VJ Books Blog

(Publisher’s Weekly, Tom Rob Smith, Jan. 26)

Introduction by Tom Rob Smith; compiled by Juan Martinez

Your first book is a success. No matter how success is defined, the specter of the second book looms large. The question you’ve been continually asking of your narrative—“What happens next?”—is asked of you. And it seems as if the story of your career is already written: success is followed by a fall.

In storytelling there’s little drama in consistency. But your career is not a piece of fiction and there’s no reason why a monotonous pattern of success couldn’t be established. In many ways, the odds are in your favor. You’re no longer subject to the corrosive uncertainty of wondering if you’re wasting your time. You have editors, agents and readers who want you to repeat your success. Perhaps there lies the problem: it isn’t one of success, it’s one of repetition. Writing is creative. Repetition is mechanical. Factories and assembly lines repeat. Artists do not. Should everything that was loved about your first book be avoided? To copy yourself is the surest way to devalue that which you’ve already written.

And so on, the second book anxieties rumble. For unpublished writers, the obstacles of a second book must appear like a distant and wonderful fantasy. That is because the challenge in being published the first time around is one of brute stamina, tolerating humiliation and rejection, and juggling jobs. The challenge of a second book is an intellectual one. You have too much time to think.

I decided to write Child 44 after months of pitching original movie and television ideas. As a remedy, I showed the book’s outline to very few people, wary of having my enthusiasm whittled down by a thousand polite doubts. There is no greater enemy to getting anything done than speaking to someone reasonable. If your first book is an act of madness, stepping off a cliff without any idea if there’s water underneath you, the danger with your second book is one of rationalization. You consider. You analyze. You search for a spot along the cliff face where you calculate the drop is shallow and the water deep. You consider some more.

I caught a quote the other day from the very wonderful Lee Child. He was asked if he had any tips for first-time writers. His advice was to ignore all advice. It strikes me that a first-time novelist will run with that sentiment, charging headlong into success or disappointment. A novelist writing his second book will spot the paradox of being advised to ignore advice. Should he disregard this advice also?

In the end, what’s the worst that could happen? And even if the worst does happen, there’s always book three. And everyone loves the story of a great comeback.