How to Overcome the Sophomore Novel Slump: 5 Ways

1. Know your quality-writing speed and stick to it. Though it took six months to write and edit my debut, The Outcast, I often worked eight-hour weekdays. I had an agent’s interest in the manuscript; this, combined with the fact that I was expecting our first child, let me know that I needed to strike while the writing iron was hot. My daughter was twelve weeks old when I began crafting the first draft of my sophomore novel, The Midwife, and I simply could not write full-time now that I was also a full-time mom.

My publisher, Tyndale House, kindly agreed and The Midwife’s deadline was set for June 1. The Outcast was scheduled to release on July 1. I cannot emphasize enough how dearly that year was needed. While I was finding my footing as a debut author, I was also finding my footing as a debut mom. It was certainly not always easy, but with my husband’s help watching our daughter, I turned in The Midwife a few days before my deadline. Publishers are far more willing to accept quality material over quantity, so know your quality-writing speed and stick to it. As we all know, slow and steady wins the race! (Just look at author Donna Tartt.)

GIVEAWAY: Jolina is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wolflover82 won.)


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Column by Jolina Petersheim, bestselling author of THE OUTCAST (2013), which
Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and
named one of the best books of 2013. Her blog is syndicated with The Tennessean’s
“On Nashville” blog roll, and she also blogs weekly with nine other bestselling authors
at Southern Belle View. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and
Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live
in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Jolina’s new book
is THE MIDWIFE (May 2014). Find Jolina on Twitter.

2. Set the month before your sophomore release aside to work on marketing. Having a month between The Midwife’s deadline and The Outcast’s launch provided just the right amount of time for me to switch into marketing gear. From June 1 to July 1, I worked at writing guest posts—such as “How I Met My Agent” for Writer’s Digest blogs—finalizing book signings, and connecting with bookstores, readers, and bloggers through face-to-face interactions and social media.This timeframe worked so well, I have already set aside May 1 to June 1 to do the same for The Midwife.

(In the middle of querying? Here are some helpful tips.)

3. Touch base with your previous connections. The best thing I have found about launching a sophomore novel is that—because of connecting with bookstores, readers, and bloggers during my debut—I now have a priceless support group in place, ready to receive and help promote The Midwife. Drawing upon this experience, months before your sophomore launch, check your email’s sent folder for media connections you may have forgotten about. Kindly remind them how you met and the title of your debut novel, then ask if you can send an ARC of your sophomore release. Trust me, the worst they can say is no!

4. Have confidence in your story. It might not be a good idea to mention OxiClean hawker Billy Mays, considering the scandal following his death; however, he kept our attention and sold his product because he had confidence! If you’re going to succeed in this publishing world so chockfull of new releases every month, you have to dare to be different.

Does your sophomore novel have a unique spin? If so, play off of it. At every book signing, I toted around a black-and-white picture that showed the kapped seventeen-year-old version of my Mennonite grandmother, Charlotte. I showed passersby the picture, told them a little about my background, and why I felt so compelled to write The Outcast. The Midwife’s “story behind the story” is even more personal to me—and yet, I know that I need to share it as well. Not just to sell books, but to touch readers’ lives. Which, when it comes down to it, is really what this writing journey is all about.

(What makes an agent more likely to sign one client vs. another?)

5. Approach your sophomore launch with as much zeal as your debut. Just as second-born children are oftentimes not birthed into the same pomp and circumstance as firstborns, sometimes it’s easy to let a sophomore novel be birthed without a large kerfuffle. Fight against this inclination!

Contact just as many media outlets, schedule just as many signings, host just as many giveaways, and write just as many guest posts. More than likely, you have shed just as much blood, sweat, and tears over your sophomore novel’s creation as your debut (if not more!). Therefore, doesn’t it deserve just as large a reception as your debut? So, go out there, dear authors, and confidently hold your spanking new “second baby” up to the world like that creepy monkey in The Lion King.

And, most of all, don’t forget to have fun!

GIVEAWAY: Jolina is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wolflover82 won.)


Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 4.12.53 PM

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14 thoughts on “How to Overcome the Sophomore Novel Slump: 5 Ways

  1. wolflover82

    I actually just completed my first manuscript, although it is nowhere ready for publication I enjoy reading about what’s to come. Congratulations on all your hard work and your new release. I can not wait to read it 🙂

  2. Shennon

    I love that you carry an actual photograph with you to give others a more personal connection to the story. What a great way to interest readers and to get them to recommend the book as well!

    I also admire your organization. My plans and timelines for novels always seem to fall through. Two jobs and three active children make writing harder to do, but I always like a challenge.

    1. Jolina

      Wow! You’re Wonder Woman, Shennon! Writing is my only job besides being a full-time mom, so I can’t imagine trying to juggle all you have to do. You are an inspiration! Keep at it, sister! 🙂

  3. Dennis

    These were all good points to ponder. I especially liked #4, about sharing your story. At what point in writing your first book did the idea for the second form? Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    1. Jolina

      You’re most welcome, Dennis. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I started contemplating the idea for THE MIDWIFE after my daughter was born. My husband and I actually sat at a frozen yogurt lounge with the car seat between us and talked through each plot in the story. I usually have an idea rattling around; the hard part is getting it on paper! 😉 Best of luck on your own writing!


  4. ravensview

    I was confused at first – I thought a sophomore novel meant you’d targeted the YA group.
    I agree that we need to set realistic writing targets and then stick to them. Give ourselves a stretch goal, but not an unattainable one.

    1. Jolina

      Great comment, ravensview! Flexibility is so important in this career. Sometimes we have to set aside our daily word count goal and work on marketing–and yet, we can’t forget why we are doing the marketing in the first place. The story ALWAYS comes first. Best of luck on your own writing!


  5. bconklin

    Jolina, I like your point about quality over quantity. You’re fortunate in having a sympathetic publishing house. Nurturing a novel is very much like caring for an infant, so you definitely have to give yourself credit for doing both at the same time. I think it’s great you were able to draw upon your ancestry to write both novels. Good luck with your promotion, and thanks for introducing me to a new word: kerfuffle!

    1. Jolina

      Hello, bconklin, I do like that word kerfuffle! 😉 Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment, and I agree that nurturing a novel is a great deal like caring for an infant…and sometimes even more demanding! Happy writing!

  6. nwgeorgiagirl

    I read your first book and loved it…can’t wait to read this new one. Thanks for a chance to win a copy!! Good luck on your next book!!


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