Blog Highlights: Avoiding the Second Book Slump

For the grand opening of this blog, I’m spotlighting some of my favorite blog posts and moments from over the years throughout the month of June.


Week One: Writing Tips and Advice





First posted on August 8, 2011

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As I work through Scarlet revisions, I’ve found myself very aware of what is commonly referred to as “The Second Book Slump.” Have you ever read a book that you absolutely loved, only to find that its follow-up is lackluster, contrived, or even (oh no!) boring? That’s the Second Book Slump at work.

There are lots of theories for why this is so common. Writers often have less time to write the second book than they did the first. They’re under more pressure from agents, editors, contractual obligations, even readers. Maybe they weren’t intending for it to be a series until their editor suggested a follow-up title. And so on.

So how does a writer avoid the dreaded slump?

. . .

Oh, I was hoping you might have an answer, because this is new territory for me too!

But seriously, I’m not sure any writer can speak with certainty on how to ensure the second book will satisfy fans of the first book. There are just too many factors, and of course, you’ll never be able to please everybody.

BUT—here are some things that tend to bother me in a second book, so this is the list I’m keeping in mind as I work on Scarlet and try not to fall into any of these traps.

The AFTER Happily-Ever-After Syndrome
Confession: If the hero and heroine hook up at the end of the first book, I almost never read the second book. This is a personal preference of mine, but regardless of internal conflict and undefeated villains, if I don’t have more sexual tension to look forward to, I usually lose interest in a storyline. However, if there’s one thing that bothers me even more than no sexual tension, it’s contrived sexual tension. It always strikes me as blaringly obvious when a writer realized that their couple was too darn happy together and threw something in their path to pull them apart again.

Solution: Try to make sure that any problems your couple is having in Book Two at least partially stems from something that was going on in Book One. If you know you’re going to be writing a series, focus on giving your couple enough problems at the beginning so you won’t be struggling to come up with new conflict after that initial hook-up.

The What’s the Point? Syndrome
Sometimes the middle book in a series feels completely unnecessary, like the characters are just killing time before they get serious about defeating that villain/saving the world/meeting their destinies.

Solution: To avoid making your book a space-filler, make sure that it serves a crucial part in the overall series arc. Your MC learns something new or is given a new weapon that will ultimately help him destroy his archnemesis. She ends Book Two closer to her goal than she started. They’re thrown a curve ball that makes them rethink their mission and choose a new course of action which propels them into Book Three. Whatever it is, make sure that what happens in Book Two is integral to what happens next. If you can step back and look at your series as a whole and it seems that Book One could jump straight into Book Three and the reader would never know the difference, then you have some rethinking to do.

The Same Ol’ Stakes Syndrome
Do you ever feel like the second book in a series is really just the first book all over again? This could be a stakes problem! It isn’t enough that the story moves forward in Book Two, you also need to make sure that the stakes are raised, i.e., there’s more danger, more trouble, more challenges for your hero.

Solution: Whatever awful things were going on in Book One, they need to get even worse. If war was threatened in Book One, it breaks out in Book Two. If your hero managed to send the villain to jail at the end of Book One, then in Book Two the villain breaks out of prison and kidnaps your hero’s entire family for revenge. If the love of your hero’s life was dating The Wrong Guy in Book One, then in Book Two—surprise!—they’re engaged! Remember, no matter how bad things are for your MC . . . you can always make them worse.

The Unchanging MC Syndrome
Just like your hero learned, grew, and changed in Book One, they have to continue to learn, grow, and change in Book Two, otherwise your reader could get bored with a hero who’s become stagnant and predictable.

Solution: If you haven’t given any thought to your character arc, take some time to figure it out. Who is your MC at the end of Book One? Who do they need to be at the end of Book Two? What happens to them throughout the book to incite that change? A static hero is a boring hero!

What do you think? Have I covered the basics of the Second Book Slump? What other things drive you crazy about second books, and how can authors avoid them?