Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stuff To Consider About Writing Sequels

As writers, it seems we're always thinking about sequels. Should this story have one? Or five? Maybe there's room for a "companion novel." Or a prequel.

Sequels can be so fun—you already know the characters and it's like hanging out with good friends instead of trying to make new ones. But there's stuff to consider when choosing whether or not to stay in a particular story. It's not always a good thing. In fact, I might argue in most cases it isn't the smartest move.

But here are some questions you can ask yourself. Hopefully they'll give you a clearer idea of whether or not you should write out a sequel (or a whole series).

Do you have a multiple book deal?
I know, very simple question, but humor me here. The only sure way a sequel will be published is if a publisher has already contracted to, uh, publish it. Your sequel (or series) should be at the forefront of your writing focus at this point—those books WILL be coming out and you need to write them.

Do you have a book deal?
Sometimes a publisher will be open to buying a sequel (or companion or series) if your first book does well. If you have a book coming out, a book with sequel potential, you could definitely justify writing that sequel and seeing if your editor likes it. If they don't, it kinda sucks, but at least it has a chance.

Do you have "prospects" for your sequel?
Maybe you have an agent, or perhaps a publishing house is interested and asking about sequels. You get that itch to write—is it okay? Maybe. Consult your agent. I'm pretty sure mine would say hold off, but I know every agent and situation is different and maybe that publisher would want some sample pages, etc.

If you have no "prospects," why are you writing a sequel?
Is it because you're high on the story and want to keep going? Is it because you're afraid to move on because you don't think you have other good ideas? Is it because you are 100% sure this book will sell and people will be begging for more immediately? Or perhaps you feel like you don't know where the story ends, and you need to explore the world/characters more?

Whatever the reason, really think about it. Think about if it's worth the risk. Choosing to write a sequel is even more risky than writing that initial book—it's a book that essentially has no chance to sell unless the first does. It's a book that can wait if you have other ideas.

What are the emotional consequences of staying in that world?
Confession time: I've started writing two sequels and have actually finished a whole third one. From this experience, I've learned that writing a full on sequel only gets you more attached to your characters and world.

Which makes it much, much harder to let go of that world when a book fails.

I thought my dragon book was The One. I had many requests from agents, so I thought I better hurry and write that sequel. And I did. It was so awesome, too (okay it was actually horrible and I'd rewrite the entire first book and scrap the embarrassing sequel for something way better).

But when all of those requests turned up with "great idea, clunky writing," it hurt more. I'd invested more into "the series" than I really should have, and it made it harder to walk away, move on.

Are you prepared to change a vast amount of your sequel material?
Okay, say you write those sequels—say you write the whole ten-book series—and then you DO get an agent for the first one! Yay! Awesome! But what if your agent has a very different idea for how the other nine books should go? What if you show them what you've written, and they suggest HUGE changes?

Or what if your agent starts shopping that first book, and an editor takes interest, asks for sequel ideas, and then HATES what you have? Maybe they want the first book, but want to change the rest of the series. Are you okay with scrapping all that work? It depends on the situation, of course, but you have to consider the idea of potentially throwing out everything you've done.

Are you okay with the possibility of the work going nowhere?
It's totally okay to explore. I am a fan of exploratory writing—I wrote a Steampunk book for that very reason last year. But at the same time, the second I start loving something I dream about publishing it. It's hard not to! But still I try to enjoy my exploratory writing, tell myself it's just for fun and learning. There is nothing wrong with that.


So those questions probably sound really harsh. I guess they are. But if you are seeking publication, part of that is thinking practically. Working on sequels is often not practical. There's a time and a place for them, and you need to decide when that is.

I know this is when some people may argue that it's okay to write a sequel that stands on its own as long as it really is a fully separate story. True, but that can be hard to do and I don't think most people think of sequels in that manner. And that would mean you're basically writing a "first book" anyway. Why not try a different story?

Most of the time, it's a better idea to move on to a new project unless you're sure that sequel is worth the time and emotional investment. But if it is worth it to you, then by all means go for it!


  1. Nice wrap-up, Natalie. You're spot on.

  2. Definitely something to think about, but then the question stands on whether or not developing those other books (at least in your head, or jotting down a rough outline), might help write the first book? I've been entertaining that idea, because it feels weird to blindly write a book without knowing the future. But I guess people probably do it all the time HMMm

    Good post!

  3. I agree with you. I would love to write a sequel to my book if that's what a publisher wanted, but I'm not going to waste my time on something that might never sell, especially when I've got other stories I could work on.

  4. Jessica, I don't think there's anything wrong with jotting down notes for sequels! It can help at times.

    In fact, my little ideas for a sequel to my WIP actually became the focus of the book when I rewrote it! I realized I had the story backwards. So yeah, nothing wrong with notes:)

  5. I totally agree with this but if you have ideas for sequels then I would suggest keeping notes or creating rough outlines. That way you are ready if the situation presents itself but not too invested.

    Great post!

  6. I think that's why I tend to come up with book ideas that are stand-alone. I could probably come up with sequels/prequels if it needed it though.

