How do you know if you should write a sequel?

So my experience is a little different from my fellow Leaguers sequel-wise, since The Eleventh Plague is a standalone. It was, however, sold as a part of a two book deal and now that I've finished the first draft of that second book, Magisterium, I'm thinking there very well could be a sequel to that one.

Contemplating this, the question I've been asking myself the most is...how do I know? How do I know if my idea is sequel worthy?

Right now, books being a series almost seems like the default position. What isn't a series these days, right? But as a writer, choosing to write a sequel means another couple years, or more, of being totally immersed in a set of characters and their world. If you're going to do it you better be pretty darn sure it's the right thing to do.

Now, I'm still figuring this out. I don't have the answers, but here are some questions I've been asking myself as I contemplate heading to sequelville.
  • Do I have more story ideas? Simply put, can I think of new and compelling challenges for the characters? Even more simply put, can I think of neat stuff I want to see happen? In some ways plot points are, or should be, like a big toys. You should be excited about the idea of playing with a scene where character X finally meets character Y, or joins a revolution, or--as is possible in the case of my book-becomes a cyborg.
  • Does this world still interest me? Is the world of the book big enough and rich enough to stand up to further exploration? Did the world change in an interesting way at the end of book 1? Is it continuing to change? Do you still want to play in that world?
  • Are there new places to go with the characters and relationships?  To me, this is the key question. You can think of all the clever story ideas you want, but if they aren't anchored in a strong, and fresh, emotional journey for your characters then they don't matter.  Do your characters still have unresolved issues they need to work on, or did the end of book 1 throw them into such a different place in their life that there are entirely new internal and external conflicts to explore?
For me, the answer to all these questions needs to be a very emphatic yes. If not, then no matter what the market wants, a sequel or sequels probably isn't a great idea.

What do you guys think? What other things should a writer be asking themselves when contemplating writing a sequel or a series? How would you make the decision?

11 comments:

Cat said...

Very interesting post! I've always wondered how authors figured out if they should write a sequel.

Artemis Grey said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this post! As someone who's currently querying agents, I have had so many well-meaning (lay) people suggest that I should make the book I'm querying (dystopian YA) part of a series. They reason that series are huge right now, everyone has a series, all debut authors debut with a series. I've also had several people who ARE part of the industry suggest that I query a series because it looks like I'm more marketable in the long run.

Problem is, the dystopian YA is a standalone. Sorry, it just is. There isn't anything more to tell about the MC. I do have 'companion' novels outlined, set in the same world, but they take place in different times, with different characters entirely.

Having gotten a lot of good feedback from agents, with lots of assurances that I'll nab someone eventually with the dystopian ms, I had started to believe that maybe I SHOULD change the book so that I could write a sequel, even though I don't think there really IS a sequel. This post reaffirms to me that I'm right in NOT changing the book. There simply is no sequel in this story, and it should stay that way.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Absolutely Artemis. I know totally where you're at. Sometimes I feel like a fool for not doing a sequel to 11th Plague, since that's clearly where it's at, but if it's not right, it's not right.

Glad you like the post!

Jenna said...

I think one of the biggest question should be "can I continue the story in a fluid manner?" I've read some series that are so choppy from book to book they might as well change all the character names and turn each book into its own stand-alone. One book should lead into the next, and then into the next, etc., as far as I'm concerned. Sequels for sequels sake have always kind of irked me.

cmobrien said...

Jeff,
I agree with you that the potential for the character is pivotal. Here's another factor. If your editor offers you a multiple-book contract based on the first book and has total faith in you, then you should take the challenge. A writer grows with the series.
All best,
Caragh

Joy D. Fanning said...

I agree with Jenna. It has to flow and feel like you are just reading where the last book cut off.

As a science fiction writer I feel like my books have to be able to have sequels. When I am thinking of an idea for a book, I try to play around with it before I even put it on paper in my head to see if a series would be able to come from it.

Donna Hole said...

