Friday 14 April 2017

Second Book Syndrome

By Kathryn Evans

Is it even a thing? Second Book Syndrome? Surely, once you've been published, your confidence is sky high and your second book just OOZES out of you.

Not in my experience. I am currently trying to turn my second book into something worthy of the name and it is HARD.  Especially as my wonderful editor  pointed out, it shouldn't be AS GOOD as the first book, it needs to be BETTER.

And she's right. I know she is.

 On paper, this is me:

Kathryn Evans, author of More of Me, winner of the Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award, Nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal, shortlisted for multiple regional awards and translated across the globe.

In reality, this is me:

What If The Next Book Is Rubbish?

 I have readers who want to read what I write next because they loved More of Me. I need to blow them away with Book Two. It needs to be brilliant, to be different and fresh and full of depth and have amazing characters and a plot that zooms along and tension that keeps you turning the pages and..



Oh yes. Second Book Syndrome exists. You've got  expectations to fulfill.

So, I did what I always do in an MODP (Moment of Deep Panic), I turned to my writer pals for advice and reassurance. They did not let me down. Many, many writers have suffered Second Book Syndrome. Not Chris Priestley, just so you know, he's got his own Syndrome Syndrome in which he's worrying he doesn't have a Syndrome but THAT is a whole different story.

Here's what the others had to say:

Sue Wallman

Sue Wallman  is the author of YA psychological thrillers Lying About Last Summer ( Selected for the Zoella Book Club)  and See How They Lie

Sue Wallman

"2nd (or 3rd etc) book syndrome is for me a terrible panicky feeling that things aren't coming together. Sometimes I think it takes a long time to fall into your story because your heart still belongs to the characters in your last book, or you've simply forgotten how hard writing and rewriting actually is. The only solution I know is to keep chipping away and trust that you'll get there eventually."

That made me feel a little better until I read:

Rhiannon Lassiter 

Author of Void: Hex, Shadows Ghosts:

"Your second book should be entirely different from your first. It creates range and space and avoids being trapped in a box. That's not what I did, of course."

NOR ME!!!! Is that true? Please let that not be true!

Cath Pickles

 Author of the Worzel books:

"The worst thing you can do with a second book is think about it too much"


Jo Franklin

Help I'm an Alien author, is always practical:

"It's easier to write book 2 if it's a series, as you already know the characters and their world. Though writing for an editor, rather than yourself, brings a whole new anxiety. It's best to get Book 2 well underway before Book 1 is out. The anxiety about securing a second book contract is another matter entirely."

Tell me about it!

 Miriam Halahmy 
 Author of Hidden and Illegal:

 Miriam is now on her seventh book and says she didn't suffer from second book syndrome. She's now in the process of finishing her seventh novel.

 It's kind of nice to know it doesn't afflict everyone.

Shirley Mcmillan

Shirley's debut, A Good Hiding, came out last year.  The Unknowns will be published by Atom ( Little, Brown) at the end of 2017:

"I finished my second book a week before the deadline. How clever of me! I thought. And then, immediately, The Fear. The first book, A Good Hiding, was written during a Master’s degree when I had more time and fewer children, and, crucially, nothing at all to lose. The second was written under contract, with a small teething child and a first book to promote and OMG WHAT IF THE FIRST WAS A FLUKE AND THIS ONE IS SH*T AND MY LOVELY AGENT AND AMAZING PUBLISHER ARE ABOUT TO FIND OUT THAT THEY MADE A MASSIVE MISTAKE?! During that week I sent my new one off to several friends, one of whom read the entire thing, all of whom emailed their reassurance. At the end of the week, I let it go. That was the lesson- do your best, try to trust yourself, and then let it go."

That's better, I found that very reassuring - until I realised - she'd  written her second book before her first book was even out !!! 

Patrice Lawrence  

Patrice's debut Orangeboy was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award, and won the Waterstone's Older Children's Book Prize and is garnering accolades EVERYWHERE:

"You have a bubble of an idea. It gets bigger and bigger and then it bursts. You look around for more bubble liquid but either there's a big vat of it and you get carried away blowing loads of tiny bubbles, or there's a dribble in a bucket, far, far away. So how come the bubble turned out all right last time? Was it really this much work?"

Eugene Lambert 

Author of The Sign of One and Into The No Zone,  the first two books in a trilogy:

"As an inexperienced debut author, I signed up to write a trilogy, thus unwittingly walking into a lethal combo of second book syndrome plus middle book syndrome. The latter has at its conflicted heart the brain-numbing dilemma of trying to write a book that is ‘more of the same’ (so that it will appeal to the reader of the first book) while at the same time ensuring that it is sufficiently ‘different’ not to be a clone. Oh yeah, and it has to set everything up for the grand finale in book three, where everything is resolved. Or not. Whoever said that the middle book was the hardest to write in a trilogy was NOT kidding! 

