Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sophomore Slump?..never heard of it.

Ro: There are certain things I don't even like to say, for fear that saying them will make them happen. Like...well...use your imagination..certain diseases, for example, unhappy altercations between cars and men walking dogs late at night. You get the picture.
On a far less tragic, but still unhappy, note is one expression a new writer can't seem to get away from - Sophomore Slump. I'd heard of it for years, even before I started writing. One publisher I know went so far as to say that publishers should bind a blank book (for number two) and then just leapfrog ahead to number three. I can tell you that wasn't a very encouraging conversation since I'd just spent the best part of a year banging out book two in my Dirty Business mystery series.
I guess there's some truth to the myth of the Sophomore Slump...many writers spend ten years or more polishing their first books and are then expected to push out number two in record time - generally one year if they're mystery writers.
Needless to say, I was determined not to fall victim to the dreaded SS. It goes without saying that I tried to write the best book I could. I held on to that manuscript until the bitter end, rewriting and revising until my normally calm and gentle editor pried it from my bony fingers with a look that told me it was now or never. We agonized over the title, the cover, the different PMS colors for the cover, the ARCs. Everything that went smoothly for book one was more of an issue for book two.
Was Sophomore Slump a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did things screw up because people expected them to screw up?

Time will tell for The Big Dirt Nap. My pub. date is next week, and I've already had a pre-launch party to benefit the Chalula Community library, which my husband and I helped to found. (At the legendary Friar's Club in New York...went well, thank you.) Kirkus, PW and (yippee!) Crimespree have all given me good reviews. So, so far, so good...
Any words of wisdom or war stories from the rest of you seasoned travellers?
ROBERTA: Ro, you've done everything you can. Now let it go and move on. And enjoy the launch! I did have a sophomore slump and lived to survive it:). Although I loved a lot of things about my second book, A BURIED LIE, I lost patience with working on it at the end. The research was impeccable (I paid to play in an LPGA pro-am tournament), the characters developed nicely, but the plot had holes. Big ones. I think I learned a lesson on that one--at any rate, my sweet husband reminds me of it when I'm tempted to rush another ending.
And yes, many writers find writing the second book to be very different from the first. With that first one, there was no deadline, no editor, no real audience in mind. But for the Big Dirt Nap, let's all enjoy the party!

RHYS: I don't think it has much to do with the quality of the book, Rosemary. Collectors buy first in series, especially signed. People try a new series and some decide it's not right for them. The second is often not accompanied by the buzz of the first book. Having said that, the numbers went up on the second book in all my series. So think positively.

JAN: My second book, A Confidential Source, was the most successful, but then again, it was launched as first in a series, (a few name changes but initially written as a sequeal to Final Copy). So I think Rhys is right. It's not in the writing so much as the buzz. You're awesome at generating buzz, Ro, seemingly tireless in promotion. If anyone shouldn't second guess herself, it's you!! Congratulations. I predict another success!

HANK: In college, I gained five pounds my sophomore year. That was also the year I decided going to class wasn't that important. Now that's slump. That's--falling off the chair.
I loved writing my book 2, Face Time. You know why? I had learned so much in the writing and revisions of Prime Time that I wanted to see if I could put it to use. For instance, PT was 723 pages when the first draft was finished! And I had to edit it to 325. That was one of the most educational experiences I've ever had. I learned my crutch words, my weaknesses, my digressions. That sometimes I wasn't that funny. I learned it was all about advancing the plot. Face Time, when I typed The End of the first draft? Bingo. 325 pages.

RO: I have a great group of blog sisters to learn from! Anybody remember that song from Damn Yankees...A Little Brains, A Little Talent? I shall try to employ both - and not gain five pounds!
Come back on Wednesday to meet this week's guest blogger, Joanna Campbell Slan who writes the Kiki Lowenstein Scrapbooking mysteries


  1. Don't you love that song..? Maybe at Crimebake this year we should have a musical revue..

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  3. Don't tempt me. Michael Palmer and his son did a truly hilarious song about the NYT top ten list (and hurray for Michael--he's on it!) for Thrillerfest last summer. It brought down the house.

    I think he rhymed "fire in the belly" with Sophie Kinsell(y).

    Maybe we can

  4. We used to talk about the Sophomore Ton. Women's college, unlimited food (which was surprisingly good)...duh.

    I think both Rhys and Jan make a good point: the first book gets the buzz. The publisher is pushing it, and we're flogging it everywhere we can think of. By the second book, the publisher has moved on to the next Hot Writer, and we've either lost or hooked the series fans.

    But as Ro says, we keep trying to write the best book we can, while balancing character growth and "don't give away too much of Book 1". It's a real challenge.

  5. I sent book 2 off to my editor over the weekend. I'm just hoping I don't have a Freshman Flop with the first one. I'll be geared up for the Slump, if and when the second (and third) sells.

  6. No Freshman Flop (wasn't that the Fosbury Flop?)..everyone loves a's like being a bride.

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  8. I wrote an article about Sophomore slump for Writers Digest magazine, only I have no recollection at all of what I said except that it coincided with the release of my second series novel which was definitely not my best. Oops, am I supposed to be encouraging?

    The good news is that your new novel is TERRIFIC. To quote The Mystery Reader: "The irrepressible Paula Holliday is back for her second outing and remains as fresh as the daisies pushed up her first time out."

    Wow. And you've got a gazillion fans out there waiting to read it.


  9. I barely remember writing my second one because I had to write it very quickly. I spent way too much time doing The Happy Dance after number one.

    With three, I feel like I'm starting all over again because it's not under contract. I keep telling myself, "No, I'm NOT too old for this!"

    I was so thrilled to finally meet you in person, Rosemary. You're a doll! Handbasket questions are on their way....

  10. Rosemary, I hadn't thought of Dick Fosbury in years!

    All I can say is, I hope I don't get stood up at the altar, lol.

    The 2nd book is submitted and now I can return to the suspense series I'm working on (and trying to sell), including that serial killer who assumes his victims' identities.

    Have a great day, ladies!

  11. wow Laura, if you're too old for this, the rest of us are REALLY in trouble! I think a lot of writers (and others in the publishing biz) are having to pull back and regroup a little. But you've got too much going for you to quit now Baby!

  12. If Laura's too old then I better start using my walker and having a blue rinse instantly. My idol is P.D. James who is still turning out brilliant books into her 80s.

    The part I feel I'm getting old for is the rushing around on book tour. But I'm certainly not going to say no when the publisher offers it!

  13. All -

    Thanks for the great comments! The more I hang here the more I learn.

    Ro - glad to here that 10 years is not untypical to generate a quality first work.

    Hank - Loved the editing comments. I'm in the process of dropping the page count almost in half as well. I never would have believed the power of deletion. However, anything that disrupts pacing must go!! I am really focusing on the unfolding of the story and anything that gets in the way is going. Sometimes I second guess myself. Your comment has certainly solidified my thinking there.

  14. Roberta and Rhys--I wanted to pop in to say that I just felt too old to be starting over again! I started my career rather late. But I've come to realize that we're all always starting over, with every book. It's only in hindsight that things appear to have a pattern or continuous thread. So, onward!!!

    And you'd be just as lovely with a blue rinse, Rhys!