Hi writers. Welcome back!
Today’s podcast episode is inspired by a workshop I recently ran for mid-career faculty at Rutgers University.
The topic was the challenges of writing your second book.
They asked me to run this because most book writing advice and job advice in general is geared towards helping junior faculty.
This makes sense in a lot of ways because junior scholars have the most to learn about the rules, both written and unwritten, of publishing and of their institutions that will move their careers forward.
But by the time you get tenure, there’s an assumption that you have it all figured out and the mentorship often stops or at least gets pared back significantly.
And if you’ve managed to publish a book during that time, the expectation is that you will definitely be able to do it again.
Why wouldn’t you?
Today, I’m going to talk about the reasons why that’s not necessarily the case.
I’ll also give you a reflective exercise to think through ways to make the process of writing your second book more manageable.
And for those of you who are working on your first book and think that this topic might not apply to you, you’ll still get value from taking a sneak peak into what’s in store for you in the future!
Why Writing a Second Book is So Hard
I’m going to start things off by talking about why writing your second book can be so hard.
I think this is super important because SO much attention is given to talking about why getting the first book out feels like an impossible feat.
By the time you’ve reached the point where you’re writing another book, you’ve mastered a huge number of skills that you didn’t have as a novice author.
You’ve written a full-length manuscript!
To do this, you’ve worked on developing your voice and tone, as well as practiced crafting an interesting and unique argument that serves as a through-line connecting the different chapters of your book.
You’ve also gone through the nebulous process of obtaining a book contract, whether it was advance or traditional.
(And if you have questions about the differences between the two, listen to my last episode on advance contracts).
You’ve also gone through the whole publishing process…
Which included giving input on your cover, creating a marketing plan to promote your book, and possibly having your book be reviewed by experts in your discipline.
You might even have won some awards.
In all likelihood, you have a thicker skin and more self-confidence than before your book came out.
That said, your book might have been published a number of years ago and be something you might or might not be that proud of.
Or it could have been such a harrowing experience that you would never want to repeat what you did before, but aren’t sure what to do instead.
As I’ll talk about, all of these scenarios can serve as challenges to writing your next book.
So let’s get to five different reasons why writing your second book is so different from writing the first!
#1) The first reason is that you don’t have the same external motivations to publish it.
The majority of authors feel huge external pressure to publish their first books.
Publishing a book—or at least having it under contract—can help people get jobs and fellowships as well as earn tenure.
When it comes to your second book, you are probably further along in your career. You’re likely tenured or at least don’t need a second book to secure it.
One of the things that second-time authors can miss about the experience is the time-boundedness of the project.
The clock is no longer six years give or take, so the motivation can feel lower.
So instead, you need to locate internal sources of motivation.
And that can be hard when you’ve spent so many years doing just the opposite.
#2) The second reason I believe this process is so hard is that it’s more about legacy than about proving yourself.
So most peoples’ first books come out of their dissertations.
The purpose of a dissertation is to prove to your committee that you’re an expert worthy of being granted a PhD.
A lot of times authors extend this mentality to their first books, which become all about proving to your discipline, your colleagues, your employer, and the experts in your area of specialization that you’re a force to be reckoned with.
With a second book, you’ve already proven yourself as an expert in your field. Now it often becomes about legacy, or what you want to leave behind for future generations.
This is something that can very much relate to age.
I’ve been reading a great classic self-help book called Transitions by William Bridges.
He mentions that around age 40 is when professionals often shift from wanting to prove their competence to doing personally meaningful work.
This is where a lot of authors start wanting to do more public-facing writing that is more accessible and appealing to a wider audience.
They might choose to pursue a trade press instead of an academic press, which is a whole other set of issues I’m not going to get into right now.
Suffice it to say that the second book often coincides with this timeline and shift in perspective that Bridges talked about.
#3) You have more options and, therefore, more choices to make.
Because you don’t need this book for tenure, you can choose to write a book on absolutely anything you want.
Having things be this open-ended can actually be quite scary or overwhelming, and it can be difficult to choose.
You might have TOO many great ideas and can’t decide what to focus on.
One of my coaching clients is a full professor who’s been caught between two very personally meaningful book projects for almost a decade.