Interesting points.

My trilogy came about b/c I noticed three separate, viable stories in the original. Certain situations were glossed over in the interest of saving word count, but when explored by the characters, seemed appropriate to relate in the novel.

So I split it, then split it again to get three separate time periods in my character's life. I had originally planned on 4 books, each with a unique character and age difference. When I discovered I could explore all the issues with one character's life, I was pretty excited.

Each novel can stand alone, but the endings leave the reader wondering what will come next for the set of characters they've become so intimately involved with.

B/c life is like that; phases of growth and change. Months or years of the same old blah, blah; then suddenly your world changes - kids move out, spouses have affairs, jobs end without warning - and a new mind set is required to cope.

I could go on and on . .

I love series novels. Must be why I'm writing in that mind set :)

..........dhole

Donna Hole said...

@Artemis:

I'm a fantasy reader mostly - though I do write in women's fiction too. So I'd like to respond as a reader . .

Sometimes, its not the "characters" I want to follow on into another story. In fantasy and sci-fi, the world is just about as important. One set of characters may have completed all the story the reader can relate to. But, secondary and inconsequential characters may have other adventures that intrigue the reader, and further develop the world.

Jeff's second point, "Does this world still interest me?" is a valid consideration for your dystopian world. Perhaps a non-essential character in the novel mentions an interesting event that, while not relevant enough in the original novel to explore, peaks the interest of the reader, and you could expand on this character and their role in the original plot.

So your "different characters" and "different time" could be a prelude, or aftermath to the original events. Very little need tie into the first novel.

Hmm, maybe that's not so much a sequel as it is a series.

Still, you put a lot of time, energy and research into your dystopian world, I would hope you can use it to create more stories of interest. Like I said though, I like series books; and they don't all have to have the same MC. The events, timeline, and culture have to remain constant; but its the world that is important.

.......dhole

Artemis Grey said...

Very good point Donna! I agree with you totally. In the case of my own dystopian, I'm not sure that any of my secondary or even thirdary (made that word up on the spot!) characters have much to say, but the world itself is something that interests me very much. In the companion novel I've got mostly written, we follow another young girl who's grown up secluded from the entire world that was represented within the first book, and this second book is about her discovery of it and all the complications that discovery brings... all of which is complicated by the tiny fact that she can manipulate death itself...

I do like series too, including ones where the books don't all follow the same character. My gripe comes in with the idea that 'a series is better' when it might not be. I'm not sure where the line got blurred between 'good writing' and 'marketable writing' and I feel that it has gotten blurred.

Of course, I've been personally affected as several agents have said to me (in rejections) that my writing was very strong, with a great voice, and so on and so forth but 'that in this market it's much easier to sell a debut author's work to a publishing house if there is a foreseeable output from that author in the form of multiple books, and as yours is a standalone I feel that it would be a difficult sell.'

I understand that, I do. I am, after all, trying to make this my life's work. And looking back on those few (really, only several alluded to this) I'm comfortable saying that they weren't the agent for me. But it still smarts, to hear a remark that practically says 'hey, I might have offered if it were a series' from someone who's also said 'your stuff is great' is like a public flogging, in a way. Although I haven't, and won't, structured a conventional series around the dystopian, I did begin stating that there are companion novels in my queries. And for the time being, I've stopped querying it entirely and I'm focusing on a retelling and an urban fantasy, preparing them for the query process.

Author Guy said...

If the story is still talking to you, there may be sequel possibilities.
If you can write a sequel without breaking any of the rules you set up in earlier books, there may be sequel possibilities.
If the story as already written has any open issues, then there may be sequel possibilities.
If the story has an ensemble cast and the focus can switch to one of them, there may be sequel possibilities.
If the ending of the first story doesn't have to be undone for the next, there may be sequel possibilities.
There's nothing worse than a sequel that breaks one or more of these principles.

Laura Marcella said...

Awesome post. These are all really significant questions to consider. Thanks for the tips!