That Difficult Second Novel

One of the panels I attended at World Fantasy Con was on writing that ‘difficult second novel.’ As I suspected none of the panellists had easy answers. Most of them were in the process of or had just completed their second novels and it struck me that there are no expert in this field. Writing the difficult second novel is something a writer will do only once.

So why is the second novel classed as ‘difficult’?

Most writers spend years in their first novel, which may, of course, not be the first novel written but will be the the first novel sold and published. From concept to sale it gets written, polished, possibly rewritten (several times). It may be helped along by beta readers, critique groups, editorial comment from an agent and, once sold, it will almost certainly be significantly changed/improved by the intervention of an editor and copy editor. A published book is not the work of one person, it’s the result of teamwork by the author, her beta readers, agent and editors.

Finishing a novel is an achievement in itself; selling it and getting it published is a veritable triumph. It’s a goal so many writers aspire to and some never achieve. For those of us who do achieve it all our prayers are answered, all our birthdays come at once…

And from that point onwards our previous problem of ‘Will I ever sell a novel?’ melts away to be replaced by: Will my novel be well-received? and, Was the first one a fluke? Can I really do it again?

In other words, that difficult second novel is looming. For many authors it’s pre-sold to (or optioned by) the same publisher who bought Number One, and that introduces new pressures. The first novel took years to write. This one comes with a deadline. You’re writing it in a vacuum because the first one hasn’t been published yet, so you don’t know whether it’s going to be well-received or not. You probably have to do two things at once because while you’re working on the first draft of Book Two you’re probably also working on the edits of Book One. And, OHMYGOD, you’ve already been paid half your advance for Book Two so it had better be bloody good.

In fact, the actual writing of Book Two is probably no more difficult than writing Book Four, Five or Six, but it’s the first time the pressure has been on like this. Let’s face it, it’s probably not even your second book. You’ve written several before selling the first one, right?

So relax. Take a deep breath. Stop posting to your blog and get writing.

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / Border Agency licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificate of Sponsorship).
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4 Responses to That Difficult Second Novel

  1. nancyrae4 says:

    Thanks for the reminder. Too much posting results in too little writing. I can only imagine the stress of writing a second novel on a serious deadline, but I’d love chance to grapple with this challenge.

    • Jacey Bedford says:

      I am enjoying the challenge. The deadline is still far enough away that I’m not panicking yet. I’m intending to have the edits on Book One finished by Christmas and then add some serious wordcount to Book Two which currently stands at a delicate 15k.

  2. Good advice, from a woman in the spotlight! Look forward to reading the first novel (and the second!)

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