BOOKS
01/25/2012 02:42 pm ET

Writer Wednesday: Should You Write A Sequel?

From Writer's Relief staff:

Do you crave even .001% of “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s success? Consider entering “The Chamber of Sequels”!

The payoff for writing a successful series can be ginormous!

But when a series falls, it falls hard—like a grand piano from a ten-story building—and it’s the author who’s left to sweep up the pieces.

To help you make the right decision, we at Writer’s Relief offer some pros and cons that get to the horcrux…uh…crux of the matter.

Sequel Heaven!

1. Some high-concept books and specific genres lend themselves very well to the continuity of a series. Cozy mysteries/amateur sleuth novels, for example, are prime series fare. In certain genres, it’s “go series or go home.”

2. If you hook readers with book one, you’ve probably hooked them for the series. Fans will be all aflutter waiting for the next installment…and waiting can generate good buzz.

3. Readers who learn about your series later down the line can also become eager fans. They can go back and read everything—no waiting necessary!

4. With a series, you can piggyback on preexisting ideas.

5. But you don’t have to repeat yourself. Tweak, stretch, expand, embellish, and get more sophisticated and complex—all while bringing readers along for the ride.

6. If your series catches on, you won’t have to promote the next installment from scratch. Yay for the snowball effect! Save time and toil on your promotional efforts.

Sequel Hell!

1. A series hinges on the first installment. If you write the first book of a series, then go on to write the second, third, and fourth before you’ve successfully sold/published the first, you may have put the cart before the horse. If you’d written stand-alone books, the success of one is not quite so fundamentally linked to the others.

2. We’ve seen some writers (especially new ones) suffer from “series-itis.” They fall so deeply in love with the characters in the first book that they get stuck. They don’t grow as writers. They recycle, recycle, and don’t generate new ideas. Their careers never have liftoff, and they wonder what went wrong.

3. Your audience might wish you would try something new. They might miss the pleasures of reading an entirely new work.

4. And you might miss the freshness factor too: If you’re in high demand to write new installments, but you just don’t feel like it, you risk disappointing yourself and your audience. Writing a series can be a long commitment.

5. To make it worth a publisher’s time to take a risk on multiple books, the premise has to be very high-concept—and not all writers can pen high-concept books right out of the gate. Consider: Could your story end after one book? Is it possible that one book would be sufficient? If so, then you might want to stop after one book and see how it goes before continuing on with the series.

6. Uh…we don’t have a sixth con, but six is sort of a sequel to five and we’ll leave it at that.

Summing Up!

Perhaps the best approach is to be open to both series and non-series work. For instance, renowned novelist Cormac McCarthy authored “The Border Trilogy” but also stand-alone titles such as “The Road.” You’ll have to decide the right path for you.
Heck, maybe J.K. Rowling will eventually write a non-“Harry Potter” book. These days, Lord Voldemort is in no position to stop her.

What are other advantages or disadvantages to writing sequels?

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