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How to Beat the Fear of Being a One-Book Wonder

Recently I finished editing The Doctor’s Lady and sent it in to my publisher. Even though it was the fifth edit I’d done on the book, I still felt nervous when I hit send. I couldn’t help asking myself: Was the book really ready? Was there anything more I could do?

After all, once I sent the book in, that was IT. That’s what readers would get when it’s released in September. Sure, there would be a few minor changes here and there during line and copy edits. But overall, what was on the pages was the final version—for better or worse.

So, yes, after all the time I’d spent editing the book, I’m relieved that I’m done. But at the same time, apprehension has been haunting me.

What if readers don’t like this book as well as The Preacher’s Bride? What if the plot lacks the same passion? What if my characters aren’t as likable? What if I’m too repetitious? What if I didn’t get enough setting details? What if I added too many?

On and on the doubts assail me.

Of course I had doubts before the publication of my first book. I had the usual first-time author jitters and was nervous about what people would really think of my story. But I hadn’t expected the doubts with my second book. I thought for sure I’d be more confident, that I’d be ready—especially now that I know what to expect.

But that’s precisely the issue. Now that I’ve been through the process once, I’m no longer naïve. I know big book reviewers are going to read the ARC of The Doctor’s Lady and splash their reviews (good or bad) across cyberland. Readers are going to pick up my book and write Amazon and blog reviews. And ultimately the loyal fans I made with my first book have told me they’re anxiously awaiting my second.

Will my book be able to pass the numerous tests and earn a thumbs-up? Or will I become a one-book wonder?

I promise I’m not fishing for any reassurances from those of you who read and liked The Preacher’s Bride. The point of this post is to show that no matter where we’re at in our writing journeys, we always face fears.

Author K.M. Weiland summed it up in her comment on my last post: "That second published novel is one of the most difficult, I find, since we're suddenly aware of an audience that isn't imaginary any longer. For me, the experience of wanting so badly to please readers with the second book was so nerve-wracking that I had to just put my audience completely out of mind."

I imagine even best-selling authors with numerous published books still battle doubt. Perhaps the pressure to succeed only increases with each well-received book an author publishes—the pressure to keep going, to keep producing books that readers will like.

As I struggle to maintain confidence about my next book, here are a few things I’m telling myself. They’re things we can all tell ourselves when we hit a dip in our confidence levels:

*Readers are usually pretty forgiving. We’re often harsher on ourselves than anyone else will be. And likewise, our toughest critics will be other writers and industry personnel who are intimately connected with the writing craft. Non-writing readers, on the other hand, can overlook our blunders and will perhaps not even notice our floundering here and there.

*We can’t produce perfect books. I’m sure many of us have lamented the fact that certain New York Times bestselling authors use poor grammar or break the “rules.” And although I think all writers need to strive to hone their craft, when the story is strong, readers can often overlook other “mistakes.”

*We can only work to the best of our ability, and then let go. We can nit-pick our books forever. In the final hours of working on The Doctor’s Lady, I found myself editing my edits. I knew then it was time to let go. I’d done the best I possibly could. Anything more wouldn’t really add or detract to the story.

*Seek out the opinions of those we trust to be honest. We don’t want to surround ourselves with people who will only tell us what we want to hear. Rather we want a handful of people we can go to, friends who are comfortable telling us what’s wrong with our stories. Then when those friends praise us, we’ll be able to trust them.

*We can try to make the next book better. If for some reason readers don’t like my second book as well as they’ve liked my first, I can learn from the experience and do my best to make the third book better. After all, we should all be striving to learn from our mistakes and make each book better than the last.

What's your greatest fear? Do you ever fear being a one-book wonder? And how forgiving are you of your favorite authors when they write a book you don't particularly like?

P.S. The winner of For the Love of the Reader Giveaway is Tessa Emily Hall! Congratulations Tessa! You win a $15 gift card to Chocomize.com! Thanks to everyone for participating in my special tribute to Readers!

38 comments:

  1. I'm struggling with fear right now too. This advice is good. As you know, I just signed my first book contract. A two book deal. Both books are already written, which takes some pressure off. The fear I'm facing now, as I work on a new novel, is this fear of: What if I can't do it anymore? What if, now that I've finally signed a contract, I can't produce another publishable book? I actually have a blog post planned on this fear I'm facing in the near future.

