DSBS – Difficult second book syndrome

In the music industry there has long been the term DSAS – Difficult second album syndrome. Well the term equally applies with writing – especially writing a series or using the same key characters within your books. When I was writing The Last Winter of Dani Lancing I was not thinking about the characters having a life after the book, at least not until the first draft was finished. At that stage I attended a two day masterclass with Sophie Hannah (lovely woman and great crime writer) and I showed her my first draft. She was incredibly helpful and not only suggested an agent to send the draft to – but had me think about the future for Dani, Tom, patty and Jim. That really did make me think and  it was a few months before I sent the draft to the agent (who took me on) and in that time I went back and seeded a number of ideas throughout the novel that would come to fruition in book two.

Fast forward six months and I actually sell The Last winter of Dani Lancing and receive a two book deal with the second being a follow up – then untitled.  This was October 2012 – so I have one year to write a new book. Essentially a third of the time it took me to write book one, but then I was a part-time writer. Now I am full time. It should be easy… of course it isn’t.

And here are the main reasons why. 1) There is still a huge amount of work to do on The Last Winter of Dani Lancing. Even though my editor (fantastic) loves the book  – she has some great ideas on how to improve it and so I set to work on those. I deliver the rewrites in December and we sign off on the book in early January 2013. Eleven months to book two – a breeze! But – then the copy-editor begins to ask me questions – pages and pages of them. I realise I am Lynne Truss’ worst nightmare – and my use of the semi colon; don’t get me started.  So, copy editing and proof reading takes up a few weeks. Actually a couple of big questions come up to do with work with a coroner and I do some more research to make doubly sure. Finally we sign off on the book and then the US production team begin to ask questions. I had no idea how time consuming the book would be once it was finished.

2) I am a fool. Now you may have worked that out already – but when I was working on Last Winter I wrote the entire backstories for the main characters. For Tom Bevans I sketched out the case that made his name in the Metropolitan Police and allowed him to set up his own serious crimes unit: Operation Ares. I did the same for Patty, and referenced it in The Last Winter of DL. Patty, as a journalist, broke a big case on her own and wrote a book about it titled: The Ugly Man. Again, I had sketched out this case in the writing of the first novel. So, when I met my editor for the first time I told her this and offered her two novellas based upon these cases. I intended to write them after I had completed The Summer of Ghosts – but she loved the idea and asked for them before the September publication. So I spent two of my now nine months left, in writing two 30,000 word novellas. The Sad Man and The Ugly Man. I have to say, I am really pleased with them – but talk about putting pressure on yourself.

3) And this is the main reason… second books are really tricky! I suppose it is the balance between writing for the new reader who hasn’t read the first novel (or either of the novellas) and writing for someone who already knows and feels bonded to the main characters. I am finding that tipping point hard to establish. So I initially continued on from the every moment book one ends – but then new readers will be lost. So I dropped that and began again with the new thrust of the book and slowly reintroduce Tom, Jim, Patty and Dani. I now have 30,000 words and 5 months left. Exciting! I will keep you updated.

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Published on: 22 June 2013
Posted by: P.D. Viner