Friday, November 06, 2009

To sequel or not to sequel

(As a sidenote, we are surviving here at Casa Rappaport Agency. My husband still has swine flu, I may or may not have it, and we are taking preventive measures because we don't want the cat to get it. Yes, cats can catch swine flu. Odd, I know. She is confused and sad about not being able to sleep on the bed, since my husband is occupying it. I get the couch. Also, I can type, but I must take breaks... onwards to the topic!)

Anyway, one of the most common questions I'm asked as an agent is this one, roughly paraphrased:

"I have written a wonderful book. It is the first in a series of X books (where X>=3), and I am now shopping it around to agents. Should I write Book 2 in the series?"

Now that's all well and good. As a reader, I love big, fat series. As an agent, not as much. And here's why: if I can't sell the first book in your series, then I'm not going to be able to sell books 2 through X for you. So you're going to have spent however many months of your life writing the next three books in your series, and I'm going to have to tell you to write them off as practice.

But surely that doesn't happen, you say. You point to authors who have done just that, and then their agents have sold the first six books of their series all at once, and see, they should have been writing the next books.


You have to think of this practically. Do you want to spend the next ten years of your life writing something that will never be published? Do you really want to invest that much time into something so risky? Or would you rather write the first book of your series, outline the others, and then start a new, different project? Because once that first book of yours doesn't sell, I'm going to ask for what you have next... and wouldn't you like to have something to show me?

Of course, there is the common caveat I give to all writers. If the book is burning inside you to the point where you will literally go mad if you don't write it, then write the sequel. But if you don't have that intensity and desire, then write something else.

Stretch your wings as a writer. Try writing something in an opposite POV than the one you just used in your prior novel. Try making your protagonist a different gender. Switch between genres. Think of new and interesting things. And experiment with them because that's the only way you're going to learn as a writer.

It may take you five novels to get published, but if each of those novels is a different one from the one before, then you know what happens when Novel #5 sells? You'll have the experience and the writerly toolbox to whip out the sequels to it. =)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great advice - I must admit to not being a huge fan of sequels of any kind, but some of my characters do want to come back.

Sorry to hear about the swine flu - my recovery took way too long and I don't envy anyone with this particular flu.

Julie Butcher-Fedynich said...

Oh, thank goodness. Now I'm glad I started another series, in a different genre and a singular POV. I figured that The first in the other series might need so much revision that the second would be a waste of time, it would need revision too.
So glad you can type again!

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting point, especially since you represent fantasy. I can hardly name more than a few fantasy authors that don't write sequels, at least among my favorites.

Are expectations different across genres?

Adam Heine said...

A really good post. I was thinking about this very thing 4 months ago. Fortunately I made the right decision, but it was a near thing.

Ash. Elizabeth said...

Great post. My current WIP is a YA veronia mars-esqu mystery and, well, i wouldn't write a sequel for it because while it would be nice to have her keep solving things, i don't want to spend forever on one single book even if i'm in love with it (its my third book and by far the best i've written character-wise)

anyway, i agree with the last part about experience i've learned so much writing books that i don't regret any of them. they built me up to this awesome "high concept" as an agent called when requesting my full and yes i had to google it. embarrassing right? I'm still unclear about high concept. . .awell. Another thing to learn : )

Ash. Elizabeth said...

P.S.--my uncle had swine flu, but he's happily recovered and has three dogs. None of them caught it if that helps : )

Brian Buckley said...

I have the opposite problem. I'd prefer not to write sequels if I can avoid it; I'd like each book to be a stand-alone work. Will that fly in the publishing world, or will I be forced to write a series to stay in business?

I'm writing science fiction, if that's relevant.

Marissa said...

I had the idea for a series, but I'm fixing some things in the first book of that series now. I'd never planned for it to go beyond four books, because I don't like the thought of an "unending" series.

Lisa and Laura said...

Could not agree more. Our agent just sold our first book in a proposed series and while we were on submission we worked on a book completely outside of the series. It actually helped keep us sane because we had a Plan B if the book on submission didn't sell.

We do have a friend writing a sequel for NaNo and I think that's a little different. If you're going to write 50,000 words in a month they should be words you're really excited about writing. And on the off chance that the first book doesn't sell, she'll only have invested a month in the book.

Matthew Delman said...

This is the exact reason I left my first novel (book one of three) alone while people read it and started on a new standalone.

Well, that and I had only the barest of clues as to what would be in Book Two.

On a good note, the current WiP that I started to get away from that first one has gotten off the ground quite nicely.

rebecca said...

Goodness, Jenny, I hope you and your husband feel better soon! I'll keep you guys in my thoughts!

Suilan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia said...

Great advice, but really just what I expected.

Abbi said...

(I hope you are all better soon...all five in my house made it safely through the swine flu)

Your point of view on sequels was incredibly helpful! I have just found a publisher for my first YA novel and I have started a second book that is not a sequel to my first. I've been debating putting my current idea on file and start on a sequel to book number one. I think I am just going to continue typing away at my new one and if I feel the desire to go back one day and write a sequel I will :)

Tochi said...

It's interesting that you mention sequels as I've just finished "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins.

I picked up the Hunger Games based on your recommendation and it was a very enjoyable read. Surprisingly good, I'll say. When I found out it would be a trilogy, I thought "oh great, here we go. Another Prison Break type plot that should have been ended after Season One. What are they going to do? Throw her back into the games?"

and lol, that's exactly what happened. I'm not really a fan of the sequel. I think it's just played out, especially for certain stories that only need a part 1.

ryan field said...

I had swine last year and it was awful. Hope ur husband is feeling better, and you don't have it.

Admin said...

Great articles..thx

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent advice. This is something I've thought of, and I decided to start off with only books that can stand alone--though I could make them a series if they sell. Glad to know I was thinking the right way.