Friday, February 21, 2014

Sophomore Slump

It’s finally happened. You get the “call.” Receiving that long-awaited “call" (usually an email today) from a publisher is the closest an author can come to an out of body experience.

Let’s fast forward... Your first book survives editors, cover artists, and all the attendant hands involved in the publishing process. Your sales may have been better or worse than you hoped for, but if your editor still answers your emails and your publisher sends out your royalty checks there’s a good chance you’ll sell another book.

That's a great thing—right? Hmmm... When your first book was released everyone you knew bought a copy. Maybe several. You may have pictures of your kids, your spouse, and friends posing with your book. You proudly post them on social media. After all, you are a published author.

You've spent lots of time and energy—much more than you expected—promoting that first novel. But not wanting to be a one-hit wonder you've been cranking out chapters for book two. With an editor who believes in you and lots of hard work you sign another contract (or maybe you signed a multi-book deal up front.) My first editor told me that once you get into the world of the published opportunities appear. You get invited to sell and sign your book at libraries, bookstores and conferences. That magazine or paper that kept turning you down miraculously decides they found just the place for your article!

All this takes time, lots of it, and you find it difficult to complete that second novel. But somehow, you burn the midnight oil, turn down invitations, and concentrate. Suddenly you’re putting “The End” after the last page. Number two is ready to go! But something has changed. For starters unless it takes you years to write, you’re probably still actively selling the first book. Now the time you dedicated for signings, readings, and social media must be divided. And you soon find a subtle change in the attitudes of many of those close to you. Your kids, significant others, and the friends who supported you and bought multiple copies of book one no longer show you pictures with them holding the new one. It may even become a bit uncomfortable.

And let’s be honest, if you spent years writing, editing, and fine tuning that first book, some of your enthusiasm has waned. Because once you get into writing the second book, my friends, it is no longer a diversion, something to talk about at parties. Writing has become a JOB!

But that cloud does have a silver lining. In most cases the first book taught you things you now take for granted. You know how to navigate through social media, publicists, and blog tours. You’ve been baptized in the cauldron of public speaking. You find yourself more at ease. And something else has happened, something far more enjoyable: while the numbers may be small, unless book number one was a hideous failure, you now have a following. And readers I’ve never met giving me 5-star reviews is far more gratifying than those from my college roommate or next door neighbors!

And while writing doesn’t guarantee a luxury sedan every year it’s a rewarding career. Those of you who sign a second book contract have learned skills and techniques that will serve you well.

I’m working on my fourth novel. And I’ve found that while the second (and third) can be difficult they can be more rewarding. So take heart. Don’t let the task of being a multi-published author frighten you.

If you did experience sophomore slump in college you also found that you overcame it and went on to a brighter and more successful junior and senior years. It’s ephemeral, a phase you experienced as a student and one you may experience as a writer. To quote a far more gifted mind than mine: this too will pass!

Good luck

Kevin Symmons
January 2014

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