by John Briggs
Should your book be part of a series or a stand-alone?
Creating sequels to books is big business these days. It’s the popular thing and profitable thing to do, spurred on by the tremendous success of series like Harry Potter. Authors now, more often than not, conceive their books from the very first draft as multi-part series of epic proportions to relay an immense tale of, one hopes, great meaning or enjoyment.
But does that really need to be the case? Should the book really have a sequel, or seven?
It’s often done for financial reasons. Writing doesn’t pay notoriously well, and creating a series automatically brings some readers from book one to book two. Of course, not all authors set out to write a series, so how do you decide if you should?
Factors in Deciding to Write a Sequel
1. Unanswered questions and unresolved conflicts. Does your book have a cliffhanger; a hero left in peril? Are there unanswered questions about the main character’s future, an unrequited relationship, the lives of her children hanging in the balance?
The more unresolved issues and open-ended questions you find in your book, the more likely it is you should write a sequel to answer them. Some “what if” questions are okay, particularly in existential or literary fiction, but too many questions mean another book. Don’t let their imaginations run too wild. After all, it’s your imagination that brought them to the story in the first place!
2. More stories to tell. This is most often true when you have a strong central character you can drop into different situations, or minor characters you can build a book around. Examine your characters closely. Are they interesting enough — and can you given them another original scenario — to justify a second book? If so, go for it!
3. Sales warrant it. This is the standard in traditional publishing. The more books you sell, the more likely you are to get a sequel. The same should apply to self-publishing. If you sell more than 1,000 copies (which is a lot in the self-published world) consider a follow-up.
4. Your book is long enough to be two parts. It’s an unfortunate aspect of self-publishing that many authors write a number of short books specifically designed to be sold as a series to generate more sales and profit for themselves. If the typical adult book is between 75,000-100,000 words, they write three 25,000-word books when one would have sufficed. It’s a trick, but it often works.
On the other side is that author (and I’m looking at you fantasy and sci-fi writers), who write 150,000-word books so detailed and so complete that they come to define world building. Maybe, just maybe, you should divide that into two books so as not to burden your readers.
5. Readers demand it. This is another big one in self-publishing, and to a lesser extent, traditional publishing. If readers bring it up in their reviews or correspondence with you by saying, “When’s the next one?” or, “I can’t wait to read the sequel!”, figure one out and get writing. Strike while the iron (and ideas) are hot!
Whether you have to write a sequel to meet your own demands or the reading public’s, don’t feel compelled to do it if your heart’s not in it. Better to write one great book than two mediocre ones. Following up your own work can be hard, but it’s harder if your sequel shouldn’t have been written in the first place.
Let’s face it: you often spend years perfecting your first draft, only to feel pressured to write a follow-up, rushing through your second book and leaving it poorly constructed with plot holes and underdeveloped characters. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is knowing when to leave well enough alone. So, examine the questions above, and if your book fits at least one of the criteria for creating a sequel, get busy writing it!
Guest post contributed by John Briggs. John has been a writer for nearly 20 years, starting out in newspapers and eventually spent several years as a nationally syndicated children’s TV critic. His book, Leaping Lemmings, is coming out Sept 6th, 2016.