Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, March 1, 2010

All About Sequels

Whew! I'm back in the US and trying not to flinch as I face the virtual mountain of 419 queries that came in while I was away. Query response times will lag until I'm able to catch up.

Meanwhile, I get lots and lots of questions about sequels, and while I've addressed them tangentially in the past, as far as I can recall I've never devoted a whole post to them. Until now. Behold as I defy the laws of physics to write my first post about sequels. I guess this is the prequel to the sequel post about sequels.

Sequels are fun to write! Or so I've heard. You've already created the world, you know and love the characters, you may have even left off your last book with plenty of story to tell. What's not to like?

Well.... here's the thing. Sometimes authors get so connected to a world they've created they develop symptoms of a disease I've previously diagnosed as acute sequelitis.

Acute sequelitis is characterized by an aversion to starting fresh with a completely new project even after being unable to place the first book in a series. Authors suffering from acute sequelitis then write a sequel, then the third in a trilogy, and pretty soon have six or ten or a dozen interconnected books, the fourth of which might actually be publishable... if it didn't need the three before it in order to make sense. Side effects include an aversion to yardwork and bathing.

Now don't get me wrong. If your primary writing goal is to have fun: more power to you! Write a fifteen book interconnected series and don't let anyone tell you your front lawn swallowed a neighborhood dog.

If, however, your goal is to be published, writing a sequel to an unpublished, self-published, or under-published book is probably not your best strategy. Placing a book these days is really really hard. Placing a sequel to an un/self/under-published novel is virtually impossible, no matter how good it is.

Unless, of course, the sequel can stand on its own. And I don't mean squint your eyes, fudge some plotlines, and nudge nudge sure thing it can stand alone. I mean it can completely and utterly stand alone and you can credibly pitch it as the first book in a possible series. In that case, well, just pitch it as the first book in a possible series and don't mention the one in the drawer.

As I always say, it's not a series until the second book is published. And yes, it's hard and painful and gut-wrenching to set aside dreams of a massively long series when the first book in the series doesn't work out.

But take it from someone who set aside dreams of a massively long series when the first book in the series didn't work out: you really can create a new world, and chances are you'll like it even more than your last one.

Don't let acute sequelitis happen to you. Sequels should be undertaken only under close consultation with publishing professionals. Talk to your critique partners about starting a new world. You'll be glad you did.


Rebecca Knight said...

I've wondered about this and come to the same conclusions.

In a way, working on a whole new book (instead of a sequel) while I query book 1 is like taking a vacation :). I get to enjoy exploring a new world and have a break from the old.

What's not to love?

Alex Greenwood said...

Rats, Nathan. I'm already into the sequel to my self-published ebook, 'Pilate's Cross.' Now you have me shifting my weight from foot to foot. Sigh. Well, I'm in too deep to stop the sequel now....and I love the characters too much to quit. But I like your point about pitching it as a stand alone book. It will be written that way, anyway.

JMCOOPER said...

Is there a pill you can take for this?

Miriam S. Forster said...

Bwahahaha! Awesome.

I've written four separate, completed novels so far, all of which COULD have sequels. Do they? No.

Sometimes I get the urge to write a sequel, but I usually squelch it. This post will definitely help.

Simon Haynes said...

Using the awesome power of hindsight I'd agree with you 99% - if the goal is to get published asap.

However, if you enjoy writing about the same characters I'd say go for it - and if you do spend a decade bashing out twelve volumes of an unpublishable epic, it's certainly not wasted effort. I would hope that anyone tapping out a novel is also reading how-to books on plotting, pace, etc, which means they're getting an education along the way. Eventually they can sit down and write something new, sell it, then dump their 12 vol epic on an unsuspecting public.

coffeelvnmom said...

*immediately erases tomorrow's blog draft about writing a sequel*

The reason I would love to write a sequel is because I can see so much that could happen down the line to my MC. It's hard to let that go, and not write it all down, so I think I'll do exactly what you said, keep doing it for fun when the ideas come to me, but focus mainly on something new and entirely different.

As always, thanks for the advice!

and JMCOOPER - Ha ha!

Lexi said...

Where were you, Nathan, when I began to write Book 2, sequel to Book 1, the one I learned to write on?

You could have stopped me...

Nathan Bransford said...


Well said. Writing is never wasted effort even if the goal (at the time or in retrospect) isn't immediate publication.

Suzannah said...

To be quite honest, I don't think I've ever read/watched a sequel that I enjoyed as much as its original. Probably not half as much.

Out of curiosity, can anyone think of literary classics(with the exception of fantasy), which have sequels written by their original authors?

Maybe I'm just having a brain freeze, but I can't think of any.

Chase March said...