    I may have to direct one or two of my fellow critique group members to this post. :)

  7. You know, I thought of an old post of yours (I think it was yours?) when I almost started writing a sequel to my WIP. I think I get worried that I'll lose the sparkle in my head if I don't get it out *right now*, but despite that, I agree with you. It's time-consuming enough to write a book, and when you don't have a lot of time in the first place, why chase rabbit trails?

  8. I like all the ideas about note-keeping though. I do that; it helps me be less antsy :)

  9. Great food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Great things to think about! I've read a few posts that point out the period in our career before we have agents/editors breathing down our neck is a great time for exploratory writing—or just writing whatever the heck we want. ("Salad days" is the phrase I hear used a lot.)

    Oh, one more thing to keep in mind: Do you have other deadlines/projects that need to be done (esp for an editor or agent)? Writing a sequel as procrastination sounds oh so very tempting.

  11. I wanted to provide the alternate viewpoint.

    I've heard this advice countless times over the last two years, and one agent summed it up quite well: sequels are addicting. If you keep world-building and book writing without selling the first novel, it's easy to waste your time and creative talent in finding a story that works (sells).

    With that said, I've read over and over and over (and over) how sequels are hard. How the second book was more difficult than the first, how the pressure to write a book already sold clashed with the creative energy needed to produce the novel.

    So I discounted the advice not to write a sequel to an unsold book, and wrote one. It was difficult and a huge eye-opener. It took me twice as long to self-edit the second novel than it did the first. I found continuity errors and constantly waged war with my self-imposed word count limit.

    It took me four months and I would not trade that experience for anything. I learned so much about writing and my creative process that it changed the way I write novels for the better.

    When someone asks me if I can write a sequel, I can now say yes because I taught myself how to do it. Was that worth four months of my writing time, even if the first book never sells?

    For me, yes.

    I can easily see how genre world-builders can get sucked into a idea that will not sell. I learn by doing, however, and for me writing a sequel was a vast educational opportunity.

    Your mileage may vary.

  12. I've noticed that some beginning writers will write a monster of a first novel -- say, 150,000 to 225,000+ plus words -- and when they learn it's too long, they decide to split it up into novel #1 and a sequel. This is a really unwise idea, in my opinion. Simply splitting a manuscript in half does not equal two well-crafted books that stand on their own with their own story arcs, etc.

  13. What a great discussion of the subject. I posed this very same question (to write or not to write), and have put it off. You're making me feel good about my decision. :)

  14. I completely agree- I have to admit when I started writing my novel, I had a plan to write my sequel immediately after my first one since it dealt with the same characters. But since starting my first one, I've read so many times not to start that sequel and I totally get it. It's pointless if I don't sell my first novel. So now my plan is to finish my first one, query agents with that, and while I'm querying, start a competely new novel. I have a million ideas for various different novels in my head, so I might as well write them while I am waiting for the other. Then when I sell my book, I can say it has series potential and write a sequel if the editor wants one. Thanks for the advice!

  15. Awesome post, Natalie! When I started writing a sequel to my first novel I made sure it would be a stand alone, just in case the first didn't work out (which it didn't). Now, I'm querying my second, editing the third and have moved on to a completely different genre while I wait. Great advice. Love your blog!

  16. great points-- of particular interest to me is the idea of writing sequels before having a deal, thereby risking a major or even a total rewrite if the agent/editor/publisher wants the first book changed in any meaningful way.

    I originally thought of my current WIP as three books, but lately I've been thinking that it may be better to trim it up and turn it into a single book. Your post may have just convinced me to do so! And who knows, it may make the book a million times better to take the editorial scissors to it!

  17. These are really good thoughts. Also, wow--we both have written dragons books w/ sequels AND Steampunk. Nice.

  18. This is good advice, and I'm glad I took it when you gave it to me a year ago. If you start a new story, what's the worst that can happen? You get a book deal on the old story and have to write a sequel really fast?

    But if you write a sequel, what's the worst that can happen? The first book doesn't sell and neither does this one. Sure you improve your craft, but you can do that with a new book just as well. But a new book has a chance of selling.

  19. I will admit I have a pair of companion novels. They're completely standalone, even though they're set in the same world and intersect for a day or so.

    It was totally unintentional. They started as one book, when they were always really two.

  20. I totally agree with you. What shocked me is that I was at a writers conference last weekend and they said that if you're writing a series you better have book 2 written before you query. I disagreed with them, but they were positive. Thanks for the confirmation that I was right.

  21. This is one of my favorite topics to ponder, and your post raises some points I've never considered before.

    But I can't help thinking of a blog post by Rachelle Gardner where she writes an example of a behind the scenes Publication Committee Meeting.

    At the meeting, everyone discusses whether they should publish x book or not. At one point, the Marketing Director asks if the author can deliver additional books for a series, and because she already has an outline for the second book, they choose to publish it.
    Here's the link to the post:

    So I've kind of been wondering if I need to turn my novel into a trilogy, or at least have a sequel on the way in order to increase its chances of getting published.

    I've heard publishers are more interested in series these days rather than one-hit wonders.

  22. I guess that I am fortunate enough to be so scattered. I have about nine projects going on at once. A couple of them are sequels to the original books but the other six or more are individual stories.

    Thanks for the post.