    We definitely don't ever escape the fear. That's for sure!

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  2. Congratulations, Jody, with finishing your second book. I am sure it is wonderful--like your first one.

    Teresa

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  3. Now that I just went public with my first sale news, I don't have to watch what I say in comments--I've had to go back and delete "oops, can't share that yet" comments. :)

    My first book journey is moving along quickly. My novel is scheduled to come out in November of this year. Within days of receiving the call, I had received my first set of revision notes. As my editor and I discussed them, I had a clear view of what needed to be done. However, even after hitting send on my revised manuscript, I was still wondering if my readers will see my characters as compassionate.

    For my second book, I have my editor's thoughts about book one in my head, so I'm striving to make my characters stronger and more likable from the beginning. Personally, I think my second book is stronger in plot and emotion. I'm just hoping my editor loves it too.

    Jody, thanks for always asking the right questions. Your blog is one of my favorites!

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  4. Hi Jody, I feared the one-book wonder after the success of my first middle grade novel, which I self-published. Teachers and students raved about the book, and I sold thousands of copies. Yet, I couldn't seem to get past chapter two on a second book. I think I started four manuscripts. Eventually I did complete a second book, but it took me seven years. It only took me about six months to write the book. It took six-and-a-half years to get the courage. Since then I've completed a third.

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  5. CONGRATULATION Lisa!!! I'm so thrilled for your first sale!! What an exciting time for you! :-) And you're so right about the second book. We do get the advantage of having an in-house editor's input and advice. We can definitely draw encouragement from that!

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  6. I always imagine that a writer's second book must be tougher and more important than their first. Sure, you may have had a success with the first, but in the second, you've got to prove you can be a success again.

    My parents have always supported my writing, but they taught me to view my career in terms of "you're only as good as your next book" so I completely empathise with your fears, even though I'm not at that stage yet.

    I'm quite fortunate to have several people I can rely on for real help in making my work as good as it can possibly be. Several of them are writers too and I return the favour.

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  7. I'm always a little afraid when I start a new story. *shudder* I can't imagine the pressure you feel right now. I'm sure your story will be wonderful though! And if it's not....like you said, you've got more inside you. :-) I really think it'll be a great one though and I can't wait to read it!

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  8. Hey Jody,

    I think this is the case with anyone who does anything creative - will you be able to repeat your first success?

    Whether you're a writer who has their first book out, a tennis player who has won their first major tournament or a singer who has just had great sales on their debut album, the question of one hit wonders remain.

    I believe the best way to overcome it is to never stop. Keep writing, keep working on your craft, keep creating.

    If you're doing that in the interim you'll have a body of work that is substantial, and can be tweaked later.

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  9. I just finished my eighth book. After nearly a million published words, I'm afraid for my ninth.

    Honestly? I think that's a good thing.

    If I weren't concerned, then I probably wouldn't be trying hard to look at everything I've done so far and do better this next time.

    Because, really? Was that last one The Best? Are you sure? You couldn't have done better with - maybe - a different plot? new characters? better description? a richer subplot or two ... ?

    And that's when it takes off, but without that frisson of fear about the next, I don't think I'd be as driven to improve it.

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  10. I understand your fears. The cool thing? God gave you your talents, and I don't think they're in danger of fading away. :) My 2nd book was better than my first. I bet yours will be too.

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  11. Your honesty is always refreshing, Jody.

    For me right now, I'm so focused on non-writing pursuits (namely my sister's health) that I think it's distracting me from these fears. Even with multiple submissions, I haven't dwelled on them too much, which I consider a blessing from God. I'm sure fears will resurface from time to time and I'll revisit this post for the reminders to stay rational. :)

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  12. I'm with you--readers are very forgiving. I have most of my favorite authors books, and half of them are tops on my list, while the other half are good but didn't hit the same nerve. It doesn't reflect on her as a writer. My taste matched her other books better, that's all.

    I know your new book will be wonderful! You put so much time and effort into your books!