I think sequels should strive to work as stand-alone books as well. Although, I agree that unpublished writers should probably stay away from writing sequels for the most part.

Munk said...

I hate everything about this post.

So there.

Well, except the fact that you made it back in one piece.

(today's 'hater of obvious truths')

Munk said...

I agree with Suzannah @2:54.
Movies, yes.
Books, no.

Tiffany said...

I can understand the need to write a sequel. Writing a book is so personal, and you become so engrossed in your characters. You don't want to give them up.

It's the same thing for readers. Why do you think serialized television is so popular. It also explains why LOST fans get so excited to see a oldie pop up in new and refreshing ways. We love to take ownership over everything. How human of us!

I hope to someday get Sublime published, and would love to write a sequel...or two...but I have put it away, and have started to write another manuscript. I can always come back to it.

Mira said...

So welcome home, Nathan! Good to have you back.

So, coming back, did you get LOST???? Don't worry, once you go away again, I'll ressurrect that joke. I LOVE that joke.

In terms of sequels, well, I think your points are well-spoken - especially the part about publishable vs. fun. And for the latter, I wouldn't write a sequel to a first book that isn't strong enough. If you really want to write the series, you could go back and make the original work stronger. Or, if it's already published, do a spin-off, not a sequel.

I guess I see myself as developing as a writer over the long haul, and that may mean a number of different works, not just one story. But maybe down the road, that book you put in the drawer can come out again and be worked on with fresh eyes and more skill.

Nice post, thanks.

Munk said...

Sorry for the multiple posts, but I just thought of something. Somewhere along the line I heard advice that pointed me toward beginning my sequel. It went something like this... If a publisher or agent likes the work, they will invariably ask if you are writing a sequel... I assume a "yes" answer is the one they are looking for.

okay, I think I am done for now.


Terry said...

Mine is the first in a mystery series, so that's different, but guess I still need to pitch it that way, as the first of.

T.J. said...

I like the reminder that I'm doing the right thing by putting away dreams of a sequel on the book I am querying and starting with a completely different story that I actually don't intend to write as a series.

Marilyn Peake said...

I wrote a trilogy of middle grade fantasy adventure novels, loved being in that fictional world, and had all three novels published by small press. My next novel is completely different: an adult science fiction novel. In between writing the middle grade novels and the adult sci fi novel, I had a bunch of short stories published – all set within vastly different worlds. As much as I loved staying within the world of my trilogy of fantasy adventure novels long enough to complete all three books, it’s been great fun exploring and creating entirely new worlds. I feel like I stretch and grow as a writer every time I take on the challenge of creating an entirely new universe from scratch. For me, that’s actually one of the best perks of being a writer. :)

Stina Kanaris said...

"Side effects include an aversion to yardwork and bathing."

Thanks, I now have coffee all over my keyboard that came out of my schnoz!

Kristin Laughtin said...

There's also the fact that even if your first book gets sold, it might go under such significant revisions that your sequel won't make sense anymore.

I want to write the sequel to a book I haven't pitched yet, but so far I've managed to refrain and write something different in the meantime. I think I'll outline it just so I don't lose some of the ideas, but that's it. And then, like Munk brings up, if I sell the first one and publishers want to know if I'm working on a sequel, I will truthfully have at least something done!

Oh, and welcome back!

Marilyn Peake said...

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. J.K. Rowling envisioned HARRY POTTER as a series of books, even when the first HARRY POTTER novel wasn’t selling very well and her agent told her not to quit her day job. And, of course, there’s the TWILIGHT series.

Livia said...

It seems like many published authors have the opposite problem. Once they publish a successful series, fans want more and more of the same thing an they end up being pressured to churn out more, even if they're sick of it :-)

middle grade ninja said...

I love writing sequels! I write them all the time! They are not published! I love them anyway! I also love exclamation points! Also, when you're still learning the craft, writing sequels is a good way to speed write to fail foward fast!

J said...

Nathan!! Totally off point--but where else could I ask this--my significant other got me a kindle for my birthday, and I just need to know how long until I get used to it. I have a hard cover Pamuk (Museum of Innocence) I want to read but now I feel like I'm cheating on this lovely gift. And yet when I read on the kindle, it doesn't feel like I'm reading a novel. Too sterile or something.

(By the way, if I were used to the Kindle, Museum would have been a perfect book to order for it--it's huge.)

So anyway, a week? A month? One book? Three? A dozen??



Lydia Sharp said...

I think *planning* a sequel (or even a trilogy or a whole series) is just fine. But save the writing of it for later, and work on something new. The only writers I've ever seen argue with this are the ones who have never tried it.

Ditto Rebecca. It can feel like a vacation... until you start the rewrites. ;)

Kristin, good point about revisions to number one having adverse effects on number two.

