Why I Have Yet to Write a Sequel

Photo credit: AhBook on Flickr
When it comes to reading, I’m a big fan of the series. I love watching characters grow over the course of several novels and really getting to know them as they face increasingly difficult challenges. I love diving back into the world the author has created and discovering new rules and aspects of society that I hadn't previously learned about. And most of all, I love being able to spend extra time with characters that I've really connected with.

And yet, I have yet to write a sequel.

Well, that's not entirely true—after writing my very first novel, I wrote half of the sequel before realizing that I wasn't going to be able to sell the first book of the series and I'd be better off spending time writing something new.

And there lies the problem with writing a series while you're unpublished and seeking a traditional publishing route—if you don't get the first book published, you're going to find it very difficult to find representation for the second book.

At this point I've written eight novels—and with each book I had ideas for a series. And yet, when the time came to put those WIPs away (for those that have been shelved, that is), I didn't allow myself to even consider writing the sequel—and not because I didn't want to.

The thing is, when you're an unpublished writer and your goal is to publish traditionally, writing a sequel before you've sold the first book is an enormous risk, because it doesn't matter how fantastic that sequel is if you can't get the first book published.

It may seem like defeatist thinking to refuse to write a sequel because you might not be able to sell the first book, but rather than focusing on the this might not get published part, I like to think of writing a sequel as a reward, or a celebration of sorts. You see, I've made this unwritten pact with myself that I won't write a sequel until I've sold a book, so the ability to write a series has, in a sense, become a sort of milestone for me.

For now, I've written eight different worlds with eight different sets of characters and eight different adventures—and I don't regret not writing a sequel for a second. The experience of starting fresh with every WIP has taught me that I'm capable of writing more than one unrelated novel, and that it's perfectly possible to fall in love with a new cast of characters over and over again.

And those are two important lessons that I might not have learned otherwise.

Have you ever written a sequel? Why or why not? If you don't write, do you prefer reading series or standalone novels?


Khai said...

It's encouraging to hear that you are able to fall in love with new stories and new characters over and over.
I'm just trying to get my first book done, let alone write the sequel to it! That being said, I'm intentionally leaving ample room for a sequel and characters to populate it, and if it isn't meant to be, then at least the reader will be left pondering what happens after the first story. :)
How is/are your WiP/s going, Ava? What do you have planned to begin/complete in 2013?

Grace Robinson said...

This is a really good point, Ava. I love series, too, and I'm writing one right now - a trilogy. But I'm still unpublished. :-P I don't think I'll shelve it and switch to something else until I've at least finished draft 1 of the second book. But you're right, and I've heard it from other professionals in the publishing industry, that it can be hard to sell a series as your publishing debut.
Well, here goes nothing, I guess! ;)

Emily Mead said...

All my favourite books are series'! Okay, that's not true. I love all John Green's books and Sarah Dessen's books.

But I don't write sequels either, and not for the reasons you've said - although they are perfectly true. I write YA contemporary, and while it's possible to write a series, it usually only takes one book to get your point across. It depends on genre, I guess.

Ava Jae said...

Writing unrelated novels is actually pretty encouraging to yourself, even--it really allows you to break past the fear that you won't ever be able to accomplish the massive feat of completing a novel again. Once you finish your first novel (which is an accomplishment in itself, that deserves celebration) and put it aside to cool down, it can be very helpful to start thinking about a new, unrelated novel.

As for my writing plans, I'm working on a lot of brainstorming right now. I don't have any solid plans yet, but there will invariably be another WIP written, and most likely quite a bit of editing on previous WIPs. :)

Ava Jae said...

Good luck, Grace!

Ava Jae said...

Genre is definitely a factor--as you said, YA contemporary tends to avoid series for various reasons. In my (reading) experience, they work really well as standalone novels. :)

SusanKayeQuinn said...

The thing is, when you're an unpublished writer and your goal is to publish traditionally, writing a sequel before you've sold the first book is an enormous risk, because it doesn't matter how fantastic that sequel is if you can't get the first book published.

Ok, here's my counter-argument. :)

(First, if you'll EVER consider self-publishing, that series won't go to waste.)

But if you're determined to NEVER self-publish, here's why writing a sequel (and a trilogy) is a good idea, even if you're going the trad-pub route: writing a sequel is HARD. Writing a story arc over three (or more!) books is HARD. It's a writing challenge. If you're going to write 8+ books anyway, there's no reason to not include the challenge of writing a longer series in those lessons learned along the way.

Or you could wait until your trad-pubbed and suddenly your publisher wants to have synopses of all those books in the series. Yesterday. And you've never written a trilogy before.

Just something to think about...

(And you never know where that trilogy may end up in the end. :))

Ava Jae said...

Interesting thoughts, Susan!

You're absolutely right about self-publishing, which is why I didn't mention it while writing the post. If you choose to self-publish, just about anything you write has potential for future use, series or not.

As for waiting or not waiting to write a sequel when it comes to traditional publishing--a good middle ground I've heard is to plot out the future novels in the series that you would write if you got the first book published, then move on to something else. This has two benefits: a) you know where the series would go if you did get it published and b) if you didn't get it published, you wouldn't lose much.

I think having the synopses in advance is a good idea, and while I agree that writing sequels is certainly not a simple task, I still think waiting would be better in the long run, at least it is for me. :)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You made some great points.

Laurent said...

I think that writing a series will net more money and fans then 8 totally unrelated books. One because of the Phoenix effect. That is when you write a sequel and when a person reads the sequel and likes it he looks for your other books. Your former books. The books that's part of that series that you've already published (there's a decent chance of that to happen with 8 totally unrelated books, but the chances increase when you right a series). Here's a link to back me up. http://bestsellerlabs.com/the-hottest-tip-no-fiction-writer-can-afford-to-ignore/

Ava Jae said...

I actually agree that once published, sequels are a great idea. My post was more about why I haven't written a sequel yet as an unpublished writer, which is a little different. :)

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