I’d like to thank novelist Jenn J McLeod for contributing this guest post about second novel syndrome. Jenn wrote this piece on the eve of the launch of her second novel, Simmering Season, reviewed here. Born in the city, Jenn discovered a love for the country while working her way across the heart of Australia, living out of a converted Ford F100 van for three years, working anywhere she could. She ended up in a corporate communications/PR role, but swapped this with a sea change to a small coastal town where she bought a small cafe. Her passion for storytelling came to the fore when she discovered a wonderful writing organisation which eventually led her on the road to publication. You can find out more about Jenn and her books here.

Second novel syndrome

Wow! Four seasons have come and gone since my debut novel, House for all Seasons, hit the shelves this time last year. Now, here I am waiting, waiting, waiting and still thirty-six hours away from the ‘official’ April 1 (no joke!) release of book two – Simmering Season.

I should be used to waiting; it’s something a writer does a lot! In fact, learning to be patient was my earliest lesson when I set out to conquer the world with my literary brilliance. What I’ve since discovered is I don’t have a patient bone in my body. And while House for all Seasons will not become a literary classic, I can boast that in 2013 it was listed as the #5 top selling debut novel, right behind Burial Rights, The Rosie Project, and Thornwood House at #1, #2, #3 respectively).

My initial reaction to this news (first seen on Facebook, courtesy of Dawn Barker whose book Fractured came in at #9 on the same list) was disbelief. I’d been busy fending off friendly April Fools release day comments all day when I saw the Facebook post so, yes, I did look twice and wonder …

Thankfully, the Nielsen BookScan list was not a bad joke.

So, how has this unexpected honour impacted on my state of mind – a mind already abuzz with the second-novel syndrome comments such as: “Can she do it again?”, “Has she given everything she’s got to book one and left nothing for book two?”, etc.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article on the second-novel syndrome subject, Malcolm Knox postulates: “Panic after a first successful novel is perfectly natural, but what if it never passes?”

Knox’s article states: “Second-novel syndrome, the so-called performance anxiety writers undergo after a first-up success, is as old as the novel itself. Peter Carey still fears it after two Booker Prizes and 20 years. Harper Lee feared it so badly she gave up.”

I liked this from Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, and The Marriage Plot), as quoted in Knox’s article: “No one is waiting for you to write your first book. No one cares if you finish it. But after your first, if it goes well, everyone seems to be waiting. You’re suddenly considered to be a professional writer, a fiction machine, but you know very well that you’re just getting going. You go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose, and that’s what creates the panic.”

It appears that I’ve followed the Peter Carey model by writing book two before book one was released/reviewed. So, while escaping the anxiety of having a blank page and a deadline there’s still the question: How will Simmering Season be received by readers, especially those who loved House for all Seasons?

So … here am I on the cusp of launching book two and refusing to panic – instead putting the milestone into perspective with my world right now

  1. I lost my mum two weeks before my debut release 12 months ago.
  2. I have a dad who now requires LOTS of attention.
  3. My faithful, furry muse – the heat beat at this writer’s feet for 14 years – is recovering from losing an eye from cancer.
  4. I have the home that I’ve LOVED for years on the market, requiring presentation perfection for every open house.
  5. I am downsizing into a caravan!
  6. I am waiting for my frozen shoulder to thaw. (A frozen shoulder makes EVERYTHNG ten times more difficult – especially typing.)
  7. I am doing my first LIVE in-studio radio interview next week.
  8. I am writing to deadline, as well as running a business – one that actually pays the bills!
  9. (And don’t even get me started on global issues like climate change, coal seam gas, and devastating natural disasters.)

So, no, I refuse to fret over another thing I have no control over. No matter what people think of Simmering Season, I know I’ve written my best second novel, and that I am the best writer I can be at this stage in my career. I know I won’t be (can’t be) everyone’s best writer, and my novels will not be everyone’s favourite. What I’m focusing on now is growing as a writer as books three and four go through their editing process with my wonderful editor – Belinda Castles. When book four hits shelves in 2016 my Seasons Collection will be complete and I can start a new collection of stories – hence the caravan! Once the house sells this grey nomad will be hitting the road, keen to discover this big, brown land and excited about finding small towns to inspire more stories.

For now, as I finish this article – some thirty-six hours until lift off – it’s back to dusting, mopping and dishes in preparation for another Open for Inspection in about an hour from now. (Ah, the glamorous life of an author!)

Connect with Jenn on Facebook or Twitter.




Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

8 Responses

  1. Fantastic article, Jenn, and very timely for me right now as my second novel is at second draft and I need to put everything else aside and just write the best book I can. I’m sure Simmering Season will be a hit and I can’t wait to read it xx

  2. Enjoyed your post, Jenn, Thank you. I hope your life soon becomes a little easier. Second books are seem even more daunting than first. Like Shasha, I’ve just submitted the manuscript of my second, but unlike her I seem to be walking around in circles feeling very unsettled, rather than beginning a new project.

  3. Another great post Jenn. And going from noting to lose to having everything to lose is exactly right. Utterly terrifying. The one piece of advice I give aspiring authors is have two books. At least have the second book well underway before you seek a publisher. Thanks for sharing your lovely story and good luck with the truckload of change you’re facing! Xxx

  4. Great post. I am struggling. I had to do my first novel on my own (long story) and am just doing a major edit now to re-upload. It has made it hard to concentrate on the second book. I am so aware of how much I have learned and its scaring me as I am so conscious of not wanting to make the same mistakes. Doing both at the same time is a little insane.. I loved your post, it was warm, funny and so interesting. Just what I needed today.

    1. Barb, both at once is a little insane!!!!! But sometimes I think we have to be. 🙂 I totally get the scary bit about having learned so much. I was like a kid in a lolly shop after my first edit. I am sorry to hear you are struggling. My advice… find/choose a vice and use it to get you through!!

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