Sunday, December 7, 2014

Author Milestones: The Second Book Freakout

I really did think I was past the worst. Years of writing my book at night after the kids were in bed, wondering if I was deluding myself that anyone else would ever want to read it. More than a year trying to land an agent, then another year after that trying to convince a publisher to buy it. By the time the book finally sold and had been through four complete rewrites, I thought the hardest work was behind me. I had my foot in the door at a major publishing house; I was no longer an unknown, unproven nobody. With my next book, things would be easier.

Are you laughing yet? (Go ahead—it’s fine.) 

Even though I knew selling one book doesn’t guarantee you’ll sell the next, I pretty much assumed I would. I went to New York (on my own dime, of course), to meet my editor and her publicity team. I was charming; they were charming. I pictured my editor and I having a years-long, mutually inspiring relationship. She’d only bought the one book, but with an option for my next. Great! I could submit a synopsis and three sample chapters and be paid to write the rest of it! Ah—the writer’s life I’d always dreamed of.

My agent submitted my proposal for the next book, and my editor said she’d get to it after she was back from vacation. Then a few months passed when she was thinking about, and thinking some more… and then she announced she was leaving the company. My champion at that particular publishing house was gone. I’d become an author orphan, feeling just as lost and insecure as ever.

[This is the point where I was going to insert a really awesome .gif that totally summed up my point visually, but my computer froze a bunch of times and now I can't be bothered. Sigh.]

Not long ago, I met another writer who had gotten one of those multiple-book contracts I’d always dreamed of.  And yes, I was both happy for her and jealous, all at once. But guess what? Being paid to write her second book—on a tight deadline—made her miserable. Every day, she felt the clock ticking. Here I was, stressing out about having no contract, while she was stressing out about having one.

You can’t win, can you?

What I’m slowly learning is that anxiety is simply part of the writer’s life. If a publisher doesn’t buy your book, you doubt your talent. If a publisher does buy it, you start to worry about your sales numbers, or the cover you weren’t consulted about, or the fact that you have no idea what to work on next. If your book gets so-so reviews you go back to doubting your talent, and if it gets great reviews you worry that you’ll never write anything that good again.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution to any of this. (I told you, I’m too busy stressing about my next book!) But it does help to know that we all struggle with these feelings of not measuring up, no matter where we stand on the “success” ladder. The only thing that helps is to do the very thing that got me into this mess in the first place: to write what I feel driven to write. To lose myself in the words that allow an escape from real life.

My agent will be submitting my next book to new editors after the holidays. Until then, I’ll just keep working—second-guessing my talent, maybe, but not my ability to get it finished.   Once you’ve finished one book, you know you can do it again. Right?


  1. There's nothing like writing a book to teach you how to write a book, that's for sure! Sadly, the selling-a-book part of the deal—finding an agent/editor/publisher, earning a contract, etc—doesn't follow the same rules. The process can be different every time! The only thing to do in the face of this ongoing chaos is to keep writing—because you can't NOT do it!

  2. I can only imagine. I'm still in the rough waters of finding an agent before entering the ocean of what happens next. The only thing we can do is hold on, and pray the boat doesn't spring a leak, or worse, those sharks circling don't turn out to be the size of Jaws.

    1. Love the shark metaphor. My main advice is to celebrate each small victory along the way. Wishing you so much luck in your agent search!

  3. Uuugh, just when I was feeling good about completing my novel, and finding someone I trust to edit throw in the wrench that it took a year to find an agent, then a year to find a publisher. Oh my gosh! You just brought me down to self doubt again! Well, the good news for you is that you are a published writer. That has to make you feel accomplished, right? (Stop laughing!) When does a writer ever sit down and say, "I did it!" And then breathe????? What is success for a writer????? Anyone? And what should we non-published writers be striving for?

    1. Didn't mean to be a total downer! See my comment above about celebrating each small victory (finishing a book is HUGE, fyi). I just wanted to be honest about anxiety/doubt being a constant part of the writer's life. I'm still figuring out the "meaning of success" question myself, but I think we each have to define it for ourselves. You may look to others as "successful," even as they struggle with the same doubts at you. (OK, now go buy yourself a present or something for having completed a book!)