And Mira, I think spin-off's are a good idea if you have a minor character that wants to steal the show. Just give them their own novel.

Anonymous said...

My editor asked for a sequel when he bought my YA manuscript. Then he died suddenly while the first novel was in production, and five months after it pubbed, its small press sold the entire backlist and went out of business. With no publisher in the picture, I ended up rewriting the sequel to be stand-alone as much as possible.

In the meantime, the first book has done much better than expected, and reviewers and fans are asking about the sequel (which is more of a companion than a sequel anyway because the main character is a secondary character in the first book). My question is if there's a window of opportunity that's going to slam shut--so I should take the first offer, even if it's from another small press--or if I should look for an agent and a major publisher even if the process may take years?

Justine Hedman said...

All right, question Nathan... what if we plan a series? I'm not talking about writing a story and then thinking, 'Oh, well, there is still more I can tell of this story.' when it's finished. I'm talking about an epic story, that you already know is going to be way too long for one book. (way too long for four books... try seven) Not that it really bothers me either way, I mean, I write for the fun of it because I love my characters, my world, and my story. I started writing with no intention of ever seeking out publication... then thought, well, if I'm taking all this time to write it, shouldn't I try to get people to read it?? I haven't searched out agents or publishers, but is it a turn off to either if they already know the story on hand is a series? Are they more likely to tune us out if we aforemetion this point of our book(s)? Unfortunately, the story doesn't work out that any of the books can stand alone. Kinda the point of the story though.

Izzy said...

Honestly, I don't think I could ever write a sequel. Don't get me wrong, I adore my characters (although they probably hate me for torturing them), but I just love creating new universes. One of my favorite parts of writing is coming up with new characters, fresh setting, etc.

JOHN said...

After the huge successes of Harry Potter and Twilight, I feel like we are being inundated with series writing. I'm glad you recommend single book success. New world? I have to focus on my first world. Thanks for the encouragement.

Nathan Bransford said...


It depends on your goals, but I'd try and keep it a stand-alone and try and find an agent. Even if the first book was a success, unless it sold extremely extremely well it may be difficult to find a publisher to take on a sequel where the original was published elsewhere, unless you can offer them both. It's a tricky situation in any event, and an agent might be able to help guide you.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, I'm not coming out against sequels entirely. Just ones that are embarked upon without consultation with publishing professionals. In fact I'm embarking on a series myself.

Anna Murray said...

Most successful authors in my genre (romance) write the three book series, and in fact many publishers offer a "three book deal" to an author at the time of signing. Apparently this builds fan base and a big marketing push on book #1 can pay off in building a fan base and extending good sales to books #2 and #3. It's an excellent strategy, IMO.

However, as you note, it is important to make sure the books can be read out of sequence or as individual reads.

Sequelitis is only a problem if the books don't stand alone, or if the original concept isn't marketable, and your goal is to get published by one of the big mainstream publishers. In that case you should definitely move on to a new project.

Anna Murray

Anonymous said...

JK Rowling did pretty well with sequels.

Susan Quinn said...

My kid was demanding to know when I was going to write the sequel to the novel I wrote for him last summer (which is still getting polished, but soon ready for query). My answer "when I sell the first book" was completely unsatisfying to him! He already had plot lines, twists, and new characters dreamed up!

I told him he should write his own novel. :)

Amanda B. said...

Yeah, that's what I thought. I'll hold off on that sequal. While I'm agent shopping for my finished novel and can't get myself to dive into writing a new one, I'm working on short stories. It's a good way to slowly pull back from my beloved characters. said...

There is a similar balance of problems in creating a publisher-request sequel of a published novel.

How much of the world has to be re-told? How much backstory for continuing characters need be included? Is Book II all alone good enough as a complete novel were a reader to peruse it w/o reference to or knowledge of Book I?

And do I need to keep the main characters in Book I as the main characters in Book II?

Some readers, I fear, want to re-experience Book I in a series when the read Book II. If I cater to this idea, am I writing a weaker book? If I don't, will these same readers abhor Book II no matter how good or compelling the story?

Sorry for just asking a bunch of questions. But I have no answers.

Nicole said...

I completely agree. I made this exact mistake. However, the second book I made a stand alone book just in case the first never got off the ground. The problem: I'm not sending queries out for the second as a stand alone because I'm bent and determined to see the squeal succeed. I think you just woke me up to reality and I greatly thank you :) I'm not giving up all hope on the first but I need to start sending out the second on its own. Well, off to write another query (I shake in horror.)

Christi Goddard said...

