Monday, November 14, 2011

Should you write a sequel?

 I wrote my first novel convinced it would be a best seller. Because of my over confidence, I wrote it's sequel and was about to write the third in the series. Gratefully, my progress was halted by a random writing assignment my friend and I had assigned to each other to spark our creativity.

This little excersise turned out to be the first chapter in my book Fractured Light. I knew the second I wrote it I had something. So I set aside my first two novels and continued writing FL. This time, however, I was careful to tie up loose ends so it could stand alone, but left a hint of conflict just in case. As soon as I was finished, I began another novel, which was just picked up (more to come on this later).

What's interesting is my publisher recently looked at my first novel for possible publication. Their assessment of it was spot on. It was no where near ready for publication. The plot and characters needed some major work. Years ago I would never have agreed, but looking at it now I'm embarrassed I wrote something so messy. I hope to return to it one day soon because I really think it has potential, but until then I'll work on current projects.

Do I regret writing those first two novels?

Not at all. What I learned was invaluable. Sometimes you have to write crap so you can recognzie when you've written something good.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford wrote an interesting article about writing sequels. He said:

"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.

If, however, your goal is to be published, writing a sequel to an unpublished, self-published, or under-published book is probably not your best strategy.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 plot lines, 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. "

How many of you have come down with a case of acute sequelitis?


Kristen said...

I don't have the disease, but I did write three novels that I figured were practice. Never submitted them and I'm glad.

Kelley said...

The first manuscript I wrote is the first of a series. Then I realized how difficult it is to get published, especially when you're trying to sell a series, so I changed to stand alone manuscripts.

Now, of course, I'm back to writing a series. But, the god's honest truth, this one could stand alone if it had to :)

carrieannebrownian said...

I only write series and family saga books in my historical fiction, and will have to resist the urge when I go back to my soft sci-fi books. I find it's a lot easier to work with characters I've known for years than start all over again with each new book. Even if I were never traditionally published, I'd keep writing with the same few sets of characters because I genuinely enjoy writing their stories and seeing their families and towns through many generations.

Kate Larkindale said...

I've never even considered writing a sequel. But then, I write contemporary and there don't tend to be sequels. I do like the odd character from one book to pop up as a supporting character in another though....

Laura C. said...

My buddy Kate has it right. Writing sequels constrains a writer, like a chef only cooking with chicken. It's important to broaden your horizons and try out new characters, new settings, and new dynamics. I enjoy creating those things. I'll never write a sequel unless a publisher offers me a big ole advance. (Like that's gonna happen. lol)

Jennifer said...

I'm afraid I'm guilty, here. My first novel is one in a trilogy and the second is the first in a series. I've wondered about the very points you've made here. *sigh* The sequels aren't written, just outlined, but I can't help but wonder whether I would be better off either rewriting these two to be stand-alone or starting a new stand-alone book. It makes sense to me that when shopping a first book, a series is not ideal.

Honestly, I didn't mean to write just sort of happened...honest.

Rachel McClellan said...

It's hard not to write sequels. You already have your setting, your characters, it's familiar. And it's fun to see where the people who have become your best friends are going to end up. Starting a new book is like moving away from everything familiar. Exciting, but lonely at first.

S P Mount said...

Interesting I should read this today, I have just this second written a real long blog connected with all of this, and especially the part about being embarrassed about something you thought was really great once. But that is the learning experience in this world, I can look at something I wrote a few months ago even, and maybe not say crap, but definitely I could still change it.

Also I have been getting told off by readers of one of my novels for not having the sequel (which is really part II) available yet. I had planned to write six in this series, but as I finish the edit (because I have that obligation and incentive) I'm thinking perhaps that I should tie up everything just in case, but still leave it in a way that if, like this demand coming in now, people do in fact want more as it becomes better known. I've decided to leave my options open, conclude in a way, that it will acceptable to reopen if necessary. Good post I enjoyed it.