My last post, Top Ten Thing Readers Hate about Books, has turned out to be the most popular post I’ve ever done on this blog.
That popularity inspired me to follow up with a related article I wrote recently for Savvy Authors (which is a great resource for writers–I recommend it).
You see, many of the readers complaints dealt specifically with books in a series. After starting my career writing only standalone books, I relented a year and a half ago and started my first sequel. My third sequel is close to release.
But I quickly found that writing sequels isn’t exactly the same as writing a standalone. Here is what I’ve learned (so far) about writing sequels. To my delight, most of these points were also mentioned by readers of the Paranormal Book Club.
Since the Savvy Authors article is rather long, I put up the first part now and the next part tomorrow.
The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Writing Sequels, part one
As a reader, I’ve had enough disappointing experiences with series books that I’m wary of picking one up. Too often, book two or three or ten in a series has assumed so much that I felt adrift in a featureless ocean. I wish I had a dollar for each middle book that I started and quit after a few chapters or pages. Most of them were probably excellent, but the difficulties of jumping into the middle of a series made them problematic. If I’m browsing in a bookstore and find a book that looks interesting, I check to see if it’s in a series—and if it isn’t the first book, I often put it back.
I suspect I’m in the minority, because series sell well. Publishers love series, too, because they figure that if readers like one book in a series, they’ll come back for more.
I remember pitching to an editor from Ace Books when I was hawking my science fiction novel, The Trial of Tompa Lee. One of her first questions was “Will the book have sequels?” Like a dummy I said, “No, it’s a standalone.” Her eyes glazed. And Five Star, not Ace, bought the book.
But that editor planted a seed in my mind. I started out writing standalone romances for Silhouette Books, but I plunged into writing sequels for The Trial of Tompa Lee.
I remembered, however, the issues I encountered as a reader. Even though I can only dream about a truly successful series, I knew the kind of sequels I wanted to read. I decided to let my inner reader guide me around the following issues:
- Issue #1: Lots of names from previous books
- Issue #2: Lots of recapping
- Issue #3: Assuming that readers identify with protagonists because they read previous books
# 1: Lots of names from previous books
Having heard great things about the Liaden Universe series of science fiction books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, I bought one—without checking whether it was book one. I’m sure it’s a great series, but the first two pages buried me under an avalanche of names. Those names probably reassured returning readers that they were snugly back in Liaden, but they convinced me I should have started with book one:
- delm (a rank of some sort)
- melant’i (a concept parallel to honor)
- Daav yos’Phelium (person’s name)
- Korval (a clan, though I didn’t know the significance of clans in this universe)
- Bindan (ditto)
- Samiv el’Izak (person’s name)
- Aelliana (the heroine, I believe)
- Er Thom yos’Galan (person’s name)
Page ten is as far as I got. Some day I plan to go back and start with book one, because I respect the opinion of people who say it’s well worth reading. But for myself, I didn’t want to write a sequel that opened like this.
My solution: In my first sequel, The Tribulations of Tompa Lee only one character, an alien, appeared on page 1. On page 3, my heroine, Tompa Lee, appeared along with a sentry (who is unnamed at first). By page 8, I hoped that Tompa was sufficiently well established that I introduced two more characters, as well as the social stratifications of the human embassy to planet Zee Shode. I tried to dole out my characters with an eye dropper, not a bucket.