Sunday, February 10, 2013

Second. Book. Syndrome.

Confession time.

I didn't start reading Young Adult books until last year when I wrote my first YA manuscript. Once I did that, I figured I should see what else is out there. Know my (presumptuously hopeful assumption) competition. I was pleasantly surprised.

See, when I was a Young Adult, the YA category didn't exist yet. We had one little rack in the juvenile section in the library - with everything from James Howe, to Sweet Valley High, to The Baby Sitter's Club ETC. But nothing like there is today.

*mutters about today's teens being spoiled*

Anyway. My budget doesn't allow me to buy many books, so most of the books I read are loaned from the library I work at. Our system has a handy dandy feature that maintains a reading history. Since Jan 1st 2012, I've taken out nearly 500 books. Now, I'd say about 50 of these items weren't books - CD's, Movies, Magazines.

But even if taking half of these as Adult, that's still a crap load of YA books to jam into a year - especially since I didn't begin reading YA until about May of 2012.

Many of my writer friends have been reading YA for years, and were more than happy to give me their recommendations.

I was playing catch-up like nobody's business!And surprisingly, most of the books I read were good! Some great!


Here's the thing.

My writer friends who read these books all along may not have noticed some of the things I have. Similar plots. Similar characterizations.

*I* may not have noticed if I'd read these books over Four or Five years like they did. But because I jammed them into a few months I couldn't help but be smacked in the face by some blatantly overdone things.

*Sidenote, one of my biggest pet peeves is the MC being SO shocked any guy would look at her because, gee she's so clumsy and that is obviously a deal breaker to anyone, and omfg why would any guy ever think she's hot because she's soooooo plain, but every single male in the book basically trips over their erections trying to make her their girlfriend, but she doesn't notice this because her hideous clumsy plain looks block her sense of reality*

But I digress...

From movies to books, you have to have noticed that we're living in the era of the trilogy. Sometimes this is warranted: Lord of The Rings. Sometimes it is NOT: The Hobbit. The Matrix.

Some of them are making trilogies to milk as much cash from the franchise as possible. Other times, it's because there's too much story to be told in one book, or two. Regardless of WHY they do it, they are still doing it. Some more successfully than others.

I've suspected for some time that many YA series' could be done in one book, maybe two. But definitely not three.

Because I didn't have to wait a year in between book one and two; because I've come upon the series NOW when it's complete, I've read the complete story in a short amount of time. And something's amok.

Generally in book two.

Middle Book Syndrome.

Did the author REALLY plan this book? Was it because it was rushed?

I mean, assuming your writing journey goes in a fairly steady pace, and you write the first book and polish it, and rewrite based on crit partners feedback, then maybe you get an agent R&R and then they FINALLY sign you. Say that happens.

Then the agent sells your book! YAY!

But maybe you get a three book deal. OMG! YAY! CONGRATS! Book one is worked on - inline edits, copy edits etc. Then it's PUBLISHED!

But what if you never planned to have more than two in the series, or worse - what if you never even really thought about book two because you were a focused laserbeam of writerly intensity about book 1, not daring to look beyond getting signed?!

So all the sudden you've got to come up with a synopsis for a book two and three in a series you never intended on being a series, but you do it anyways because now there's a contract and it's in writing and the advance has already been spent on paying off bills.

Here's the thing. Book one usually rocks because the writer spent the most time on it. It was their baby. The one that scored an agent or a deal. It was coddled, and polished, and hated, and loved, and cursed, and loved. It had time to percolate.

But here's the thing about multi book deals - they have tight fucking deadlines. You definitely will not have two years to give to book two.

You might not even have 6 months.

And here, in my opinion, is why a lot of the time, second books in a trilogy SUUUUUCK:

Because the author doesn't have the same amount of time to devote to book two. Maybe they never intended for there to be three books, but the good, amazing, juicy parts are the things they have plotted for book three.

Which leaves us wading through a bunch of bullshit in book two - and here's something else I've noticed.

Book 2 usually has no plot. Or not much of one.

Here's my observation of the arc of most YA trilogies.

I said MOST. I know there are fabulous ones out there. I'm ranting about the bad. Don't give me shit in the comments section defending the ones you love. Focus.

Book 1 - Main Character - usually a 16/ 17 year old girl meets The Boy she can't live without. Things Happen that keep them apart. Girl realizes she isn't a pathetic loser, and draws from inner strength. She gets with The Boy and saves the day... but then there's a twist showing the story isn't over!

