Monday, May 12, 2014

The Sophomore Jinx--is it real?

One of the first reviews I received on for "No Lifeguard on Duty" (the second book in the Black Horse Campground series) stated: "Amy M. Bennett manages to do what few creators can - break the dreaded "sophomore jinx" that has plagued authors, musicians and filmmakers all over the world - and also establish the Black Horse Campground franchise (if I may use the term loosely) on a firm footing."

The phrase "sophomore jinx" jumped out at me and got me thinking: is there really such a thing?  Is there a special curse or "jinx" on the second in a series of anything?  I didn't do a thorough research of the topic (in fact, I'm waiting for a friend to meet me for lunch, so I'm more interested in thinking about what I want to eat rather than how other people's second attempts at their craft fared in relation to their first.) But I'm sure we've all heard of "one-hit wonders" and it's easy to see how anyone, especially a writer, can fear that their first book might end up being one.

I will admit that the idea of writing a series was both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because I had so many story ideas that it would have been impossible to fit them all in one book.  Terrifying because 1) what if those ideas were terrible, and 2) what if I ran out of ideas?

Of course, if the first book had tanked then my worries would have been pointless. But I received uniformly good reviews and a lot of requests for a second book, so I plunged ahead, but this time my fears were compounded by the fact that I now had a reputation to uphold.  What if my second book wasn't as good as the first? What if I disappointed everyone? What if I disappointed myself?

I think the "sophomore jinx" may very well be akin to an urban legend. After all, it doesn't really make sense if you think about it. One should improve with every effort one makes, so it follows that a second and third and so on book would be better than the first, right?

To a certain extent this may be true; after all, once I was published and my work received good reviews, I felt that I truly did have a talent for writing and that continuing the series would be a successful venture.  I knew more about the craft of writing and the business of publishing than I did before my first book was published.  And I had grown as a writer--my style had matured, my voice had found itself, and I had grown to know my characters better and I had more confidence. Some people have even said that the second book was better than the first.

And I think that is the key to defying the "sophomore jinx"... realizing that you don't know everything and probably never will; that learning is a never-ending process; that improvement, not perfection, is what you should be striving for. I believe that "one-hit wonders" simply couldn't accept that their initial success, no matter how huge, was only the beginning, a baby step along the path to getting better. Or else they suffered from a magnified sense of importance and felt that they wouldn't have to work as hard on the next book (or whatever) because it "should" have gotten easier and therefore didn't put in the effort needed to make it a success.

I know one thing for certain: Book Three certainly isn't going to be any easier to write than Book One was... but I'm having as much fun and learning as much as I did back then!