My story is in five-six parts. The first part is one year and stands alone. I'm not even going to start the next one unless an agent is interested in it. It's all in my head and I doubt I'll suffer a great deal of the author sequelus or whatever you called it. I pitch it, as you said to, a stand alone with series potential. If no one wants it, then I'll move on and come back to it later if one of my next manuscripts interests an agent.

Nicole said...

I forgot to add that I am writing my third novel. It is completely separate and distinct. I am having a blast with my new cast of characters and all their messy lives :)
Mistake made, lesson learned!

T. Anne said...

I have a middle grade series and a chick lit series; one has three book and the other two. I don't consider it a waste. Not only was it fun but if I ever decide to pursue them, they're available. For now I've concentrated my efforts on my stand alone novels. This whole road to publication is a learning process. Great post Nathan.

Phyllis said...

When I think of a storyline for a novel, I think of it as the most transforming experience in the main character's life. The one experience worth being written about.

With a series, you don't have that single point of transformation -- you have one at the climax of each part. The stakes needn't be rising either. Part four may be more interesting than part five. With a series, there's the comfort of knowing the characters, but I find the accumulation of stories with one character devalues the climax of each book.

So, I'm all for stand-alones.

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

Does acute sequelitis also apply to those authors who milk a world for all its worth even after most of the readers that loved it when the series first got started have stopped reading because the plot seems to be so recycled its ridiculously predictable? There are a few of my once favorite fantasy authors (all with big names) who make me wonder if the only reason the sequels are selling is because it means more books with their names on them. I guess if a sequel makes enough money, though, the publisher feels like it's worth the sequel, right?

John said...

Thank you for your reply. I find my imagination sometimes gets ahead of my writing. Planting that first book in solid ground seems like the way to go. And if a sequel should come from success, so be it. I'm just glad there may still be interest in stand alone books from new writers. More opportunity.

Lady Glamis said...

So glad you're back! Good luck with those queries. :)

Krista V. (the former Krista G.) said...

"Come up with a fresh idea" is a great piece of advice for us unpublisheds. (Hmm, I think I smell a promising YA title there, THE UNPUBLISHEDS...) And you're right: Chances are, you'll like it better than your queried-out project, anyway.

M Clement Hall said...

As always, a very helpful statement, and thank you Nathan.
I was once advised not to say the book I proposed was part of a series since the agent or editor is made to feel under pressure to accept more than (s)he might wish. On the other hand, especially if it is a crime type book, I was advised it is acceptable to say it has "series potential" and to have a thought what the next plot might be.

AjFrey said...

I can see my current WIP with a sequel. I've mapped out an outline, but I won't write it until book one sells. Book one can stand alone, book two could not. For that - it will remain an outline until needed and will work on something new.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'd just hate to get halfway through a 2nd, unrelated novel and then have to switch gears back to the original one.

Of course, I'd also love it because it would mean the book had sold, but I'd still hate it.

And now I'm babbling. This is what happens when, instead of sequelitis, you get "I've got 72 ideas running concurrentlyitis".

Terry Towery said...

Welcome back, Nathan! Someone asked if there were any "classics" with sequels. Someone else mentioned the Potter and Twilight series.

But I would offer up John Updike's Rabbit books. They got progressively better as the four-book series progressed, with the final two winning Pulitzer Prizes.

Anonymous said...

Normally, I'd agree. It makes perfect sense. But as someone who wrote a sequel and did all the things you just listed, I found that readers of the first book held it against me with the sequel because I created such an entirely different world. The readers wanted more of the original book, and I gave them a new and improved version that can stand alone. They held it against me, and told me so in letters.

And I'll never write another sequel again :)

Lydia Kang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply, Nathan! I'm not a huge fan of sequels, but people were pressing me about what happened to this secondary character. She turned out to have an interesting story that was able to stand on its own. Besides, this and the original are in slightly different genres--the first one more of a YA family drama, this one a psychological thriller (also YA). It doesn't sound like I need to rush to build on the success of the first one but can take my time to make this one the best book it can be.

Rebecca L said...

When ever I write a book, I always attempt to make sure that it'll just be a one-book thing. However, lately I've noticed when re-reading them, and when I write new ones theres so many things left unsaid, but so hard to fit into that one novel. I'm always left with a need/wanting to write a sequel, just to finish off the plot and give it a nice solid ending with no questions left unanswered.

Not that I'm published yet :) I'm one of those 419 queries!

WallyR said...

Hi Nathan, would books in a planned trilogy count as "acute sequelitis?"

By the way, my enchiladas count at San Miguel was much higher than yours!

Best regards,


TJ Michaels said...

This is good stuff. Nice kick in the pants. I've contracted more than 10 books in the last 3 years but the one 'series' I totally love hasn't sold. Maybe it's time to put it on the shelf and leave it there ;D


David F. Weisman said...

