To Be Continued: 7 Tips for Writing Your Sequel

I’ve been picking at my own sequel for about 4 years, now.
I know, I know…
Pick Your Sequel
Alas, it’s shameful but true.
The second book in my vampire series has been something of a best seller for the publisher who picked it up. Therefore, a similar, follow-up title should be an easy way to engage readers and make money.
So why can’t I seem to finish this sucker?
Is it good, old-fashioned procrastination or perhaps laziness on my part?
Well, 2 books in the series were therapy books. I wrote them in a truly terrible time in my life when I hated everything and cried a lot.
To finish the sequel, I’ll need to revisit some dark issues, and I don’t wanna. I like to think that’s not who I am anymore.
Nevertheless, for not-me writers who want badly to send their characters on a second or third adventure in a series, here are 7 ways to learn from my errors and (potentially) expedite the second coming of your protagonist in the form of his or her sequel.
(Unless you’re a romance writer. Then, you’ll hurt your readers’ feelings, if it takes 2 whole books to get a “second coming”)
1) Ask yourself early and honestly, “Does the story I’m writing strike me as a series or a stand-alone novel?” If you’re a consistent underwriter, it may take all your guile and fortitude to fill one, great book. If on the other hand, you have so many ideas your speech-to-text can’t keep up with you as you spit them out of your face, you may have the genesis of a series ricocheting around in your head.
2) Re-read your first book. I’ve been advised against this course of action by those on the business side of publishing because, if your novel is a year or more old, you will likely see 10% awesome prose and 140% embarrassing mistakes within its pages. This could shake your faith in that novel and make you less enthusiastic when promoting it on your platform(s).
*Hint: If the author doesn’t believe in his or her book, the reader won’t either*
However, the grand thing about sequels is they allow you mend plot holes and explore ideas that were hitherto uncharted isles on the sea of your written words. My favorite example of this is in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, we see the Dursleys freak out when Harry strikes up a conversation with a snake at the local zoo. For all we know at that point in the series, this is something all pre-teen can wizards do. We learn later in The Order of the Phoenix how only a few wizards can do this, and the ability to speak parseltongue makes Harry weird, even by Hogwarts’s standards. It doesn’t much matter whether Harry’s snake-charmer routine was a carefully planned part of his backstory or the idea occurred to Rowling as she explored her own make-believe world, but to me, this part of The Order of the Phoenix reads like she looked back at her first book a little before she wrote the second and thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if [previously non-existent story line existed]?”
3) Pick a genre for all seasons. Trends like vampires, dystopia, and steampunk will always have a bit of a following,  but if you were, say, writing a vampire novel minutes before everyone got sick to bloody death of Twilight (like the idiot who’s writing this post), you may have unwittingly set your book up for failure. That doesn’t mean you can’t write the books you want to write henceforth. It just means your book sales may suffer if you don’t pay attention to marketing trends and seasonal demand. For instance, if you indeed have a vampire book to peddle, you might consider hyping in September so you can catch the Halloween crowd. Or, if you’re  working on a steampunk adaptation of Taming of the Shrew at the same time Quinton Tarantino is wrapping production on his movie adaptation, it may be wise to have your book on deck as a kindness to readers who are seeking an antidote for such a movie.
4) Pick a genre you think you’ll be crazy about in 10 years. This will reduce the odds that the joy of writing will leave you. Can you imagine being Danielle Steele and harboring a secret hatred for all things tawdry or Stephen King a hatred for all things horror? How bad would that suck to live the dream of being a full-time author and still hate your job?
5) Decide how passionate you are about your characters. Are they dear friends? One time flings? Are they precious enough to you you would undergo the tears and toil of branding / rebranding yourself as an author in order to share them with the world? We’ll talk about pros and cons of branding at a later date, but if your marketing strategy has made you beholden to the branding beast, it’s gonna make a sequel in that genre hard to avoid.
6) Set realistic goals. This is actually something to keep in mind throughout your author’s journey, but I personally stink at goal-setting when it comes to my follow-up titles.
My attitude takes a nose dive somewhere about 50 pages in, and I go…
I Just Want it to be Done.png
The best antidote I know for this kind of thinking?
Pace yourself.

Don’t look at the grueling pace set by another author and pressure yourself to pump out a brand new book every 3 months. Instead, give writing your best shot every day, and accept that your best might vary from day to day. Otherwise, it’s super easy to get intimidated by the work you’ve cut out for yourself and give up midway through.

7) Decide if your sequel / prequel has to be an equal to your first book. Some writers are exceptional at writing and would rather publish nothing than see the quality of their books decline. Others are okay at writing but exceptional at marketing. If you are exceptional at marketing, you likely know already that you don’t have to be the best author if you can be the loudest, shrewdest, or most charismatic. Also, your publisher, your agent, or your own, sweet self will have an easier time promoting a lack-luster book than no book at all.
So strive for quality, but not perfection (?)
I can’t in good conscience tell you to value quantity over quality. I’ve just seen a lot of authors paralyzed by perfectionism to the point they never publish a single thing. I’d hate to see that happen to you, and I want better things for you and your books.
As always, the preceding has been typed by the loving hands of a dim-witted goof with lots of experience doing things wrong by her books. I hope the knowledge of these things helps you to dispense your books somewhat right-er.
Or “write-er,” if you like.


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