McNally Robinson, the large indie chain of Canadian bookstores, was kind enough this week to run an editorial indicating that my second book, The Poisoned Pawn, had escaped the sophomore jinx. (The story refers to G.B. Joyce, another Penguin author; I’m really pleased to hear of his success with The Code.)
Apparently, the sophomore jinx is when a second book doesn’t live up to expectations.
Wikipedia calls this the sophomore slump. Among other things, the term is apparently used to refer to the slump a lot of baseball players experience in their second year. It brings back awful memories of second year law school. I still have nightmares sometimes of exams I didn’t know I was supposed to write.
I confess I have worried about this issue a fair amount and more so recently, with the second book about to hit bookstores.
When you write your first novel, you put your best stuff in it. You have the luxury of time. (They say in music you have a lifetime to make your first album but two weeks to make your second.) Every author I know agonizes over that first book; how it will be received, whether the reviewers will love it or hate it, what readers will think. But the ones I know who write series seem to worry more about the second. If the first book does well, it sets the bar high. What if you can’t make the jump with the next one?
In your first book, you can revise away to your heart’s content. The great lines you’ve saved on scraps of paper find a home; you get to reveal the interesting facets of your characters for the first time. Are they as interesting the second time? Will what was quirky in the first book become predictable?
There are certainly exceptions to the sophomore hex. Lovely Bones was a second book. So was Pride and Prejudice. I’m sure there are many others that became break-through novels.
For many mystery authors it’s the second book that carries the series. You have to get through it. It’s not like the 13th floor in a building; you can’t just rename it and pretend it’s something else.
The Poisoned Pawn will be the acid test of whether the Inspector Ramirez series has legs or not. We’re only three weeks from publication. I’m having those dreams again about failing my exams.