I'm sold, but that's easy for me to say, the next two books fermenting in my brain are in different universes than the one I'm polishing now.

Anonymous said...

maybe I missed it, but why do you think people are afflicted with acute (is there mild?) sequelitis? is one book never enough or, is this what happens from watching seasons of (Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, and/or The Thorn Birds)?

IDK if is this a conspiracy of the medical - literary sort (or, the ghost of Michael Crichton has returned to infect the internet?) but the word verification is: dysidema.

Milo James Fowler said...

Good post. I haven't seen another agent tackle this topic before. I'm in the middle of writing a sequel (horrors no!) to a manuscript I've tried to get published--but to no avail. My hope is that by writing the sequel and further exploring this world I've created, I'll be able to flesh out "Book 1" and make it better. Fingers crossed . . .

Lisa Desrochers said...

Welcome back, Nathan!'re kinda scaring me with the "under-published" thing. I know yours was a 2-book deal. Mine was 3. Have you ever heard of a publisher reneging on a multi-book deal if the first book didn't sell well?

And, fyi: When I wrote book 1, I wasn't thinking series. When I finished and signed with my agent, book 2 was just a tickle in the back of my brain. She encouraged that tickle and I wrote book 2 in the two months we were on submission. I agree that book 1 in a series really needs to stand alone.

Sissy said...

I would say that great adult books rarely have sequels, but lots and lots of kid's books and YA books have sequels. And if you read any contemporary christian books, wow, they are always in a series!

I wrote my YA novel planning on making it into a series. Should I rethink the ending so it's not so cliffhanger-y? And yes, that is a new literary term!

Anonymous said...

I have friends in writing groups who are determined that their novels need to be split into trilogies because of the current trend to reject work over a certain word count. I find this unfortunate in that I believe a story needs to be as long or as short as it takes to tell it well.
Some of the series out there–books and movies–drag a story on and on and/or seem to want to take it to the bank as many times as they can keep cashing it.
When a story is complete–sequel or not–in and of itself, it is much more satisfying.
As a writer, I Like beginning anew at the end of a long project (novel).

Vacuum Queen said...

As a mom buying books for my eager reader type of kids, I am generally pulled in the direction of sequels simply because my kids eat them up. If my oldest asks me one more time, "When are they making another Mysterious Benedict Society?" I will implode. And my youngest reads a series of books that has so many in their sequel set that I wonder how many authors are actually involved. Each book is similar to the last and they're not exactly award winning. It doesn't matter to her though. It's a series, yay!

As a result, the writer in me worries about my MG project I've got going. It's a stand alone story. A great story, but it's just all on its own. I worry that I have no chance against sequels in this sequel strong age group.

Thoughts? I'll read through the comments to see if anyone has brought this up.

John Jack said...

As a passionate reader, I'm not all that pleased with the general trend toward sequels of the character genre kind.

I'm okay with series, especially when they take different perspectives on a central dramatic premise of a time, place, or situation, ie, milieu, idea, and event genres, which aren't all that widely developed in the opus of literature, what with the emphasis heavily on character genre.

I think one life-defining experience per central character is enough for any one story, no matter how many installments it takes. More than one life-altering event per character stretches the limits of willing suspension of disbelief. Even the Potter saga only deals with one central quest to resolve one central conflict.

So neatly spanning seven installments, each a stage of initiation into the competent young adulthood that gives Potter the life skills he needs to finally confront and resolve his passage into adulthood.

A series I very much enjoyed because of its different pespectives on the same milieu is Thomas Harris' Hannibal saga. Hannibal in the first novel, _Red Dragon_, is an auxilliary character. He becomes a central and sympathetic villain-antagonist-supporting character to Clarice Starling's starring role in _Silence of the Lambs_.

In _Hannibal_ he becomes ever more sympathetic for his rigid values and mores, nobly human conduct, even if he enforces his warped beliefs violently. He comes into a parallel protagonist's role with Clarice.

In _Hannibal Rising_ Hannibal is fully realized as a sympathetic villain-protagonist. Sympathy with the Devil that readers openly revile, secretly love, love to hate, but personally, inividually identify with his situation.

More interesting as a writer, following Harris' development as a novelist in the four-novel series opened my eyes to that one ever elusive quintessential essence of being that fully-realized stories possess. Passionate empathy for a central character's emotional dilemma.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy writing in different genres, so I have never thought about writing a sequel to anything I have written.

lotusgirl said...

Wow. 419. That's something.

