12 Sophomore Authors Share Some Second Book Wisdom

Sophomore Slump. Second Book Syndrome. We’ve all heard the ways a sophomore book can tank for readers, and if you happen to be an author, too, well…you’re probably very well familiar with how horrendous the experience of writing that first book under contract can be. But fear not, sophomores! It can be done! It will be done! And to prove it, here are twelve authors whose sophomore novels, whether sequel or standalone, release in 2018…and have totally rocked it.

Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?
So what’s interesting is that I wrote book two while waiting for notes on book one…aka, it was written a solid three years ago. (I highly suggest this, by the way: writing a new book while waiting for notes on a different one.) But it was a very different book from the debut, so THAT was the hardest thing: the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get away with writing something so different from the debut. Interestingly enough, the differentness was also my favorite part.

Give me your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process

Oh man, an on-the-spot metaphor?? The pressure is REAL. Okay, okay…

Writing a sophomore novel is like scaling an entire mountain and feeling a brief moment of triumph over the accomplishment… then looking over and realizing the flag you were after has moved to an entirely different mountain, and you’ll have to return to the ground before you can climb again.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?

DIALOOOOOOOOGUE!

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?

Go back up to the mountain metaphor. Every book is a separate mountain to climb. Shimmy on down from that first one and get to climbing again.

Rebecca Barrow, author of You Don’t Know Me But I Know You and This is What it Feels Like 

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

The hardest part was the pressure I put on myself to hand in a “perfect” draft. I mean, there’s no such thing but you couldn’t tell me that then. Editors don’t expect perfect! My favorite part was…I’m cheating with two: adding a new POV in edits that I just love and fit perfectly and added a whole new element to the book, and after first pass pages when I realized I still loved and was proud of the book.

Give me your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.

It’s like completing a thousand-piece puzzle of a blue sky, in under an hour, with an audience leaning over your shoulder and occasionally looking at the puzzle you just finished and saying “huh, that’s interesting” except you can’t go back and change that puzzle so you just keep going with the one you have while discovering half the pieces are missing and/or wrong.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?

Girls who’ll go to the ends of the earth for each other.

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?

You did it before; you can do it again. And try to put the first one out of your head—that’s done, and you can’t control it anymore, so focus on what you can control. 

Mia Garcia, author of Even if the Sky Falls and The Resolutions

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

The doubt was pretty intense. You’d think I’d run out of it eventually, but apparently it’s a renewable resource.

Favorite part was writing dialogue. I love, love, love writing dialogue, particularly fun banter between friends. Also sneaking in my geek loves like horror movies and comic books into my work. I think I have X-Men, Sweeney Todd, and Star Wars references in this book.

Give me your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.
It’s like creating a recipe from scratch. You have the ingredients you think you need, and you sort of know what you want to end up with, you just have to figure out how much you need of each ingredient, what you’re missing, and in what order they need to come together. Otherwise your chocolate cookies will end up as hockey pucks.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?
Food. Food is such a strong part of my upbringing and culture. We mourn around food. We love around food. We share stories around food. We get to know people around food. I think food is the perfect way to add more life and detail into a novel. There is a LOT of food in The Resolutions and I’m actually challenging myself to bake a big chunk of it, the results of which can be found on my Instagram.

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?
You can do this! Every book is different and you are just figuring out what your book needs. Don’t forget to take breaks, both mental and physical. Don’t compare yourself to other people. You aren’t them and they aren’t you.

Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Beasts Made of Night and Crown of Thunder

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

I’ve never edited a book the way I’ve edited Book 2. Over the course of its drafting and rewriting, I’ve birthed characters, killed them off, and birthed new ones. Events endured seismic shifts, moved from one part of the book to the other end. Fear dogged me the whole way, but right on its heels was the assurance that my editor and I were working on making this the best book possible. I could not be prouder. My favorite part of writing Book 2 was watching the characters come into their destinies. Watching them grapple with the decisions they’d made in the previous book and deal with those consequences moved me greatly, even though I was the one writing them! I’d say a keyword with Book 2 was “payoff.” And, of course, the battle scenes.

Give me your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process

Book 2 felt like one of those boss battles in the “Dark Souls” video games my brother loves playing so much. You nearly break your brain figuring out a strategy to beat the wraith/minotaur/dragon fiend. Then, halfway through, with its health at 50%, it completely changes tactics and you have to relearn, on the fly, how you’re going to vanquish this hellspawn. By the end, you’re sweating and your thumbs hurt from furiously mashing buttons, and you can feel the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome set in. But the endorphin boost that comes with turning that draft in to your editor makes it all worth it.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s something they’ll be excited to see in the sequel?

There are certain relationships (read: romances) that I was particularly proud to write. And the monsters will be a bit harder for Taj to beat this time around. 

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?

