The difficult second book

[What follows is an atypically personal rant by Dean Burnett, on the experiences of writing a second book, in case it’s of any use to other aspiring authors or similar writers who may find themselves in similar situations]

I just finished my second book. I mean *really* finished it. Aside from fixing the typos and proofing and formatting, it’s all done and dusted. My part in the process is ‘over’, until it’s released in 7 months and I need to start plugging it, and presumably the whole cycle, of press, interviews, talks at literary festivals, starts up again. Although, in truth, it never actually stopped, just got less intense after the first few months after publication of the debut book.

I had been tentatively warned by others who’d gone through the process that writing your second book is not the same as writing your first. I didn’t doubt this, but also didn’t really appreciate the extent of that observation. I’m sure it’s different for everyone as we all have different circumstances to deal with, but for me, the second time around was so incredibly different to the first time writing a book, and this really took me by surprise.

Part of that is due to the fact that, as a book, it’s a different beast altogether from the first one; there’s a narrative, interviews, personal reflections and other pompous-sounding stuff. My publishers, as keen as they were for a follow up for book one, weren’t willing to let me rest n my laurels and knock out the same old stuff as before, and me, being cheerfully optimistic and still relatively oblivious about how this whole ‘author’ thing works, was quite happy to agree with what they suggested. Should have put more thought into that really, as in the end I was essentially figuring out how to write a book all over again, as I was writing one. This was a bit tricky.

My situation was also different. I also didn’t have my study room in the house any more. What I DID have, was a second child, who slept in there now. Well, I say ‘slept’, that was the theory at least. My very young daughter often sees sleep as more of an ‘optimistic suggestion’ than a biological necessity. So that was something else to factor in.

I also had a ‘previous’ book. I wasn’t ‘unknown author’ any more, I was now ‘author of…’, which was a bigger psychological hurdle than I realised. The success of my first book was actually a surprisingly big problem in many ways. Firstly, as alluded to before, it hasn’t actually gone away at any point, so as I’m trying to write the second one I’m still constantly travelling around to talk about the first one. This does disrupt your ‘flow’ somewhat.

But, at a more fundamental level, the problem was I actually splurged all my existing knowledge and said all the things I wanted to talk about when the first book, because I genuinely didn’t think there’d be any call for a second one. I’m still fairly new to publishing but I know that, like with all creative industries, the road to success is littered with the debris of those who crashed and burned, and I figured I’d a much higher chance of being one of those. Sure, I had a popular blog and a relatively unique approach in a rather crowded field, but I mostly saw those as things to fall back on. Overall, I assumed my first book it would do ‘middling’ business at best, maybe end up in a few relevant libraries, and that would be that. Thanks for trying, no harm no foul, see you around.

That… didn’t happen, as we know. The first book did well, to a daft extent. So I ended up writing a second book, that I’d never planned, to match a first book, that I had no idea would do as well as it did.

For the record, this absolutely isn’t a complaint; I’m aware of how massively fortunate I am to even be in this position, let alone make it work, and that many would kill to be in my shoes. I appreciate that, I really do, and will do my best to warrant the privileged position I find myself in. Those who have invested in me deserve no less, whether it by getting my writing out into the world or spending their own time and money in reading it.

But, it’s also important to point out, I think, that this isn’t an always-easy gig, however cushy it may seem from the outside. I’ve had countless people approach me since, asking if I can help get their book published like mine. I’m always happy to help out others as and when I can, but I’m not some omnipotent book-based God. Me putting a word in for you might help slightly, but it won’t mean you get published.

I stress this because I’ve had people seemingly think that an endorsement from me is all they need. People saying things like “I reckon I’d be good at writing a book, can I speak to your publishers” or “I’ve got a good idea for a book. I can’t really describe it but it’s great, can you pass it on to your publishers?” Where do they think this will end up? Me telling my publishers that a total stranger (to them, and sometimes to me) reckons they’d be good at doing books, so give them an advance? Seems a tad optimistic, I reckon.

Point is, yes it’s great being a published author, but getting the second book done nearly broke my mind several times, as my wife will no doubt attest to. I’ve actually just started reading my second book now, as it’s all one piece, and it’s like something written by someone else. It was just such a slog and a stress getting it done that I honestly don’t recognise parts of it. I can never hope to objective, but I’m actually impressed that it even hangs together in a logical way.

Basically, what I’m saying is, I can’t rule out the possibility that my second book is utter shite. But, there’s a reason for that if it is. So, apologies in advance to all those inconvenienced by the ever-increasing promotion I’m going to be doing over the coming months. Block/unfollow/ignore me as you wish, I’ll understand totally.

The Happy Brain – 03/05/2018

“Might be shit” (Dean Burnett, author)

The Happy Brain book cover