This is a sequel post! Get it? Sequel? Oh, I slay myself.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve blogged previously about how to phrase it in the query when you want to write a book that you intend to be the first in a series (short version: you only kinda sorta mention that it could maybe possibly be turned into a sequel).
But I haven’t actually blogged about whether an unpublished author should set out to write a series in the first place. My opinion? You shouldn’t.
Yes, series are popular, especially in fantasy and other genre fiction, yes, people love to read and write them. But here’s the thing: getting a first novel published is really, really difficult. And getting a second novel published can be even more difficult. You shouldn’t be saving your best ideas for the third, fifth, or seventh book in an unpublished series: when you’re starting out you should go for broke with that one novel, throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, and making that one novel as stellar as possible. Sure, leave a few threads dangling if you want, leave open the possibility of revisiting the characters and the world, but the novel should be completely self-contained and satisfying on its own.
If the novel is successful in a big way or the publisher that buys it wants it to be more? Then you talk to your agent and editor and decide amongst yourselves if you’re going to keep going with it or go into new territory. Or heck, maybe then you can map out a five book epic if your publisher is excited about the idea.
But if you go for broke and can’t find a taker for that first novel: Start a new one. Do not write a sequel. Unless it’s just for fun. Agents are not going to spring for the sequel to an unpublished novel.
Now, I do want to make a distinction here between series with a serial plot where one book depends upon the other and series that are set in the same world with the same characters but feature a stand-alone plot. If you wanted to write a new stand-alone novel set in the same world, that I could understand, and when querying you just treat it like a first novel and don’t even mention that it’s the second in a series to an agent until you’ve already hooked them.
But I really think that most times it’s very important to leave a world and characters you love behind and start fresh. Who says you can’t create another world that’s better than the first?
I actually secretly think (I guess it’s not a secret anymore) that this is a fairly good distinction between professional writers and for-fun writers. Professional writers are RUTHLESS with their own worlds and work. They will walk away from something or delete 150 pages faster than you can say Justin Bobby, and half the time they won’t even really sweat it (the other half of the time they’ll start the drinking and wonder why in the world anyone thinks writing is fun). Professional writers press the delete button because know they can do better. For-fun writers linger and linger in the same world or with the same characters and can’t bear to start a new world or delete anything. And unless you press that delete button or start fresh or create a new world it’s impossible to get better.
So if you don’t sell a novel? Move on. Write something new and something better.
I will end with a major CAVEAT ALERT that I’m sure there are all sorts of first time novelists who found great success with series and are exceptions and you can probably name some brand name authors who broke these “rules” and I can think of a few off the top of my head without even trying hard. But whenever I’m offering general advice, it’s all about odds — your best odds are with a self-contained first novel, and when you’re facing long odds to begin with, I think it’s smart to avoid anything that makes you even more of an underdog.