By Heather Day Gilbert
So you've done it. Your first novel is out in the world, garnering reviews and gathering readers. You're ready to brainstorm or edit that second novel in the series...
But out of nowhere, fears overwhelm you. It's your sophomore novel. Will readers love it like the first? Will the characters be as endearing? Will you totally miss the mark with book two?
This is a syndrome I'd like to refer to as the "sophomore novel blues," and I struggled with this myself. It came out of nowhere and nearly flattened me as I tried to write book two in my A Murder in the Mountains mystery series.
I was totally unprepared for these near-crippling blues, because I had two other books out (one is non-fiction, and the other is book one in a different series). Why did that second-in-series book cause me so much angst?
I think it is a culmination of reasons:
First, if you had characters people loved in book one, re-creating those characters and continuing their development in ways readers will still love can be daunting. What if you accidentally take them off-track or give them some habit readers can't stand?
Second, if you read your reviews (yes, I do), those negative words that have lodged somewhere deep in your mind kick loose for that sophomore novel, swirling before your eyes with every word you type. Oh no! That reader thought your main character was too serious! Maybe she needs to start cracking jokes every other paragraph! Or conversely, your main character struck that other reader as too glib...maybe she needs to get pensive at least once every scene?
I think the only way to tamp down these negative reviews is to focus on the positive ones and to realize–: negative reviews come from people who are not your readership. They aren't the ones who will even be buying book two, most likely. They didn't like book one. So don't let their harsh opinions stop you. No book can please every reader out there. Check out the reviews on some top classics and you'll see what I mean!
Third, each book in the series builds on the others. So this involves making sure all the details line up. We must double-check timelines and character traits. How old was this character in book one, and how old would that make her now? It was winter in book one...how many months have passed and what season are we in now? What color eyes did that secondary character have again? Granted, those things are relatively simple and easy to figure out, a necessary part of creating a believable series.
I think the only way to bust through the sophomore novel blues is to write the book. Don't allow yourself to get hung up in chapter five as those doubts assail you. Write through it. Get that rough draft typed out and send it to your critiquers. They will let you know if you've missed the mark and how to tweak, but you'll never get to that stage if you don't have a finished rough draft.
I didn't hesitate to send early reader copies of my first mystery out to readers. But when it came to sending out book two in the series, I hesitated. Was this book good enough? Would they still like my characters? The mystery was different—was it something they'd enjoy?
I am so thankful to say that many readers got back to me quickly saying they enjoyed this mystery even better than the first. This is what every author wants to hear—that with each book, we're reaching our reader demographic even better than we did with the previous release.
The thing is I'd never have gotten this book out if I hadn't pushed past those sophomore novel blues. I hope you can do the same, and are richly rewarded for it!
HEATHER DAY GILBERT enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, she believes that bittersweet, generational stories are in her blood. A graduate of Bob Jones University, Heather has been married for eighteen years and has three children. Heather's Viking historical novel, God's Daughter, was an Amazon Norse Bestseller for an entire year. She is also the author of Miranda Warning and Trial by Twelve, Books One and Two in A Murder in the Mountains mystery series, and the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. Heather's website.