My advice? Just have fun raising those stakes higher and higher …

Olivia Levez 

Star Kirkus Reviewed author of The Island and The Circus, due out in May but which I've already had a sneaky peak at and LOVED says this:


"I hit the wall at 30,000 words THREE times. Need I say more?"

Okay, that's better. If Patrice has bursting bubbles, Eugene has muddling middles and Olivia hit the wall three times and they still got there, I can do it too!

Kiran  Millwood  Hargrave 

 Author of the wonderful The Girl of Ink And Stars, winner of the Waterstones younger children's book award AND the overall winner :

"I wrote the first (short, terrible) draft of 'The Island at the End of Everything' at my grandparents' house in Norfolk, in three desperate weeks after 'The Girl of Ink & Stars' was put out on submission. Fuelled by ale and tears, I paused only to read the rejection emails pinging into my inbox. The Island at the End of Everything is quite different from 'The Girl of Ink & Stars', and maybe some of that is knee-jerk reaction to the feedback I was getting. In any case, I trusted my ability to finish a lot more because I'd finished one already - and that was something, even if the first wasn't going to be published. Two days after I finished my first draft, I got my offer from Chicken House."

Keren David

Keren has written many fantastic books including  When I was Joe, Salvage, Another Life and This is Not a Love Story.

"I had Third book Syndrome, not Second Book Syndrome, because my second book was a sequel and it was already half written when I got my first publishing deal. But my third book - Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery - was harder. I had a deal, and therefore a deadline. My mum was ill, and my husband was considering a job abroad. I had a new narrator, and instead of writing a psychological thriller, I was trying a romantic comedy. It wasn't easy, and I ended up finishing the book i a massive rush - the ending had to be completely redone in the editing stages. Funnily enough, it's the book that has had the longest afterlife - we're adapting it into a musical, so I have been thinking and talking about those characters and that story for years now. I feel forever trapped writing and rewriting that third book - but loving it!"

Eve Ainsworth 

Award winning author of Seven Days, Crush and the newly published Damage :

"I found writing my second book difficult in that I had an editor now, and someone "to please" but Crush slotted in well with  Seven Days. Book three, Damage, was far, far harder for me - more challenging to break away from the setting and voice I'd already established."

So basically, this gets worse????
Somebody save me!


  1. Very reassuring to hear about so many journeys through Book 2, Kathy. Good luck with yours. I'm definitely facing the more-only-different versus something-entirely-new syndrome at the moment. At 10k into the YA romance which I promised my agent, the subconscious suddenly threw up plots for two entirely different novels, plus a bunch of short story ideas. I suspect it's yet another form of procrastination, but having a play around with them anyway.

  2. I think Cath Pickles has the best comment. The urge to write in the first place grows out of a desire to put something of ourselves down on paper. Second Book Syndrome grows out of a desire to be published AGAIN. The two aren't compatible. The 'self' has been set/pushed aside. 'Thought' has taken over.

    I'm currently having trouble on a follow up to a book that was a modest success. And I've just realised why: I've been trying to make it like its predecessor. It isn't. Maybe the Second Book does have to be better. Okay. But the only way it'll stand a chance of being that is if I let the self that wants to write take charge.

    1. Perhaps you're right - it's hard to let that go though isn't it?

  3. Great piece Kathy and DON'T WORRY... You'll be fine! !!

  4. Great piece Kathy and DON'T WORRY... You'll be fine! !!

  5. It's the 'more of the same, but different', that I've been struggling with. Knowing your USP/brand but also exploring different ideas and themes. It has been tough.

    1. Glad I'm sharing the journey with some awesome pals x

  6. I have a sneaking suspicion that writing a book is ALWAYS hard. Sorry I wasn't able to contribute. I am in the last throes of writing my third book and was in too much pain to construct more words.

  7. I had my second book of the Toadspit Towers series plotted but then we changed the ending of book 1 and so the set up was wrong for bk 2. So I plotted a new bk 2 and then realised that it made a better bk 3! Am currently plotting a new bk 2 whilst editing bk 1. I'm sure it'll all work out in the end. But the clock is ticking towards deadlines for all!

    1. Sounds like this is all good though Maureen!

  8. Reading all this, I'm so relieved I had a complete first draft of Book 2 before I even secured a contract for Destiny's Rebel. But then I'm writing a trilogy, so I've completed Book 3 before Book 2 comes out. My publisher is relaxed about deadlines, saying we'll publish each book when it's ready. But I know what everyone means about the difference of writing for definite publication, rather than just for ourselves. Keep going, everyone, we can do it! :-)

  9. Ack! I am sure there's some triteness about the dark before the dawn and how nothing is wasted and all that. I think that what you have in spades is the ability to soldier on until it comes right. I feel your pain in a different way with my second picture book!!

    1. That is true, soldiering on is a particular talent we all need!


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