She’s been making incremental progress on both over the years, but has switched back and forth depending on getting fellowships and funding to pursue one or the other.
But not choosing one to prioritize has slowed things down significantly for both projects.
What I’ve been working on with her is to use her core values as a guide to make a decision and stick to it.
Once she focuses her energies on writing the first book and being inspired by fully internal motivations, she’ll write it so much faster and be able to get to the second one soon enough.
#4) The experience of the first book leaves an impression.
Some authors feel stuck because they’re trying to live up to the reputation of their first book—especially if it was seen as groundbreaking or won awards.
This can be harder to do with a second book for which you likely don’t have years and years to spend on research, thinking, and theorizing than when you were a grad student.
You also likely don’t have the same level of input from mentors and advisors.
On the other hand, authors might put a lot of pressure on themselves to write a really big, important book if the first book is something they’re NOT that proud of.
I know lots of authors who say they have some regrets about how they wrote it or the press they ended up publishing with.
Or, in some cases, the process felt rushed because people needed to get the manuscript out for review to solidify their tenure case.
Both are tough situations to be in.
#5) The last point builds on the last one and is perhaps the most important, in that you have SO much less time now to write and think.
When you’re a grad student, you tend to think of tenure as this golden ticket to security and freedom. The perception is that you get to pursue all the things you ever wanted since you can’t be fired.
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
On the one hand, tenure as an institution is now being threatened in a number of states and universities, but I digress on that.
On the other, once you get tenure, you are no longer protected in any way from service.
Furthermore, the expectations that you’ll take on much more responsibility at every level are heightened.
People who are tenured find themselves running institutes, being chairs of very time-consuming committees like search committees and graduate program directors.
They’re also likely mentoring a large number of students and potentially junior faculty as well in their institutions and across their disciplines.
Also, once you reach your mid-career in academia tends to coincide with the peak of childcare and eldercare responsibilities, so your time might really not feel like it’s your own.
It’s no wonder that studies show that associate professors have the LOWEST rates of satisfaction compared to their assistant and full professor peers.
A study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that,
“the feeling of relief at becoming a tenured associate professor cedes quickly into a ‘letdown.’ Along with tenure comes an increased teaching load, greater expectations for service and advising, a more competitive market for grants, and the disappearance of mentoring programs that supported them as early-career faculty.”
Making a New Start
So if you are a mid-career faculty member who is having a hard time getting your second book written, you have very good reasons for this and are not alone!
Now I’m going to ask you some questions that can help you reflect on who you are now as a scholar and what you want your contribution to be in terms of your second book.
If you can, grab a pen and paper and take some time to write down your answers so you can reflect on them later.
1) How have you grown as a scholar since your first book was published?
Think about all the things you’ve learned and achieved and how this can all be applied to your next project.
2) Why is it important to you and your future legacy to write this book?
You might want to think about this in terms of the contribution you’d like to make to society that is bigger than what your first book could do. In other words, how do you want the world to be different and better as a result of this book being published?
3) Thinking back to when you were writing your first book, what worked well for you in terms of process?
In other words, how did you get it done? What systems did you use to manage your time and the different pieces of the manuscript?
4) What DIDN’T work well? What do you want to do differently this time around, and why?
This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
5) How do you want to FEEL as you’re writing this book? What concrete steps can you take to create this feeling in your writing practice?
The reason I ask this last question is because my philosophy on writing is that the better you feel as you write, the more you will actually produce.
So being intentional about wanting to feel good, however you define that, is extremely important.
When you’re writing a second book, you have the chance to undo bad habits you may have fallen into with the first one. (I imagine it’s like having a second child!)
Summing It All Up
So I hope this episode has helped those of you who have already been through the wringer of academic publishing once to find a smoother path forward with your second manuscript.
You are lucky in that you no longer need to prove to yourself and others that you are capable of writing a book.
But it’s up to you to locate the internal sources of inspiration to get this done when you likely have so much less mental space than you did before.
Reflect on who you want this book to serve and how you want to feel and grow through this process—things that often get neglected in the rush to get the first book out.
Next time I’ll be back with some practical tips for how to get unstuck with your writing.
Take care until then!