YOU GET TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK! But, in all seriousness, it can sometimes seem like the first one was a fluke. Like it was a one-off or like you got lucky and this is the one that’s going to reveal to the world you are a fraud. I sometimes struggled with that. But know that no matter how many books deep you get, whether this is number 2 or number 12, you never truly learn how to write a book. You learn how to write this book. Maybe there are some of the same characters or the book takes place in the same world as your debut, but this is a new creature. You are not a fraud. And your last book was not a fluke. You were dope once before, and you are dope right now. And remember to have fun!

Akemi Dawn Bowman, author of Starfish and Summer Bird Blue

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

The hardest part was trying to turn off all the noise that came with my debut. Because as wonderful and incredible as it was to see my first book venture out into the world, there was suddenly so much pressure to write a story that was going to satisfy the entire world—which is impossible. It took a lot of time and recalibrating to remember why I loved writing to begin with. And at the end of the day, I’d rather write a story that resonates strongly with one person than a story written for the world that resonates with nobody at all. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, because I have such a fear of letting people down. But fear is noise, and noise gets in the way of my writing.

My favorite part was just having that fresh start of creating an entirely new story. Summer Bird Blue isn’t a sequel, so it’s exploring different themes to Starfish. One of the things I love most as a writer is getting to know my characters. They all look at the world differently. They have different personalities, experiences, and opinions. And I love that—I love exploring the many shades of gray in a world that is far from black and white.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.

The book 2 writing process is like walking into a building everyone told you would be on fire, but you didn’t believe them and are now freaking out by just how much fire there is, and not only do you need to put the fire out but you also have to repair the building and make it beautiful—even more beautiful than the last building you were in that wasn’t on fire. Also, while this is going on, everyone is outside the door shouting at you because congratulations you’re on deadline.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?
Messy family dynamics, and complex mother-daughter relationships.

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?
Everything you’re feeling is normal, so try not to be hard on yourself. Remember that it’s only temporary. Despite what your mind is telling you, you haven’t forgotten how to write. Your stories are important. Drafting is a necessary evil. (So is revising.) And most importantly, you will get through this!

Marieke Nijkamp, author of This is Where it Ends and Before I Let Go

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

Going in, I, naively, thought the hardest part of book 2 would be wanting to write something completely different but still recognizable me. Sure, I knew of the sophomore slump, or book two hell, but I thought I was mentally prepared. It was adorable. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t fully realize book two meant figuring out a whole new balance to writing, and no longer (just) writing for yourself. Honestly, the hardest part was being absolutely convinced I’d somehow lost the ability to write and still having to somehow write a book about grief while also dealing with personal loss.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.

Wandering through a forest in the middle of the night, without a phone, without light, but with some distant stars.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?

Before I Let Go is different from This is Where it Ends in many ways. It’s quieter, more magically mysterious…but it’s also still a story of friendship, heartbreak, and hope. 

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?

Book two is hell, and that’s okay. It’s going to be difficult, and you can weather it. You haven’t forgotten how to write. You can do it.  (But don’t be afraid to ask for the help or support you need.) Because on the flip side, you’ll hold another book in your hands. You’ll be able to grow as a writer, you can continue to improve your craft, and at the very least it’s a great villain origin story.

Tiffany Jackson, author of Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

The hardest part of writing book two was the actual act of writing it while promoting my debut during the emotional turmoil of the 2016 election. In fact, my book was due on election day. I turned it in two months later.

My favorite part was when I finally finished it and knowing I was done.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.

Writing book 2 is like a rebound relationship. Cute at first but then turns south. Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon and you’ll move on to something you’ll love.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?
Book 2 is yet again inspired by a real case. You’ll also recognize my love of plot twists. 

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?

Book a vacation. I’m serious. Book something ahead of time to look forward to.

Andrew Shvarts, author of Royal Bastards and City of Bastards 

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

The hardest part of Book 2 was definitely the structure. Royal Bastards is a pretty standard journey narrative: the characters have to get safely from Point A to Point B. For the sequel, I wanted to do something different: a mystery set entirely in one city, where an investigation into a murder ends up uncovering a massive conspiracy. This turned out to be incredibly difficult. Balancing all of the elements of a mystery (breadcrumb clues, red herrings, escalating action) with the character development required for the middle book of a trilogy was a lot. I had to pretty much completely scrap my first draft halfway through, something I’ve never done.

My favorite part is, as always, the ending. I love how all the plot elements come together and how wild and big it all gets, and I love the place it leaves my characters in.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.
This might be a little literal for a metaphor, but the huge mental shift in writing Book 2 is that writing goes from being a hobby to being a job. With Book 1, you have all the time in the world, you have no one judging you, you have nothing but your hopes and aspirations. With book 2, you’re writing on a deadline, you’ve got the invisible editor looking over your shoulder, and you’re struggling to deal with all the new emotional challenges of being a professional writer: reviews, events, networking, all of it.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s something they’ll be excited to see in the sequel?
I think City of Bastards is a sequel that really expands the world, showing whole new parts of the Kingdom of Noveris, new cultures and environments, while also deepening a lot of the mystery of how magic works in this world and what the real history is. Also, there’s a lot of murder and masquerades and my favorite stabbing ever!  

