Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Query Question: Sequels

At LonCon last week I had a conversation with a published author about sequels. Now, if you were to believe the internet, when unpublished, you shouldn't really write sequels and should instead work on making the first book a stand alone. According to the internet, it's pointless working on sequels because the first book might not sell well, meaning you'll be left with a backlog of books that no one wants.

But during my discussion, I heard of two book contracts where these particular authors were given deadlines to hand in the sequel to their first book...before the first book had even gone on sale.
Now I know the demand for a second book would probably happen with two stand alone books, but both authors expressed a little bit of angst at having to produce something that would have - to some degree - been finished had they just written the sequels in the first place.

So what's the truth? Is it better to finish that trilogy before pitching? Or is it better to just plan the hell out of the second book and move on? Or are these simply isolated cases? And are most debut authors asked to produce a second book regardless of the sales of the first? 

You're missing a key piece of information here: what does the contract say?  Most first time authors that I represent get deals with a contract asking for two or three books.  Not stand alones at all. SERIES.

So yes, it's good to have that second book well underway when you get a deal.

Here's what I think you've heard and misinterpreted: don't say you have a series in a query letter.

What that means is you focus on querying the book you have in hand. Don't mention it's the first of N more books, because if I don't like this one, I don't care how many more you have.

Most publishers want books (at least in the categories I rep) that can be built into series. They want this cause once they've invested in you, they want readers to come back for more, and More means More of the Same stuff we loved in Book One.

Focus on writing the very best book you can. Query that book. While you're waiting for us to get off our slacker asses  read our queries, you work on Book Two.


Anonymous said...

This is the best explanation I've heard on this subject. Thank you for clearing that up! *shares post with every writer I know*

Valerie said...

wow, this is an interesting post. i was in the same boat as whoever asked this question. i assumed you shouldn't even worry about a sequel until after you get an agent and the book actually makes sales.

fun thing is, now i get to start thinking about my sequel in a serious way.

thanks for posting!

Valerie said...

P.S. i shared a this post on my blog!

Madseasongirl said...

This is a point of confusion for me as well. Even "While you're waiting on us to read our queries, you work on Book Two" is against most advice out there. Most say don't work on Book Two unless you know for sure Book One has sold. You can plot, you can outline, but you should put Book Two aside and work on something else.

In the end, it's all up to the writer. Here's my plan while I'm querying my Book One w/ series potential:

1) Plot out completely different MS
2) Plot/write synopsis for Book Two
3) Write completely different book mentioned in 1)

When/if the time comes to write Book Two, I'll have everything I need to bang out, er, lovingly craft the thing. If that time never comes, I'll having something else waiting in the wings.

mhleader said...

Does this mean that we should leave out a sentence in our queries that says:

"While this book is a stand-alone story, I envision a series of books following my major character's adventures as she navigates the Shark-filled waters of publishing." (Or whatever the series is about).

Or something of that sort? It doesn't pitch other books but lets agent know you're open to writing a series.

Would this be wrong?

Colin Smith said...

So, Janet, does this mean if a an author queries you with a book that is very clearly a stand-alone, they have a much bigger fight on their hands even if you love the book because series are an easier sell in your genres? In other words, would you reluctantly pass on a great stand-alone because you know your publishers won't be as interested? Or would you go back to the author and see if s/he can be persuaded to make a series out of this great debut?

Unknown said...

EVERY SINGLE AGENT I've asked has given the exact opposite advice than what's been given here: while waiting write something DIFFERENT. It's not been about a contract--it's been advice about what to do when waiting in the query cycle. What then...should writers do?

Bonnie @ A Backwards Story said...

Great, enlightening post! Whenever I see deals brokered for multiple books, I've never assumed it meant sequel before. I thought it meant that the publisher just wanted multiple books from the author, even if they were stand-alones.

I had been thinking about querying a stand-alone first so I could publish sooner since my "trilogy" (AKA stand-alone companions) will take me forever to world-build and put together, but maybe I need to rethink that now!

Unknown said...

