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.
As I am publishing my second in just a few weeks, this was rather timely. Bracing for impact now.
All the very best of luck with your imminent launch. It’s a really exciting time. My key piece of advice would be not to worry what happens in the first days or weeks after launch but see how you feel a few months down the line. Writing is a long game.
Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
As the file of my second novel taunts me, I found comfort in these wise, true words from Dylan Hearn.
Thanks, Susan. I’m really glad they helped 🙂
… And as I have just (finally) begun writing my second, this was rather timely here too… 🙂
I’m glad you found it useful, Julie. Now as your official slave driver, get off my blog and back to writing! *cracks whip*
If you didn’t write such interesting posts, Dylan, we’d *all* be able to get off your blog far more quickly. [Runs away from whip].
Thanks, Marcus! *puts whip away but gives him a knowing look*
I find I cringe every time someone asks, “So, how’s that second novel going?” I must learn to just smile and say, “Fine!” Much more difficult to complete this one as I’m more aware now of what is wrong with it.
A book takes as long as it takes. At least this time around you’re experienced enough to know that something’s wrong so you can put it right. I still remember my shock after receiving beta reader feedback for my first novel!
Great blog post, Dylan. Nothing to add except to smile in recognition, particularly with points 4 and 5. For some reason, in my first drafts I always write wonder when I mean wander, even though I know the difference! This is now an essential search for me. And as for sales, I’m currently experiencing the reality of poorer initial sales for my second novel. But as you say, how wonderful to have built up a devoted following! And when can we expect book 3 from you?
Thanks, Kat. I’ve just started getting feedback from beta readers on book 3 so it’s looking like late this year, early next for launch.
One or two books past the second… though not exactly novels… I would say that the further you go, the more experience you bring to the process, the more you realise, especially with self-pub, that you got through the first one on a wing and a prayer and that mountain you climbed was just the start of the foothills 🙂
“you got through the first one on a wing and a prayer and that mountain you climbed was just the start of the foothills”
That’s a brilliant analogy!
I always fancied being a mountaineer 😉
Love this analogy!
Reblogged this on brittneysahin.
Thanks so much for sharing!
I’m in the 2nd book writing stage now 🙂
This is sooo true! Sharing!
Thanks, Kylie! I’m so glad I’m not the only one to experience this. 🙂
You’re never alone:)
All true, for sure. I’ve also learned that no matter how many times you go through a manuscript, you can always find an error on the next go around. Sigh.
That’s so true and it never changes, no matter how many books you write.
Hi Dylan – I have been struggling with my second book (or books). I have two going at the same time. My first one has received great reviews, but I have done NOTHING to market it and so it sits in the bowels of Amazon’s belly/actually probably more like in the colon of Amazon’s abdomen (it’s dropped that far in it’s ranking). But I do not despair. Life gets in the way. In my first book, the words are written and I am happy with them, although I know there are the ever-present typos lurking in the text, showing themselves to everyone but me. I have a tendency to capitalize the second letter as well as the first, I blame this on my piano lessons, holding the first note down or something like that and I can never spell opportunity or occasion correctly without that little red, squiggly line appearing under the words. And so, now the characters of the two subsequent books are having conversations with each other in my brain, but they are not completely ready to expose their presence to me. It’s very frustrating. My vision is murky with my second book/s, but I know if I stop letting everything else get in my way, that vision will clear (I hope).
Thanks for the great post – I sense an increase in my level of motivation!!!!!
I’m glad it helped. I find when I struggle to get clarity in a scene, it helps to get something down, even if I’m unhappy with it. Then at least I’ve got something to work with and I can start to see what is wrong. Good luck!
That #4 really hit home with me! I used to work in form design and to this day I regularly transpose ‘form’ and ‘from’ – almost always the wrong way around for the context, which is particularly embarrassing when I’m actually talking about a form of some persuasion. In fact I very nearly did it with this post, and it was only through a conscious effort that I managed to only misspell form as forpm… this is why I always give literally everything I write (including this one) a few proof reads before I hit send!
And yes, second books are still hard. My next one’s been stalled for over a year now, which is not entirely down me procrastinating, even though it’s something that’s been percolating in my mind for much, much longer. The actual publishing process isn’t so scary, but only because I’ve published for several other people as well – so I’ve not really got too many excuses now, I just have to buckle down and go for it. Soon…
It’s infuriating, isn’t it. The best/worst (delete as appropriate) typo I made was instead of writing “a cold calm came over her” I wrote “a cold clam came over her.” Two very different things!