This post has come at the perfect time for me. The first book is done. Whew. I plan on sequels, but the first one can stand on its own (truly, honestly, I swear it can). I started in on the sequel last week, but I have another tasty idea that I've been kicking around and would love to start. It sounds to me like it would be best to invest my time in the new project and hold off on the sequel until someone besides me wants to read it. Professional advice is so nice. Thanks for sharing it so freely.

Lydia Kang said...

Welcome Back!
It's good advice and makes sense to me, personally.

I wonder if there's a treatment for chronic sequelitis...

Jill Elizabeth said...

I think everyone is going a little sequel-crazy these days. Some series are great--you don't want to let the characters go, and you don't have to! there's another book, or 2, or 3 with them in it.
But recently I've come across a couple 1st-in-a-series books that have left me with too many questions, and the worst part is, I don't really care if I find out the answers.

Claire Dawn said...

Re mountain of queries: Maybe you and your wife should just move into your office :D

Nice post! I thought about making my 2nd WIP a 2 book series, but who wants to risk it in this day and age. I'm going to edit the heck out of it and see if I can squeeze it into one book.

Anonymous said...

I don't think an unpublished author should consider a sequel. If the next book incorporates ideas from the first and they happen to live in the same town, that's different. Look at how many of Stephen King's books are all intertwined, but few are truly "sequels".

Also, NEVER consider a prequel. We can thank George Lucas for this bit of advice!

Shelley Watters said...

Nathan - Thanks for the fantastic post! The book that I'm currently writing was originally planned on being the first in a series, but after reading this (and your linked older post regarding writing a series)I am already revising the plot to ensure that it can stand alone on it's own.

Cam Snow said...

419 queries? Was that for a whole week? Isn't that down from last years average?

I think a lot of authors look at their favorite series and say, "I should do that."

What they should really be doing is creating a world or character that is so enthralling that a person would want to read another book on that person.

Nic said...

Thanks for this. Even though i plan to write a series, i know that each book has to really stand alone.

Would you mind doing a query stats on those 419 queries that you have in your inbox? I'm interested in seeing what i'm up against.

Geoff Stokker said...

I like the idea of a connected world for all of my novels without any of them being sequels. So I might include the names of places or characters from a previous novel mentioned in passing without having them have any significant effect on my current novel. So for example, in my current novel Farmer Dave has a son John who went to New York (a character in my previous novel) but who has no effect on the current work.

To use the same 'world' in the next work almost feels a little lazy.

I think Stephen King interlinked all of his books which were all stand-alone novels (except for the Dark Tower series) like this as well.

Rebecca Hawkins said...

Is the same said for SF/F ? It used to be the norm for fantasy books to be pretty epic in volume, now they divide them up. There's so much to fit in a fantasy book. I tried to keep my current project as one book that 'could' have a sequel. It got too big & had to be divided... I want to tell the story, not just put 120k words together for the ease of acceptance. So where do I compromise?

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...

I love sequels. I love getting involved with the same characters and worlds. Both to read and write.

I'm an unpublished fantasy writer who has a couple of series in different writing and planning stages. But, you see, I feel that the economy is tough right now. I have time to write for myself first. And if it turns out my series are publishable, good. If the series aren't, good. After all, it is something I love and will learn from; it is something that I wasn't afraid to experiment with.

After all, there is nothing wrong with writing stand-alones to market, but writing your series books for yourself--to fuel your writing self. Who knows, down the line, maybe they can be published.

Thanks for reading,

S.D. said...

I wanted to write a series about a world, so each book is mostly or all different characters in a different part of the world. Of course, it's mostly self-indulgence that decided to turn into real novels.

However, I do have another series idea. I only write little bits and pieces of sequel ideas when i I'm bored.

Kathryn Magendie said...

When I finished my first novel manuscript, it was over 200,000 words- egads! So, I divided it and worked on the "first half" - made it into a novel that could stand alone. While querying for that one, instead of working on the "second half" I wrote a completely different novel.

The "first half" book was pub'd in 2009, and since the publishers wanted the "sequel" to go next, instead of giving them the completely unrelated book already written, I just put down my head and re-wrote the "second half" and it is a stand alone continuation - it's coming out April. But I had options to offer- the "sequel" or the completely unrelated book.

The thing with writing connecting books-series, or sequels and prequels, is if you write and polish and refine the first one, it has to change what's coming in later books - I know mine changed tremendously- enough that I basically started over from scratch on the "sequel" and scrapped what I'd originally written because it just didn't work anymore.

Jenny said...

The obverse of this is the experience many of us genre novelists have of selling a book only on the condition that it be the beginning of a series--when the book was written stand-alone.

Romance, mystery, and fantasy authors should take care to put in hooks that could make it possible to write a sequel if their book sells.

I can think of one mystery series, for example, where the cop sleuth is rapidly approaching his 80s based on internal evidence because the author never imagined he'd be writing him for 25 years.

