Nowadays, especially with the digital-first imprints, it would seem writing sequels and series is a popular path to follow - which is odd, because when I started out years ago, I remember wanting to write one and the idea being pooh-poohed in literary circles. Apparently it was the typical thing any aspiring writer longed to do. Guilty as charged! Although over the years, I lost the urge and thought of my books just as one-offs. On 10th November 2013 Harlequin’s new digital-first imprint, CarinaUK, published Doubting Abbey, my debut novel. When I wrote this romantic comedy, I always thought of it as a standalone story which came to a firm end.
However, as I went through the revisions it became clear to me that the characters had more to say. Fortunately, my publisher is wholly behind sequels and series and I can see the commercial appeal – especially for the digital imprints, where there is more flexibility and less to lose if the series doesn’t work. Several times recently writers, either traditionally or self-published, have said that to increase sales, this is the way to go. When the second book comes out, sales of the first will increase. The original one could be offered at a slashed price, if bought with the follow-up. Plus, each book can be advertised at the back of the other and the first one will, of course, be mentioned every time you promote your new book.
So, now that I’ve begun that project, what are the challenges? Well, if like mine, the sequel is not closely related to the first, with an on-going detailed plot, then firstly, you must make sure that the sequel tells a fresh, new tale – which sounds obvious but I sent off a synopsis for my agent to take a look, and unwittingly I’d put the characters into a similar situation as in the book before, just under different circumstances.
One solution might be to choose lead characters who were minor in the original tale. If the protagonists are the same, you must make sure that the new theme or character development doesn’t simply go over old ground.
Another pitfall to avoid is including too much backstory about the first book (again, if the two books are not, plot-wise, intricately connected). I am trying to make my sequel a standalone as well, so that readers aren’t put off by thinking they have to read another book first, to understand everything that’s going on. However, a degree of information, about the plot of Doubting Abbey, will need to be covered. Someone who pulls this off very cleverly is Sophie Kinsella in her well-known Shopoholic series, the success of which is no doubt majorly due to a strong, appealing very lovable main character.
Another frustrating aspect is that you could suddenly have a brilliant idea of where to take your characters in book two, but can’t because it wouldn’t fit with what happened in book one. For example Gemma’s mother died when she was young – I might have come up with an amazing story for the sequel that, say, needed her to have a fortune-telling actress for a mother who lives in Hollywood! However, as I’m finding already, with artistic license a lot of these wrinkles can be smoothed out.
So, if you already have a publishing deal, writing a sequel might be worth discussing with your agent or publisher. If you are still to snag that contract, perhaps keep the idea at the back of your mind and if you feel your characters might eventually have more to say, be careful how you end book one. Don’t close all the gates!