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  14. Thought I'm still working on my first novel, the feelings you have about the second one totally make sense. I would imagine myself being a nervous wreck with my fourth or fifth book! LOL

    Awesome post!

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  15. I'm pretty sure I am a one-hit wonder, but this is not about me, it's about you, Jody. You are the real deal. You are a gifted writer, through and through. What that means for me is that you are passionate, you write from the heart. You have compelling characters. You have an interesting story line. I am about half-way thru THe Preacher's Bride and it is so well done, I can't believe it's your first novel. So all I can say is, we all doubt ourselves at times. I do about everything. But then I remind myself that is not who I really am. That is the fear talking. You are a writer. It doesn't matter what anyone else, reviewers, readers, or otherwise, say about you and your work. You know. You know you know.
    Love,
    Karen

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  16. Such a valuable point about seeking out those who will lovingly share the truth with us. I can't remember, but I believe Donald Miller wrote a post about how we are to have life editors--people who will help us improve our life by encouraging us to cut certain things out, etc.

    Fear...second post that's asked me what mine is this morning. I want to share my work. As much as it's a true joy to write on my own, I want it published. I suppose there's an underlying fear that won't happen (even though my gut says it will).
    ~ Wendy

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  17. I posted about this very fear from a different perspective today! I like how Nathan said it is healthy...it's a good thing. Thanks for sharing and CONGRATULATIONS on finishing!

    ~Carla

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  18. Right there with you, Jody. Thank goodness my second novel was already drafted when I signed my contract, though it needed a major rewrite before submission. That helped with the fear. But it's now, on my third, when I have to face that completely blank slate once more. Research gets me through it by giving me a feeling of solidity, and prayer gets me through it by reminding me I'm not alone.

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  20. Yes - the fear of the "one book wonder" has crossed my mind regularly. I am silencing that fear by meeting my daily writing goal...silencing that inner editor, for the present.

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  21. Yay! Thanks again for this giveaway, I'm sure my mom and I will very much enjoy the chocolate. =)

    I still have yet to complete the editing process of my first book, but I could imagine those type of doubts creeping in on me while working on my second. However, there's no reason to fear if we have allowed him to direct the course of the story and our writing career. =)

    Congratulations on finishing your second book edits! I'm looking forward to reading it.

    Tessa

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  22. I still have to finish editing my first novel (I am terrible with editing but I'm learning along the way) so I am nervous about it potentially being published. My favourite author has produced some "not so great" books, but out of the many he has written there are the handful of gems that make me realize how much I adore him. I realize he's not perfect and neither am I. We write what we write and we learn from it.

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  23. As one of the few people who's been privileged to get a sneak peek at The Doctor's Lady (Jody and I are critique partners), let me say for the record that this book is great. No, it's not like The Preacher's Bride, nor would I, as a reader, want it to be.

    I know the Second Book Syndrome fears are real, having been experiencing the early stages myself, but what I realized recently is that our books are like children. Each is unique, and we love them all. I think readers will look at our work that way. They don't want cookie cutter characters and repetitious plots any more than I do. They want something new and different. Knowing that helps me move forward with the next tale and get on with the telling.

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  24. Congrats to Tessa!

    I can see this fear and can relate with my other writing. (Since I haven't written a book yet:) These are great points! I appreciate you taking the time to help us grow.

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  25. This is a very valid fear, and one I have battled a tiny bit. My situation has been unique, though, in that I independently published a novella in one genre and now I'm traditionally publishing a novel in a completely different genre. I have a feeling both will have some of the same readers, but overall the readership will vary. This means that until I put out another thriller, I might not feel this one-hit-wonder at all. My novella, Cinders, will be released with two other novellas in 2012. THAT one holds a bit of trepidation for me because I know readers will automatically compare the other two novellas to Cinders, or vice versa. Still, they are part of one entire book so it's different. I don't know if they'll judge the book as a whole or as individual stories.

    Anyway, all I'm saying is that I've felt this, but my own situation seems all jumbled up. In the end, I feel that it doesn't matter what genre I write. There are parts of my writing that ties all my books together. As long as those elements are there my career will move forward as a collection of books, not individual ones. If that makes sense. Sorry, I totally rambled about myself.