My first Romance sales featured protagonists with no siblings or best friends and it has been a challenge to come up with the next book of the series my agent sold. (I did it, but it was much harder than it would have been had I known my first book would kick off a series.)

--Jenny Brown

Sarah Enni said...

@ Kristen L, I'm in the same boat. Going to finish the WiP so it could potentially stand alone and outline what *might* happen afterwards.

But I've heard the same advice here and elsewhere that while you're shopping around Book 1, work on something completely different. Refreshes the mind, and if an agent says "no, thanks" to a sequel (or two), you'll be less disappointed.

Here's hoping!

K.L. Brady said...

I agree with you on this one. I indie published my first book. Now I have two works in progress, one a sequel and the second a completely different book with a whole new character in a whole new world...but within the same genre. I went back and forth about which one I'd finish first and decided to go with the completely new one. Once I'm done with it, I'll query it and then finish the sequel.

It's a little different when you've indie published a book that your readers LOVE. Everyone tells me they can't wait for the sequel. So there is a little pressure to kick the sequel out.

But over the long term, I think my career will be better served by writing something different. I think it will show that I have the talent to write more than one kind of character. And even if it doesn't get picked up, I can finish the sequel with three great books to sell. I feel like holding off on the sequel is more of a win-win for me. That's just MHO.

Anna Murray said...

"It's a little different when you've indie published a book that your readers LOVE. Everyone tells me they can't wait for the sequel. So there is a little pressure to kick the sequel out."


The fastest way to find out whether your book has an audience -- and whether there is demand for the second and third in a series -- is to e-publish (on Kindle you retain your rights and can still sell your book to a big publisher, if that's what you are aiming for).

The readers will contact you directly and tell you what they like and don't like, and what they want to read next . . . they'll let you know (in a hurry) if they like your book and if they want a sequel.

There's no reason to wait for a publisher to filter and tell you this stuff -- there is now a direct line between author and reader (the "interwebs"), and it works.

Anna Murray

Southpaw said...

I love to read sequels. I know that wasn’t what this post was about, but it had to be said. I have notice that several of my favorite authors that do write sequels tend to write other books in-between. Their sequels are always fresh and exciting while established authors that write book after book after book in the same universe get stale.

Mira said...

In the spirit of this thread, I am now posting a sequel to my post above.

In my previous post, I welcomed Nathan back. I then complimented him on his post, and added a thought or two. (See original post for more inforation about the original post.)

I shall now continue with my posting.

After reading the comments, I would like to add one thing. I agree with Nathan that it's good to be aware of the market if publishing is your goal. However I also think it's important to remember that creative vision is important. For example, J.K. Rowling developed plotting throughout her whole series. There was significant plotting that occured in the first book that supported all the following books. If she hadn't envisioned a series, she would have left all that important plotting out.

However, it would be very interesting to know if Rowling pitched her idea to agents as a series when she was first published. What you pitch, and what you're writing can be different things.

Thank you. I will now begin to work on the draft of my next eight posts in my 24 post series on this topic. (Please note that 24 is a modest estimate. It may morph into an on-going serial type of thing. Thanks for reading.)

Cid said...

Thanks so much for writing this! I struggled when I started my current WIP because there is a LOT I wanted to put into it so I did consider making it a series, but thankfully after rewriting bits of it - I can do one book. Why? Because I really want to write other things! Thanks again!

trebmal said...

Good to know. I'd never thought about that before. Though I think my first book is good enough to begin a series, I will take your advice and wait to begin the sequel.

trebmal said...

Good to know. I'd never thought about that before. Though I think my first book is good enough to begin a series, I will take your advice and wait to begin the sequel.

jongibbs said...


If you shelve the first book, I assume you could easily dust it off as a 'prequel' if the second novel turns into a successful series.

Jenn said...

Ahh, the question of sequels ... near and dear to my heart.

After my first novel came out, and the pub date giddiness abated, I found myself longing to return to those characters in a second novel. I wrote a few (dreadful) pages, but (wisely) decided to pursue a completely unrelated storyline for my second novel. Given the particulars of my debut, I knew it was critical to make career choices that wouldn't brand me as a one-trick pony, so I set those pages aside, telling myself that once the other book was complete, I could return to them if I still felt drawn to do so.

Now, thirteen (!) years later, I'm working on a sequel to that first book. I use the term "sequel" *very* loosely, because there's an entirely new character around whom the entire narrative revolves, but those characters that I loved are still very much involved. Other than a few small details, the book looks nothing like those scribbled pages I wrote a decade ago, but it's my hope that old and new readers will find it compelling.

