Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Second-book survival

This is the latest in my series of guest posts on writing second books. Today's post is by Leah Cypess, author of Mistwood and Nightspell, and when I first read it, I said "Wow." It's a great reminder that as difficult as things can get backstage, ultimately you can still produce brilliant art. See for yourself:

“Every time I look at my revision letter, my stomach literally hurts.”
 “I think I'll ask them if I can just write a different book instead.”
 “Are all second books this hard?”
These are a few excerpts from emails I wrote while working on my second book, Nightspell. The last was to my editor, and her response was a simple, “Second books *are* hard.”
I’d heard that before, but I thought I would be different. When I sold my first book, Mistwood, my second book had already been written. It was only a first draft, true; even so, I should have been way ahead of the game. I assumed I would skip the deadline-driven second-book panic entirely.
Apparently not. Because even without deadlines, there’s another problem with second books: many writers find themselves writing them in the middle of a crisis of confidence.
This is no coincidence. I think there are probably two main causes:
[1] As an already-published novelist, you’re probably reading the reviews of your first book while you write the second (although I do hear rumors of authors with iron willpower who avoid reviews entirely). The rave reviews make you fear that your second book can’t possibly be as good as your first. The scathing ones make you fear that you don’t know how to write at all.
[2] By now you know a little bit more about publishing, and about how many opportunities this book will have to get rejected: by editors, by marketing, by the chain stores, by the industry reviewers, by book bloggers, by casual shoppers. When you wrote your first book, you were your main audience. Now you have a dozen shadowy readers hovering at your shoulders.
So did I overcome these problems? I’ll be honest: I’m not sure I did. I reminded myself, frequently, how lucky I was to be publishing even one book, let alone two. And then I just kept writing, kept revising, kept working until the book was done. If anyone has a better way, I would love to hear it.
The only useful advice I have is to make friends with other writers, especially those who are going through the same thing. Commiserate. Write a few self-pitying emails (see above). Hear that they’re going through the same thing. Maybe they’ll have better advice than I do. And even if not, at least you’ll know you’re not the only one struggling with Second Book Blues.
Leah Cypess used to be a practicing attorney in New York and is now a full-time writer in Boston. She much prefers her current situation. Her first book, Mistwood, is a young adult fantasy about an ancient shapeshifter trapped in the form of a human girl. Her second book, Nightspell, a stand-alone companion novel to Mistwood, will be released in June 2011.


  1. I never thought about that (since I haven't gotten my first book published yet). Great post! And those are gorgeous book covers!

  2. Thanks, Alexia! One book at a time--but I've become fascinated by the second-book process.