    Anyway, thanks for this great post! You have some fantastic advice here, too.

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  26. My dream is to be a multi-published author and I would to know that I have never disappointed my readers. But the only control I have over any project is to give my all, I commit to that and leave the rest to God.

    That takes some of the pressure off:)

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  27. COngrats Tesa! I'm so jealous!!!

    Jody, I have to say I doubt very much you will be a one hit wonder. I do understand the natural anxiety you must be feeling but you my friend are here to stay. In fact I gave you prime face-out real estate in my Borders yesterday!!! And my daughter said, "no mom it deserves to be on a higher shelf." and she proceeded to give you even more exposure. We love you so. *sigh* I really want to read Doctor's Lady. I can't wait.

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  28. Nathan Lowell said: "Without that frisson of fear about the next, I don't think I'd be as driven to improve it."

    My Response: EXCELLENT point, Nathan. It is that underlying "frisson" of fear that spurs us on. It's not a full anxiety attack or anything like that. Rather the fear can be a good thing as long as it remains an edge that nudges us constantly onward and upward to become better writers! Thank you!

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  29. First, I want to thank you for your honesty. It is so comforting to writers everywhere. Second, I think it would be impossible for you not to write a great book. (EEk, double negative, but you know what I mean.) Finally, if for some crazy reason the book didn't sing like THE PREACHER'S BRIDE I'd still buy everything you ever write because you had me at the first book. Once I fall in love, I'm a loyal reader, and I fell in love with THE PREACHER'S BRIDE.

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  30. Great post! (And I'm tickled you quoted me!) I've written three novels since my first one was published, and I do think facing audience expectations gets a little easier with each book. After that second book is published, you have the assurance that readers *still* like you, and that gives you a little more breathing room in leaping into Book #3. This isn't to say that doubts don't still exist, but they get easier to drown out.

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  31. Great post, Jody.

    Of course, my fears are limited to "the next story" instead of the next novel - just for today :) - but the fears are much the same. I love your tip to remember that readers are forgiving. I believe, based on my own experience as a reader and a writer, that point is so true!

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  32. I have the same fears, even though I don't write books. In fact, I think I might be too afraid to write a book.

    But I write a lot of columns and articles, and I wonder if my next article is going to be good...

    I suppose it's better than becoming vain.

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  33. I am grappling with this very phenomenon myself. After the work I put in on my first novel, the idea of of beginning a second alone was frightening. But - apart from some terrible writers block - I have embarked on a project that I'm growing more confident with.

    Your piece is timely - it was just what I needed.

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  34. So, doubts will plague us throughout our writing lives? It's nice to know I'm not the only one who worries and frets.

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  35. Hi Jody -

    I'm still working toward that first book. :)

    This week, my mother illustrated the "forgiving reader principle." Hanging around me, she's learned a bit about writing.

    She read a book that I wasn't able to get through. Her comment: "The writing wasn't good, but I liked the story."

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  36. Yep! Only God makes perfect things. :) I think it'll be a natural (and not necessarily bad) thing that people will compare your novels. And it will all be subjective--as subjective as people reading the first novel was. Some people are bound to have your 2nd book resonate more with them, and some the 1st book!

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  37. I understand what you're going through. I've often had remorse after clicking send when I submit a book to my editor, even if I've read the book a gazillion times.

    My fourth book comes out in May and I'm still as anxious and worried as ever.

    Can't wait to read The Doctor's Lady. It's bound to be a hit.

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  38. I totally relate. Even though my second book was in the same series, I worried it was too different for people who loved the first book... but I also felt it was stronger and suffered the fear that people who felt iffy about Book 1 wouldn't give Book 2 a chance. The same imaginations that allow us to craft stories also take us into some creative - and futile - worrying.

    I keep telling myself Perfect Truth drives out fear - and turning to Perfect Truth Himself.

    Important since now I'm fighting "second-series fear." Writing my first series without a contract, I spent about two years writing & researching each book. Now I need to write each book in a year. It means less pre-writing - and a new set of worries. What if my characters aren't deep enough? What if my research isn't complete enough? Does this plotline stink?

    Aye yi yi. Cast out that fear and press on.

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