Second Book Stress

How to deal with the pressure of the book after your debut.

A reader asks:

How do you deal with the pressure of the Second Book!!

Oof. This is a thing that’s not talked about nearly enough, in my opinion.

There’s tons of support for getting to that debut. Every community I’ve ever been in for traditional publishing has strong cheerleading for finishing the first draft, editing and betaing, querying and then the celebration of getting an agent. Submission Hell after that is likewise an extremely well-known ball of stress with plenty of ups and downs, and that first deal debut is a landmark in a writer’s career. Self-publishing doesn’t quite have the same dynamics, but can end up similar if the first book feels like a culmination and hits great success, and then the author has to write another one to follow it!

Whether you’re writing a second book on the same contract, or working towards getting that second contract with a separate project, or wondering how on earth you’re going to follow whatever level of success and buzz your first book got — or, sometimes worse, how you’re going to come back from a disappointment — so many people I’ve talked to about the Second Book have found it to be a shocking apex of horrible stress.

And worse: It’s hard to talk about. Most people don’t want to vent about their fears online where their editors or agents might see, especially as a still-new author. There’s also the push and pull of wanting to be honest about our writing careers while at the same time present our best face to the world for marketing purposes. But even in private communities, it can be really hard to talk about Second Book Stress, because it can feel like playing the world’s tiniest violin — it can feel so ungrateful to complain about being in a situation so many of our friends and colleagues are so passionately working toward.

So here’s the first thing:

1. Remember That You’re Not Alone.

I know far more writers who have struggled over the second book than writers who feel like everything’s been the epitome of smooth once they debuted. Whatever stress and isolation you’re feeling here — so many writers before and after you have felt the same.

2. Find People to Talk To.

Thus, one of the things that’s been most helpful to me is finding people to talk to. It’s a little harder than finding people to talk to about the stress at the beginning levels, but try to reach out to people you might know who are just ahead of you. It can mean the world just to hear someone else has been going through the same feelings.

3. Remember That One Book Will Not Define You.

People often give this advice about the debut novel. That if you have a disappointing debut, it will not define your career, and you can pick yourself up and keep writing and keep building your tenure in publishing. I don’t mean to diminish the legitimate worries that come with a second book — second books can even feel more important than the first in terms of continuing an author’s career or series. Worrying about that isn’t silly or invalid. But even if the absolute worst should happen and the second book tanks… I’m not going to lie, that would be a hard thing to have happen. But it also won’t be the end.

Writing careers all have ups and downs. No single book will define yours. As much as possible, try to let that lift some stress from the second book: it will, hopefully, be one book of many.

And though I haven’t done an exhaustive study of this, I believe there’s little relation between being a sensation right off the bat and having a solid, lasting writing career. Remember that this is a long game, and keep writing.

4. Focus On the Things You Can Control.

Easier said than done, I know, but you can’t control how well your books sell. You can’t control how well they are reviewed. You can’t control what fans think or what next deal your publisher offers you.

One of the only things you can control is the writing. You can do some personal promotion and market research, sure, but even if you twist yourself in knots, you won’t be able to dictate how your writing is received. Do the best job you can — in your own eyes, rather than to the specifications you imagine editors or readers or fans might want. That’s what you can control. That’s what you can do.

The other thing you can control? Remember that there’s more to your life than writing. Find joy in hobbies or work or family that’s important to you. Make sure you make time for those things — don’t kill yourself over the stress of your second book deadline until you’re burned out. If that’s hard to internalize, try to remember that burning out would be so much worse for yourself as a writer than keeping your emotional and physical health.

In the end, no matter what I say here, this probably isn’t going to be easy. But nor is it the impossible mountain it can sometimes seem. Take a breath, keep writing, and you’ll make it through.