However ... I agree that sequels come with some caveats. So much is dependent upon genre convention and reader expectation (I write literary fiction, in which sequels aren't particularly common, so I'm certainly taking a risk there). And yes, the issue of how to make the second book standalone is a tough one -- for me, it involves constant calibrating of how much information and backstory to dole out (even more so than in non-sequel manuscripts -- you don't want to bore your previous readers with things they already know, but you also don't want to leave new ones going "Huh?"). Personally, I solved that issue (I hope!) by having the backstory come out in a high-stakes situation (a grueling interview) in which the revealing of backstory has a direct impact on the current narrative, but it took me a *long* time to fine-tune that mechanism.

Best concrete advice I got about writing a sequel, though? "Think story, not sequel."

Liberty Speidel said...

Seeing as I read mostly series novels, it seems natural to me to want to write sequels to my books. However, I don't read exclusively series books, and I have a couple projects that will be stand-alones.

My biggest problem will be to find an agent who will accept me and the varied genres I write in, and the fact I like to meld genres!

While I'm willing to allow some of my characters to go into stand-alones as opposed to the series' I have in mind, they'll always live in my head.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I have no problems with sequel-itis, because I don't love my characters. My characters feel "high maintenance," a lot of bother and work. It seems like with a sequel, you'd have to dig even deeper into the same characters. For some reason I think of the expression, "7-year itch," except maybe that should be rephrased, "the 100,000-word rash."

Perry Robles said...

I "wrote" my first book while I labored on my BA.

My mother died.

Entropy ensued.

I'm better now.

I finished the first book, and now, I work on my Master's and have begun a new (manu)script.

I wanted to write a different timeline.

Because of its therapeutic value and exercise. I missed swimming in language.

Does that make me a writer who likes to write, or redundant?

Moira Young said...

I have a bad habit of creating the sequels anyway, but I've improved to the point where I mostly create them in my head and make brief notes. That way, if the original project gets picked up, I already have some clue about where I want to take the story, but I haven't invested (*cough* wasted *cough*) the time actually writing it. The "ideas" tag in my personal wiki may be the most used, but at least I'll never lack for possible stories.

bettielee said...

Yeah... I finally came to my senses and realized my "trilogy" would never get anywhere if I didn't have a stand alone. So I wrote a stand alone in the same world, then went on and wrote another book: new world, new characters, all new all the time. No more sequels in that world... not until the stand alone sells!

Cathy said...

Hi Nathan, I found your blog today and I absolutely love it! There's so many great resources for writers at every stage of the publishing process. Thank you for taking your time to do this. Somehow... eventually... I will go through all of these posts and read them.

Hope you had a spendid time in Mexico!

JTShea said...

' un/self/under-published novel...' You've coined an interesting compound word/phrase there, Nathan. One worthy of some meditation, particularly the 'under-published' part.

simon said...

there's few bigger literary turns off for me than the word series or sequel.

I'm not passing judgment, but almost none of the writers I enjoy take this path in any conventional sense.

There are 2 books by Haruki Murakami that illustrate the point of books in any nominal series needing to stand alone on merit. One of the books is in effect a sequel to the other, but has never been marketed as such and it's not even mentioned on their sleeves. I've known people who've read and loved the second book without ever realising it was follow up.

Big Dreamer said...

I am suffering from acute sequilitis. There. I said it. Now I just have to tie up those trailing loose ends (or pretend to tie them in my synopsis so that by the time they fall in love with the book they won't care I've planned a sequel.) Really, though, I otta tie 'em up, because I can't say, "But- But- I have so much more to tell!!" and burst into tears. Although it's true. And the seqel's written with the third in progress. And I can't combine them 'cuz it'll be too long.
Sigh. Here goes (wince at changing my "baby" beyond repair).

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's a little late to comment, but I've written a children's book. It's been published (or it will be this year). At the time I submitted it to my agent I mentioned I was working on a sequel. I was VERY excited about it. Here I am two years later and no finished sequel. I don't know what happened. I've tried to get it together. I've written another book between times, but I can't finish that darn sequel! Anybody have advice for people who are struggling with a sequel? Thanks.

Bruce Edward Litton said...

Given that both novels can stand on their own, what if I write the second novel in the same world, but with a different theme, the second novel exploring a different take on the protagonist's childhood, with the second novel's climactic action occuring later in the same world that the first ended? Each novel would totally stand alone, but some of the characters and world would be the same.

John Henry Brebbia said...

I don't believe in one size fits all advice. Just finished the sequel to my second novel which, although I vowed I never would, I ended up writing because so many readers of the original story were upset by the ambiguous ending and insisted on knowing what was to become of the relationship between the protagonist and the woman he had fallen for but was convinced was out of his class.

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