Not that I've been lucky enough to go through this, but since there's normally a year or so after your first book sells and it actually makes it into print, that means there's a fair bit of time to write the second book after selling the first.

The advice to write something different resonates with me because the first in a series might never sell, making the second in a series that much more time wasted on something that will never sell. How many eggs do you want to put in one basket?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

When my now-agent responded to my query, one of his first questions – maybe his very first – was "Will there be as sequel?" It surprised me, because my former agent had poo-pooed the notion (just one of the reasons he's my "former" agent.) I had in fact left one loose thread for just that purpose, and he had noticed right away. Rather than write it, he had me write treatments for two follow-ups, which I find I am eager to get working on.

Elissa M said...

I think what some people are missing here is that genre matters. Readers of certain genre expect sequels or series. Others not so much.

Mysteries are far more often than not written in series, with each book a stand alone featuring the same protagonist. Fantasy also lends itself to series, the standard being a trilogy. But horror titles usually stand alone (and I mean true horror, not sparkly-vampire horror).

Every writer has to do whatever she/he thinks is best, but the advice to work on a second book while the first is being queried is absolutely rock-solid. And there's no rule that says you can't work on two books while the first is being queried. When one project stalls, whip out the other. It's not as hard to do as some people think.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Of course the book I'm working on currently is a standalone. And of course the book that's the first in a trilogy is a werewolf book so nobody wants it. Sigh.

I'll have a great disparate range of completed novels by the time I get representation! :)

Lance said...

If I were writing in any of the genres Ms. Reid is interested in, I would follow her advice with real religious fervor. I'm not writing in those genres, and I am following it anyway. If the agent brings up a series, you have an outline and the first three chapters of number two as well as where it would fit in the series arc, and you at least look professional. If the agent doesn't bring up a series or at least asks what else do you have, then she may not be sufficiently excited about your story. Thank you for a great post.

Karen said...

It is good to have that second book in the series underway, but remember too that the editor has to accept the book you are writing.

Our second book (and the third) didn't focus on the things that the editor loved in the first, so we ended up agreeing to write two completely different sequels.

We (I co-write) are in the same position as those two people the querier spoke to at LonCon (deadlines for sequels before our first book is even published). I think second book angst is a normal part of becoming published, whether your sequel is partially written or not, because suddenly you are under contract and that puts pressure on that you have never had to deal with before.

Based on my own experiences, I would say that rather than worrying about whether to write a sequel or not, write the book you really want to write. It's magic to get a book contract, but as soon as you sign, you are committed to delivering the books that you have promised to deliver. Take time to enjoy the freedom to write what you can.

Ilex said...

I'm just about finished with a companion novel that takes place after the events in the novel that got me representation, but I wrote this story because I personally felt driven to follow this character and find out what happened to her next, not with the conscious intention of writing a series. But I've been aware that working on this book is a risk of sorts, because I'm not sure it entirely stands alone if the first novel never gets published, in which case I'll have write Something Different.

Ilex said...

Most publishers want books (at least in the categories I rep) that can be built into series. They want this cause once they've invested in you, they want readers to come back for more, and More means More of the Same stuff we loved in Book One.

This is actually something I've been wondering about, because I see loads of YA trilogies where the first book doesn't sell all that well -- and yet, now the author and publisher are committed to two more books about the same people/world.

So the trilogy/series model seems great if the first book does well and there is an eager audience for the sequels, but seems like a recipe for misery if the first book disappoints. Seems to me that in that case, the author would be better off writing something else and seeing if that does better.

Tam Francis said...

I'm still unclear on if they want sequels, series, why wouldn't it be attractive to an agent to know you've got at least of first draft of the sequel? Not that I don't believe the Shark, my brain is having trouble with the logic :)

There is also the possibility of self-publishing which,(if popular advice is to be believed), says you need three books in the hopper before you even start marketing the first one. And the last meeting I went to, they talked about holding back five books and doing a consecutive ninety day blitz on each book.

I've written two in a series that I hope to make one more, but I'm writing other stuff in between. Short stories, another novel, etc.