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Second Novel Sophomore Slump: Myth or Reality?

two books

By Edward Nawotka

In today’s feature story Glenn Taylor writes about the various questions an author is confronted with on publishing a book. One of those questions is whether or not there really is a sophomore slump. It’s an important question, particularly for Taylor, who is facing pressure to deliver a follow-up to a debut that was unexpectedly shortlisted for the National Book Award.

Personally, I think that in many cases, the slump does exist. But is easily explained: An author will spend much of their young adult and adult life honing that first published novel, most likely with a number of false starts and/or inferior manuscripts sitting sitting in a drawer somewhere. The aggregate time, effort, and emotion that goes into that first novel far surpasses the one or two years they’re typically given to deliver a follow-up. It only makes sense that the second book may be somewhat anemic when compared with first and is entirely excusable. That said, it’s not a rule — there are plenty of great second novels, even ones that outdo the first — and Taylor’s firmly fits into that mold.

What do you think? Read the article and let us know in the comments.

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  1. erincox
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s the THREAT of the sophomore slump that scares writers more than anything else. I agree with you, Ed, that the first novel seems to be where writers spend a lot of time honing their craft and the second might be a little bit of a release from the strictures and freedom to try something new (which may or may not have a great success rate). I’ve worked on writers that build and build and build on their foundation of books more than those that hit it big and then disappear, so I’m inclined to think it’s all a bunch of hooey.

  2. Edward Nawotka
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    @Erincox — I hate to say it, but I’ve known both — writers who can build on prior strengths, and then writers who blow out under the pressure of delivering a second book, often in a much shorter time frame than before. Then, once that second book doesn’t deliver the sales, they get dumped or else find it much harder to get a third book accepted by the editor, who at that point has lost some trust/confidence in the writer, which also, in turn affects the writer, who loses some confidence, so on and so forth…that’s one of the reasons this question goes so well with Glenn’s piece, since what he’s advocating is to keep it all in perspective. If you do that, the work will flow from there. (Says the man who hasn’t published a book, but still…)

  3. erincox
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I’ve known both too, but I’ve also known authors who live in obscurity and then have their fourth book become a hit or authors that have two blockbusters and the third is the one that doesn’t work. I was just saying that it’s likely more a myth than a reality and it doesn’t have anything to do with if it’s your second book and more about if the book hits the audience right. I agree with Glenn…keep it all in perspective (or, in this case, Publishing Perspectives. Ha, bad joke).

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