WRITING FEATURE Third Book Syndrome

You think the fear goes once you've got an agent... a book deal... a debut book? Oh no it doesn't, says Kathryn Evans.


I have just handed in a draft of my third book to my agent and I have the fear. It’s not unfounded either – determined to write a book in less than a year, I handed in my new script way before it was ready and it came back to me with an entire handbook of edits. It’s taken me another year and multiple drafts to get it to a place where I think it might be acceptable. And that’s a big MIGHT. 


The ups and downs of this chaotic career choice never seem to end. When you start out, and the rejections come flooding in, you honestly believe that when you get that golden ticket, 




you will never feel like a fraud again. You’ll have ridden the rollercoaster to the top and that’s where you’re going to stay. 


After fifteen years of trying, my debut, More of Me, did pretty well. It won the Edinburgh International Book Festival first book award; was nominated for the Carnegie Medal; sold in multiple countries, and has been optioned for a film.

My second book, Beauty Sleep took another three years from start to finish. I was thrilled when my agent sold it to Usborne, and they made a beautiful job of producing it. It sold well internationally, but in the English language version. Translation rights did not explode like they had with More of Me. Instead of being thrilled that it was winning fairly big UK prizes like the CrimeFest Award 2020, I began to worry about why it wasn’t selling lots of foreign rights. Instead of enjoying the success it was having, I was worried about the success it wasn’t. I felt like I had got something wrong.

That’s the trouble. Our brains pick up on the negative and dismiss the positive. Beauty Sleep has had a really solid reception in the UK but part of my brain, the part that thinks I’m a fraud who’s accidentally got two publishing deals and a fantastic agent– is panicking about Book Three. And I’m not alone.


Carnegie shortlisted Candy Gourlay wrote a really useful and thought-provoking piece when she finished her second book – you can read it here. And yet she was still on the rollercoaster with her next story, the utterly wonderful Bone Talk

With my third book, I started out convinced that I knew what my process was ... but the book had it's own way of becoming, and to go forward, I just had to stop resisting and trying to write it like my other books. I thought I could outline it into being, especially because there was a lot of historical research that went into it. But my outlines didn't work – it was only when I allowed the characters to take the reins that it found its true shape.
Maybe I learned that character is what always leads my writing, but I can't be too sure. Every book has it's own idiosyncracies. In the foreword of American Gods, Neil Gaiman, quoting his friend Gene Wolf, said, "You never learn to write a novel. You only learn to write the novel you're on." 


Teri Terry is a hugely successful author both internationally and at home. After handing in her eleventh book, - you hear me her ELEVENTH full length novel - Dark Blue Rising, she said this: 

Eleventh book syndrome is a thing - honest! I have had ups and downs with different books, for different reasons. After I finished Fated I found it really hard to write - I think partly because it had meant so much to me to write it, and partly because I'd done it on a tighter than usual deadline and I was just worn out. 

This rollercoaster of joy and panic is exhausting and unsettling. So how do we deal with it? Partly we have to accept it. We care because we care. Our books matter to us – you don’t spend a year, two years, three years researching and drafting and honing a manuscript to not care if anyone gets to read it. But we can do other things: 


1. Start something new – let something else take over your brain for a while. 


2. Revel a bit in other people’s new books – it’s a real joy seeing friends succeed. 


3. Do something completely different. There is more to life than writing, even though it often doesn’t feel like it. 


4. Celebrate getting another draft done – it’s a huge achievement. Most people never write one book, let alone two or three or eleven! 


And we should remember, we chose this path. We wanted to do it. So hold on to the wonderful feeling of each success – whether it’s finishing a chapter or winning the Costa, remember the joy we really chose is in the creating of story. 



Kathryn Evans is an author with a background in performance and business. Her debut novel, More of Me, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, won the EIBF first book award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite. Her latest book Beauty Sleep won the 2020 Crimefest YA novel award and was shortlisted for the Steam Prize. Kathryn is a long standing member of SCBWI and currently volunteers as Co-RA for the British Isles region. You can find Kathryn here.

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