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?
I just finished writing Book 3, and I can confidently say it was much, much, much easier than Book 2. It does get better!

Sandhya Menon, author of When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

Hardest part: THE EXPECTATION. Knowing what readers expected and wanting to get it right. 

Favorite part: KNOWING I HAD READERS. I loved the feeling of knowing people would be eagerly waiting for my next work. 

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.

Sinking ships! I even wrote a blog post titled, “What do second books and sinking ships have in common?”

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?

Cringey-humorous romantic scenes, adorkable mischief, a cinnamon roll hero, and a very passionate, talented heroine!

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?

Keep going! You’ll see the light very, very soon (er, soonish. And if not, there’s wine). Don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow writers working on book 2! They’ll be relieved to commiserate with someone else, and you’ll feel so much better knowing you’re not alone.

Destiny Soria, author of Iron Cast and Beneath the Citadel

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

The hardest part was definitely getting started. I had at least twelve false starts on various projects before the idea and characters for Beneath the Citadel finally came together. My favorite part came during the first round of edits when I had to rework the entire plot, and all the pieces fit together into something much better. Editors truly are heaven sent.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.

It’s like doing long division by hand, except no one ever taught you how to do long division and also you’re holding a carrot instead of a pencil.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?
Blood magic, strong lady friendships, and an occasionally rude, entirely too-clever-for-her-own-good heroine.

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?
Buy a pencil. You can’t do long division with a carrot.

Lygia Day Peñaflor, author of Unscripted Joss Byrd and All of This is True

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?
The hardest was drafting under a deadline. It wasn’t easy to revise all those POVs either, holy moly. I was supposed to work on the set of The Greatest Showman, but I turned it down so that I could finish revising. I don’t want to talk about it.

My favorite part was writing in the middle of the night, feeling like I was onto something good.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process.
Remember the movie Whiplash where Miles Teller plays those drums so hard his hands bleed? That.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s an aspect they’ll recognize in book 2?
Unscripted Joss Byrd and All of This Is True share themes of celebrity culture and betrayal. I also mentioned Tom Hanks in both books. I only realized this recently. Huh.

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?
You’ll be fine as soon as you stop thinking about everyone else and write for yourself again.

Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval and Legendary

What was the hardest part of writing book 2? What was your favorite part?

There was one point during the writing process for Legendary when my agent said, “Don’t worry, they won’t ask for the money back.” You know it’s bad when your agent has to reassure you of this.

Thankfully my publisher didn’t ask for the money back. But they didn’t have anything good to say about the draft I’d just turned in either. And this was not the first draft I’d turned in, or the second draft, which my editor had liked—unfortunately she’d only liked the second half. So the third draft that I’d turned in was a complete rewrite, which appeared to be worse than the draft I’d turned in before.

I’d never felt like such a failure. In fact, I don’t really like talking about it now. But I wanted to share this for anyone who feels as if they are in a hopeless situation with their second book. It felt like my worst fear come to life. But instead of letting my fear or my failure win, I was determined to win. I approached my revisions like a battle—I was relentless, and ruthless, and fearless in how I wrote and revised. I was also really honest with my friends, and I asked for help, because I needed it.

Legendary was printed up into bound manuscripts shortly after I turned in my final draft. It was terrifying. I felt as if I’d done everything I could for this book, and I was really proud of it, but I was still feeling insecure. Really insecure.

And then someone read the book.

I know technically this didn’t happen as I was writing the book, but I’m going to say this was my favorite part because the person who read the book loved it. He said I got everything right, and I might have cried. In that moment, it didn’t matter to me what anyone else thought—all it took was that one reader letting me know that I’d reached my goal, and that all the struggles I’d been through were worth something.

Give your best simile or metaphor to describe the book 2 writing process
Writing the sequel to Caraval was like traveling to Mordor to destroy the one ring. It was nearly impossible. I felt like the wrong person for the job. There were moments where I really considered giving up. And I definitely couldn’t have done it on my own.

For those who’ve read your debut, what’s something they’ll be excited to see in the sequel?
There’s a new villain in Legendary and I’m so excited for readers to meet him. I think he’s horrible and fascinating and I really hope that readers will enjoy him as much as I enjoyed writing him—because, despite my challenges with this book, I loved creating this character.

Got a word of encouragement for recent debuts struggling against the sophomore slump?
The best stories all have a darkest moment. For many authors, myself included, I think writing a second book feels like a darkest moment—I definitely lost my hope at one point and I felt entirely alone. But the great thing about the darkest moment is that it is usually what propels our beloved main characters forward, it’s what changes them and makes them stronger and ultimately pushes them towards a triumphant finish. If your second book feels like a darkest moment, just know that beyond it a better ending is waiting, all you have to do is keep going.

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