Second novel syndrome – it’s such a recognised problem that an internet search brings up results from major publications and indie bloggers alike. There’s even an award presented by the Royal Society of Literature called the Encore Award for the best second novel. In short, there’s anxiety and reward. The trouble is, when you’re a self-published author, you tend to get far more of the anxiety.
Rewind to a year ago – August 2016. After a decade of writing and rewriting, I was taking the plunge. My first release, But By Degrees, was one of 11 projects at various stages of editing and I’d put it through so many drafts that it didn’t much resemble the first draft written around 2010. It was ready to go; I just had to let it. Going through the publication process and finally clicking that button was a culmination of many years of dogged determination.
Then the dreaded second novel began looming on the horizon.
I’d already decided that Valerie would be my second release. Again, it’s a novel that has drastically changed throughout drafts to the point where it’s barely recognisable as the story from the first draft. However, with But By Degrees already out there, I felt as though I needed to get on with the second release. Build momentum; prove that I had more hidden away and that I wasn’t a one novel author. So, I set some goals for 2017 – I would release Valerie in the first half of the year, another novel in the second plus, for good measure, I’d throw in at least one short story collection. Hint – these were overambitious targets!
Until you’ve published something, you don’t know how the release will affect you. There are the practical considerations – marketing, maintenance, accounts – and then the emotional rollercoaster of having a novel out there in the world. Even if you’re strict with yourself and only check your sales figures on regulated days and don’t worry too much about the reviews you’re getting/not getting, it creeps into your subconscious. Having a book out there is scary.
So, preparing the second book becomes another mini-mountain, and it sit uneasily alongside all those other things you need to do. Not to mention, the fact that there are suddenly expectations – even if these are mostly in your head. You released a book you developed to the best of your ability so, of course, the next one needs to be honed to the same extent. Some people actually read that book so, just maybe, they now have expectations about this second book. There were some positive reviews for your first novel so what happens with the reviews this time? Even if you sold one copy of your book and got one review, those expectations still linger.
In the event, I had to put Valerie above any of those expectations. My aim was to create a second novel I could be proud of so, alas, I didn’t meet my ‘early 2017’ projection. The year wore on and I knew I needed to get a date in the diary, otherwise I would have this second novel syndrome hanging over me forever. I chose 1st September, mainly because it was nice and neat (and seemed like ages away). Not only did I decide to release the book online on the 1st and set up a pre-order, I also booked a book launch event and scheduled it as part of the Wakefield Lit Fest in the last week of September.
And then what happened? Life!
I could’ve worked myself stupid to hit that final deadline and the last pages of Valerie wouldn’t have been as finely-tuned as they ought to be. So, I took a step back. Despite the fact that now I won’t be able to launch any books with pre-order for another year as a penalty, I deferred publication for a week. A week – that’s all I need to finish polishing. To live up to my own expectations about Valerie, I had to make a sacrifice.
I think that might be a hallmark of second novel syndrome – sacrifice. You see, your second novel may be better than your first, but you probably won’t think that way because you probably didn’t spend as much time labouring over it as you did your first. I think, most of all, what you’re sacrificing when you launch your second novel onto an unsuspecting world is the illusion that you know what you’re doing; the idea that everything is always going to plan. Sometimes, the only way that happens is if you surreptitiously adapt the plan.
Valerie will be released on 8th September on Kindle and in paperback.
About the Author:
Kit Eyre, a writer living in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. In the fiction I write, you’ll find lesbian characters who have been described as ‘human’ and ‘flawed’ – the best kind!