle because it is the great unknown. It’s like having a child; you knew in theory what to expect but the reality was so much more. So writing your second book should be easy, right? Unfortunately the answer is both yes and no. Some things are easier. You know what to expect, how much commitment is required and what to do during each stage of the writing process. But at the same time, each book is different and how you get your story onto the page can vary wildly depending on the idea, the characters, your chosen POV and many other factors. Some writers say there is no such thing as a second book, just another first one, and I have a tendency to agree. Even though my second novel was a sequel to my first, it was just as hard to write. And then there is the pressure of expectation to add to all the other challenges you face.
2 You have improved as a writer
The good news is that you have improved as a writer. Yes, you have. It may not be noticeable as you oscillate between the wild creativity and frustrating inertia of your new first draft, but when it comes to editing you should see a difference in the amount of effort needed to pull your book into shape. This isn’t always the case, especially if your first book was an idea that had been germinating for years and your second came from an “oh, shit, what should I do now?” thought after your first novel was finished, but most of us find that there are things learnt when writing the first novel around pacing, phrasing and characterisation which naturally incorporate into our writing process, improving the standard of our first draft.
Then, when it comes to editing, most of us have a clearer idea of what we should be doing and to what extent. Like many people I over-edited my first novel
3 You still have a lot to learn
Writing a book doesn’t automatically qualify you as an experienced author. It makes you a journeyman at best, a novice in most cases. What you’ve learnt with your first novel is how to write that particular story. You’ve picked up many skills along the way – you can see this by how much better your later chapters were compared to your first – but you’ve still only flexed a few of the writing muscles available to a writer. The best writers are always learning, always looking to improve. And then there is the ever-present challenge of how to write without resorting to cliché or stock phrasing. The bad news is, you’ve not made it as a writer, you’ve just started. The good news is that’s a wonderful situation to be in.
4 There are certain typos you will always make
Muscle memory is a funny thing. Once an action is learnt it is very hard to un-learn. When editing your second book you’ll soon notice old friends making an appearance, those same typos that riddled your first book coming back to say hello. If you haven’t already made notes of which typos you regularly make, I suggest you do it now, because these gremlins are guaranteed (that’s one of mine) to visit every manuscript you ever write and a quick ‘find and replace’ (not replace all, always check placement and context) of your document can save hours of frustration further down the process.
5 Once published, you find out your true audience
On publishing your second book your assumption is that your second book will sell at least the same number as your first book, with a bigger launch, because you already have a group of dedicated readers who can’t wait to find out what you’ve come up with next. This may be true if you’ve a thriving mailing list and are releasing your book only a few months after the first. In fact this is the reason why many people suggest you don’t publish book 1 when it’s finished but wait until you have three ready to go and publish them either all at once, or quickly after each other.
The reality for most of us (especially those of us self-publishing) is that the initial sales of our debut novel – especially at launch – came from friends or family either keen to support us or morbidly interested in what could be a car crash of a novel. Another segment of people who bought your novel are those who bought it because of the great cover, blurb, personal recommendation or reviews but found it not good enough to race out and buy the next one. That doesn’t mean they thought it terrible (although they might have) but it just wasn’t compelling enough that your next novel automatically pushed in front of every other book being released. Then you have the people who would be interested but you’ve failed to engage with so they’ve moved on to other things.
As with all these points, this may not apply to you, but don’t be surprised if your second book doesn’t initially sell as well as your first. It can be a frustrating lesson but the good news is that those readers that buy your second book are your true audience. They aren’t there for moral support (well, maybe a few) but they’re there because they’re genuinely interested in what you come up with next. As long as you continue to produce quality work, this group should remain with you every step of the way (although a mailing list helps), becoming the foundation of your (hopefully) ever growing readership.
So what about you? What lessons have you learnt that I’ve missed? Or is there anything I’ve written you strongly disagree with? I’d love to hear from you!
Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here.