You’re not the only one with a seafood fetish. I read it recently in another book, and couldn’t help but think of you 😉 as I did when I saw the image you chose for this post.
In terms of sales, interest etc, if people can’t churn out at least a couple of books a year, then having them stockpiled is a good idea. The other option of course, is to write shorts, which in some cases may be a prequel.
Did you read it in a published book or in one of your client’s drafts? At least I managed to capture mine before publishing!
I’m tempted to write a serial, a novel-length story cut into several episodes. I’ve seen some authors have great success with this technique but I’ve also seen strong negative reactions from readers, so I’m still mulling it over at present.
Reblogged this on One Writer's Journey by Chris Owens and commented:
Midway through my own second novel, I’m finding much of this to be true.
I hope it helps to know what you’re experiencing is normal. Thanks for the reblog!
What I’ve learned: just wait ’til the third!
I’m towards the end of my third so I know exactly what you mean!
Thanks for sharing this insight. I like the part about the second book is where you learn who your true followers are.
It’s true, or at least has been for me, and was a bit of a shock at the time.
So true, Dylan! My second was just as hard as my first, but in different ways. My third is proving to have its own difficulties so it is currently on hold while I work on a different project entirely, which also has its issues! 😁
I would also agree with the other thing you said; with hindsight, as an Indie, I would NEVER have published books 1 and 2 until book 3 was ready. Lesson learned too late…
I can see the merits of waiting until all three books are available before publishing, certainly from a financial and audience building perspective. At the same time I learnt an awful lot after my first novel was published, especially about just how much work is needed to make sure the book is in the best possible condition for launch, that I’m not sure I would change what’s happened, even if I could.
Reblogged this on Anita & Jaye Dawes and commented:
totally agree, but impossible to quit now!
I hope it hasn’t made people want to quit, that wasn’t my intention! Thanks for the reblog. 🙂
Dont kow waht the fuss is all about…
…. but a cracking pot as ever!
Is your spiel chucker on the blink?
it tsum eb!
All of this is so so true, Dylan. Now I’m onto the third and it’s much the same thing, just a little further along the road
I could’ agree more. I’m near the end of book 3, planning book 4, and this post could be equally applicable.
Reblogged this on graemecummingdotnet and commented:
It’s always good to learn that there should be a natural sequence to the books you write. Unfortunately for me, I wrote 2-3 drafts of a first novel and couldn’t get it right, so set it aside and wrote a second (which I did get right – though some reviewers beg to differ) and Ravens Gathering was published. I went back to the first and still couldn’t get it right, so I’m on the third, though suspect it won’t be released until I’ve written at least one more. For that reason, I won’t second guess which one will hit the bookshelves first. To the limited few who are just itching to read something else by me, that may be a disappointment, but I suspect the end results will be better than if I simply churn one out and publish it.
In the mean time, for anyone wanting to get a clearer picture of what you should do, Dylan’s post here is more enlightening than anything I feel I can share at the moment…
I hear your pain. The book I’m currently developing was originally meant to be my second novel but I struggled to get started, so I ended up writing Absent Souls and the as yet unpublished third book in my trilogy. However, during that time my subconscious has mulled over the original second book idea and, having changed the lead character and POV, I think I’ve now got the makings of a good story. All I need to do is write it!
Ah! That’s all you need to do. Know that feeling…
I haven’t written any books but one of my common ‘gremlins’ is the word an – I always, always type and – I don’t know why! By the way, Jennifer sent me. ❤
It’s so annoying, isn’t it? And try as you might, you can’t stop your fingers from doing it! Thanks for dropping by and please pass on my thanks to Jennifer!
Excellent post. Every word rang true. I’m working on the ‘second book’ in a way; although I have published two books, the one I’m working on is a sequel of The Right Wrong Man, so in all ways I’m dealing with the issues you describe. Nice to meet you, and your blog!
Thank you, and nice to meet you too! I’m so glad this rang true for you. Good luck with your sequel. I’m thinking of writing a special blog for the painful lessons in writing a sequel (or two), as there are so many gremlins specific to this type of book.
I absolutely cannot wait anymore for your third book! 🙂
I’m going as fast as I can! 🙂