Second Novel Syndrome is real. I remember reading about it when I was in my teens, still rattling away with fan fiction after I’d finished my homework. Writing a first book is easy, because it’s a labour of love, a private affair that runs every chance of coming to absolutely nothing. As a writer you’re free to do whatever you want; you can throw anything into a blender and writhe around in the resultant slurry, because who cares? It’s your book. It might be terrible, and laughed at, and thrown in the bin by everyone you dare show it to, but that doesn’t matter.
If you never get published, so be it. But you wrote a book.
But say you actually go ahead with this thing. You actually succeed in writing something publishable, then take the time to redraft it, hone it, pay to have it edited and formatted, comission cover art, reach out to beta readers and reviewers, and invest hundreds of hours of your time in getting it to readers.
You expose yourself to the big wide world.
Then say some people buy that book, pay with real money they earned from a real job, and then they enjoy that book. Say they review it, write to you to say they liked it, and sign up to your mailing list.
Well, shit. All that freedom just went out the window. Because now you’re on the stage, you’re a performer–a paid performer.
Suddenly you’ve gone from self-indulgent poser to an author.
It’s a wonderful feeling. Truly, really, wonderful. But underneath, just sometimes, you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and see nothing but a dancing circus monkey.
And all around the crowd chants: “Dance, monkey, dance!”
That was melodramatic. But writing a second novel has pressures the first didn’t. You’ve set the bar, and made your mark. People expect you to write a certain kind of story, and now you’ve got (cue shudder) a reputation to maintain.
Our Fair Eden was something I wrote last spring to keep myself sane during exam season. It wasn’t for publication. But as I went along I realised something that swept all the pressure and doubt under a rug: I found myself thinking that my readers might like to read what I was working on.
It was supposed to be just for me, but I wanted them to see it. I didn’t want to sell them anything or push more bumpf I’d written down their throats (though money is always nice–unsolicited donations are always appreciated). I just thought they might get a kick out of it.
Eight months later, Our Fair Eden hit the shelves. That was two days ago.
And you know what? It was the right choice.
I have so many projects lined up that my publishing schedule is full for the next six years, at the very least. A part of me hopes I don’t have any more ideas in that time, just so I might stand a chance of living long enough to write all these stories.
But after my debut with Ruin, I was in danger of falling into the trap of tailoring my writing to suit my schedule. I was starting to worry about whether what I was working on would fit into my ‘niche’.
Making Our Fair Eden my second published work was the best way to go. Yes, it only been two days, but I’m already certain. It was something I wrote for me, and something I wanted to share. And already the same readers who enjoyed Ruin seem to like this book just as much.
Sci-fi readers seldom want some carbon-copy of another book. They want a story, something different.
It would have been so easy to try chasing money for old rope. But from where I’m sitting, I’m happy to say I might have beaten the syndrome.