Second Novel Syndrome – the symptoms and the cure

Author Sarah Ann Juckes gives her tried and tested advice on how to get over writing your first book, and beginning your second. Her debut novel, The Proof of the Outside, is published with Penguin Random House in 2019.

I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need to read a blog post about Second Novel Syndrome, when I haven’t even finished the first?

Well, publishing is a funny thing. In January 2017, I wondered if I’d ever get a novel published. By March that same year, I had an agent and my book was in the London Book Fair catalogue.

When it happens, it can happen fast.

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What is Second Novel Syndrome?

Second novel syndrome (SNS) isn’t talked about a lot. I spent twelve years writing books and trying to get an agent, and I didn’t think much about what would happen after that. Getting an agent felt like an impossible end goal.

It wasn’t.

Second books are actually notoriously difficult to write. I know – I didn’t think they would be, either. I wrote three ‘practice’ books before I made it with my debut. What’s the big deal about writing one more?

SNS symptom #1 – you have way less time

I started my debut novel in July 2014. In 2015, I completely trashed the draft and started again. In 2016, I wrote my next draft as part of a writing course, and then completely changed it again in the summer of that year, thanks to some feedback from an agent.

All in all, the novel took me two and a half years to write – and then another year editing it with my agent and editors after that.

When I casually asked my agent when publishers expect an author’s second book, she said ‘usually a year after delivery of the first’.

Yep – a year.

Somewhere in that year, I had to come up with an astounding concept that was as good as the first. I had to research, plan and write a terrible first draft (that I could bin and re-write entirely, before no doubt re-writing again). All of this whilst trying to hold down a full-time job and all those other things that go with being a human being.

The cure: make more time

Certainly not an easy feat. For me, I’ve had to cut my working week to four days, so I have at least one day to donate entirely to writing. I work from home as much as I can, so I have more energy to write in the evenings.

This won’t be doable for everyone. Find the pockets of time you can squeeze out of your day, no matter how big or small, knuckle down and make that happen.

SNS symptom #2 – you now have multiple projects on your hands

I’m a bit of a loyal writer. When I have my head in a book, it consumes me.

Over the last year, I’ve learnt that it’s not really possible to write a second book and have it consume you. I’ve had to split my time between writing my new book and editing my old one – occasionally dropping the new project completely to make a deadline.

Some writers are already brilliant at project juggling. For me – it’s been a big learning curve.

The cure: learn how to juggle projects

As your writing career progresses, you’re going to have more and more projects to juggle. When you’re writing your fifth book, you might still be doing events on your debut.

No one talks about it, but it is one of those skills you have to learn if you want to be a professional writer.

I’m still in the process of learning it, but so far, I’ve found that sectioning my working week can help differentiate between projects. In the morning, I could be working on debut edits from home. Then in the afternoon, I take my laptop to a café and I throw some words down for book two.

SNS symptom #3 – you can’t shake off your last book

My debut was written in first person present, from the point of view of a girl with a distinctive voice and a weird way of seeing the world.

I’ve spent three and a half years with her, and I’m still with her now. She’s difficult to shake off.

I’ve written over a hundred first pages of my new novel, and they’re still not quite right. I need a new, equally distinctive, but completely different voice – but everything I write still seems to be about her.

The cure: get out of your comfort zone

If, like me, you’re struggling to find a new voice, try writing your story in a completely different way to your first.

For example, I’ve found writing in verse to be a helpful way in. Writing poetry means I can get to know my new character in a place my previous protagonist doesn’t belong.

Yes – I’ll probably scrap every word. But with first drafts, everything and anything you can write will help you reach the finish line.

SNS symptom #4 – your next book needs to be as good as your first

My debut was written in first person present, from the point of view of a girl with a distinctive voice and a weird way of seeing the world.

I’ve spent three and a half years with her, and I’m still with her now. She’s difficult to shake off.

I’ve written over a hundred first pages of my new novel, and they’re still not quite right. I need a new, equally distinctive, but completely different voice – but everything I write still seems to be about her.

The cure: get out of your comfort zone

If, like me, you’re struggling to find a new voice, try writing your story in a completely different way to your first.

For example, I’ve found writing in verse to be a helpful way in. Writing poetry means I can get to know my new character in a place my previous protagonist doesn’t belong.

Yes – I’ll probably scrap every word. But with first drafts, everything and anything you can write will help you reach the finish line.

The idea generator

Get better ideas faster, with this simple guide.