About a half hour later, Devi called and we chatted about the changes. She approved them all, we talked about why they were necessary, she clarified a few things she couldn’t understand from my slightly cryptic outline, and brought up a few other issues she also wanted me to keep in the back of my mind.
Then we talked about my calm at getting so many more edits on this second book, and I explained to her how I’d figured it all out. “See,” I said, super earnestly, “I realized that my first book had already been through the ringer before it got to you. I sat on it for a while, editing it. I was in Edinburgh with lots of input with my insanely intelligent friends. A few agents, before Rebecca, who had shown some interest had suggested some changes. Then, when she took me on, Rebecca went over the first book with me really carefully. Therefore,” I concluded, quite proud of my logic, “it makes sense that my second book would need more help. It hasn’t had all that input.” Devi made appropriately soothing noises and I felt pleased at my Sherlock Holmes-like ability to assess a situation.
Then I talked to Rebecca.
Who, in the course of our conversation, told me, “There’s a phenomenon we talk about in publishing, called the Second Book Syndrome. We don’t tell our authors about it, normally, because it just scares them. But, basically, their second book will never be as clean as their first. After all, the first had all this input, etc., and the second comes out a lot more cold.” I hung my head, ashamed at, once again, having proud proclaimed I’d reinvented the wheel.
“Yeah,” I told Rebecca. “Um, I think I just explained that same process to Devi. Like I invented it. ‘Cause I’m good like that.”
We had a laugh and I got to be the jackass, a position I rather enjoy, strangely enough. But this idea of Second Book Syndrome is a good one, and important for people to remember.Â
After all, it’s easy to forget how much work was put into your first book. It’s easy to forget that it was a long, strenuous project, often employing many people in terms of beta readers, crit groups, writer’s workshops, whatever. It’s easy to forget all of that, and only to see the success of getting the agent, the publishing deal, etc. Then when we try to repeat the process under a much more vigorous deadline, and the resulting product gets more input from our editors than the first one, it’s easy to see this as some sort of failure. After all, the first book was clean, right? So if the second isn’t as clean, we must have done something wrong.
But that’s not the case. In reality, what’s happened, is that all of those crit groups, beta readers, workshop cohorts, etc., have been, in large part, replaced by a single entity: an editor. I still have my beta readers, and they still rock. But I no longer live in the same city as them, and we’re no longer all students with tons of free time.
So I rely on my editor a lot more, but that’s how it should be. Rebecca explained to me that she won’t read my second and third book as carefully as she did my first, and she won’t intervene in a rough draft unless she sees a major issue. That’s not because she’s abandoned me, but because I now have an editor, and that’s what Devi and I are supposed to do together.Â I’m really lucky that my editor and I get along really well. In fact, getting any work done is hard because we’re usually babbling at each other for the first twenty minutes of every conversation about crazy shit. I’m lucky that I trust her, but I also trust myself in trusting her because I’ve had lots of other “editors” in the form of academic supervisors, and I know what it is to work with someone good and not-so-good. And Devi is good. So we’re about five steps ahead of the game, between my academic experiences as an editee and her evident abilities as an editor. But we’re still building our relationship; still sussing each other out and figuring out how the other works. So these initial exchanges, as Rebecca has intimated, are important. We’re building up our working relationship as much as we are building up my books and my series.Â
And I can’t say enough how lucky I am to be working with everyone at Orbit and with everyone at McIntosh and Otis. Ya’ll are great.
But now I gotta get to actually writing the revisions and earn my keep.
Ciao for now.