Book 2 - Despite finding a HEA with The Boy, for some reason the plot of book 2 is generally a non plot of the MC's inner dialogue of neuroses and insecurities about The Boy and her relationship. 'WHY does he love me' 'I can't really trust him' blah blah blah. These "issues" and trust fails are the impetus for 98% of the book. The MC has lost all backbone we saw her gain in book 1. OR there's a REASON they can't be together - LI's safety, or some "noble" self sacrifice from the MC. The only plot comes in in the last few pages, revealing a GIANT "twist" and cliffhanger, which is basically only there as a setup for book 3. This WHOLE fucking book could be discounted and erased by taking those last ten pages, and putting them at the end of book one - or as the beginning of book three. NOTHING would be lost.

Book 3 - More neurotic flailings between the MC and The Boy, until he does something that finally "proves" he was her true love all along. They beat the baddies, and save the day. And live happily ever after.

WHY do we need book 2? We don't. In many cases, and many series' I've read - we didn't need book two.
 And as of late, I've read no less than *5* book two's that followed this formula, wasted my time, and made me regret that I fell in love with the first book.

Because book two has soured me to both your MC, and you as a writer.

I'VE read books out there. I'm assuming you have too. So why do I keep seeing this pattern?


Writers, don't let your CP's get away with this lazy bullshit.

If you read this in a friend's MS, SAVE THEM FROM THEMSELVES! SAY something!

Writers, for the love of all that is unholy, and the last, rapidly fraying shred of my sanity - PLEASE stop doing this to your trilogies!

With each book we write, we should get better. Our voices should shine more than ever. We should stretch and grow! Book two should be BETTER than book one - or at least not make the reader feel like throwing the book across the room, and cursing you out on twitter/ goodreads/ facebook/ to anyone within bitching distance.

(Bitching distance used to be limited to friends and family. Now, with the internet as it is, word of mouth is worth WAY more, and can be WAY more damaging than it used to be. Keep this in mind.)

If you're writing a YA urban fantasy, or thriller, or ANYTHING YA really, that can't be considered a stand alone, then baby, you need to have plans in motion for book two.

Because that agent/ book deal will take forever, then come out of nowhere. And you need to be prepared.

(Also, if I'm your CP and you've written book one, and then skipped merrily away leaving me with a cliffhanger, I probably hate you, and you probably know it. I'm vocal like that.) :)

 Don't wait until you've got a three book deal to try to figure out book two's plot. Guaranteed if you do that, you won't have the time to make book two all it should be.

We can't unwrite a book once it's been published. You can't take a rushed non-plot back. You might not get those readers to give you another chance.

Do you really want your readers to say, 'OMG book one was AMAZING! Well. Okay. Book two sucks, but the series picks up again in book three! Hang in there!' ?

Because, LAME.

Plan ahead. BE VOCAL with your CP's if you see them making this mistake. Spread awareness about this fucking issue, because honestly, I'm going to lose my fragile little mind if I read more of these shitty book two's.

Only YOU can prevent Second Book Syndrome.



  1. WOW! I feel like I should've been following this blog before now. You sound like a good crit partner to have... though I might be a little afraid of you, lol.

    I'm working on a book two right now in a series that isn't a series. But I went the other route, rather than mess up my HEA in book one, book two is in the same world with a new heroine. I hope I am not failing in any of the ways you mentioned!

    1. See that is completely different and can be a way to keep a series fresh. I loved Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, and she recently did this same thing with Iced - which I also enjoyed. :)

  2. So I guess it's lucky I've written at least a draft of the first three books in the series? Well, it would be lucky if I had an agent, and a publishing deal, and a fan base... :D

    1. Soon, My Precious. Soon. Talent - you haz it.

  3. This post is AWESOME. I'm now following you, and I don't know why I wasn't before.

    I have, in fact, seen this problem in action, and as a YA writer I'm glad someone has called it to my attention so explicitly! *Adds plotting o' book 2 to her (already insane) revision schedule...*

    1. Thank you! And yeah I know, like we all didn't have enough to do already haha.

  4. And this is why you are awesome. :D *quietly deletes book 2 MS idea* ;-) Ok, I just finished a book 1 with NO plans for a sequel. So there....which means, if I'm lucky, I'll get a 3 book deal. Right? Which also means, I should probably start figuring out a second book. Right? Damn. See what you're doing to me?!?!?!

    Seriously, awesome post! Loved it. It made me laugh lots.

  5. Great, great post!

  6. I thought it was just me, hating on book 2. Glad I'm not alone!

  7. I've told some of my critique partners that I'm not letting them read Book 1 because I need them to read Book 2 once it's complete so that they can assure me of its ability to stand alone. I think second books SHOULD be able to stand alone; they shouldn't require the first book to hook the reader.

    That said, I love this post, and I'm going to go and follow you on Twitter now. =)