Friday, 4 July 2008

Series and Sequels

Series and sequels are popular, particularly in genre fiction: some series are so popular that their publishers commission book-packagers to produce several new titles a year, using ghost-writers who write to other people’s outlines and plots.

Among the many advantages of writing a series of books is that each subsequent book has an established readership before it even reaches the bookshop shelves, and then goes on to build on the success of the previous title. Consequently, many writers who are new to the game plan to write a series of their own.

I would always advise them against it.

By all means, write that first book. But make sure that it is complete as it stands, and don’t even consider starting work on the sequel until you have sold the first book. Because if the first book of the series doesn’t sell, you’ve got very little hope of selling the second.

9 comments:

Deb said...

And there was me thinking The Little Book of Kerfuffle was gong to be the start of something big, Jane! ;)

How Publishing Really Works said...

There's a movie in it somewhere, Deb.

Deb said...

On a more serious note, I agree that it's better to sell your first book before you even think about a series. I was advised by an agent to get on with a sequel to the first book I had written and spent a considerable amount of time working on it. The first book didn''t sell, and the second book won't sell on it's own, so it was a bit of a waste of time writing the sequel. We live and learn, I guess!

How Publishing Really Works said...

I'm just amazed that an agent gave that advice. It's one of those Big Publishing No-nos. Glad you've moved on since then, Deb.

Nicola Slade said...

Ooo-er! My agent is keen for me to get off my backside and finish the sequel to Murder Most Welcome - I'm on Chapter 3! But - and this is the difference - it's a crime novel and apparently stand-alone crime novels aren't popular. Readers of crime, especially cosy, historical crime like my latest novel, like to get their teeth into a series.

I also have a contemporary cosy crime novel out looking for a home and have a sequel in progress for this. However, my first novel, Scuba Dancing, was a contemporary romantic comedy and the publisher had stopped accepting submissions by the time the sequel was finished.

It's all the luck of the draw anyway but I gather there's more hope for a sequel if you turn to crime.

Nicola Slade
www.nicolaslade.com

How Publishing Really Works said...

Nicola, the difference in your case is that Murder Most Welcome is already published, so you're ahead of the game. And if your agent is pushing you to finish the sequel she must think that the first one has done rather well.

Let me know when you sell that next one, too.

JJ Cooper said...

After I finished my first novel and had the query all squared, I started on the sequel. Now, the first one could have stood alone as everything was wrapped up and resolved. But I wanted to start a second to prove to an agent that I had more than one book in me so I wrote a three paragraph synopsis. Then I got thinking that if the first doesn't sell I'll have trouble selling the sequel, so I wrote a three paragraph synopsis on a stand alone thriller.

Fortunately, my first book was snapped up by an agent and publisher fairly quickly and I secured a two-book publishing deal because of that short synopsis for the sequel (we didn't include the third in the proposal to publishers).

So I suppose it is important to be prepared either way for a sequel and another stand alone book. You don't have to go flat out and produce them overnight, just have a plan and start working on whichever you feel more comfortable with whilst you query the first book.

Anyway, got a sequel to finish.

JJ

How Publishing Really Works said...

JJ, you're one of the "lucky" ones (in inverted commas, because I know how much hard work you put into creating that luck for yourself): but pity, please, the poor writer who produces an eight-book series without realising that their central premise renders them all virtually unsaleable.

Despite your success I'd still advise writers not to start work on a sequel until the first book has sold. If the first book is unsalable, the second book's chances of publication are reduced quite severely.

Cassandra Was Right said...

Glad to have found this. It provides a lot of food for thought.

I worked with a writing coach for several years on a novel that naturally divided itself into four volumes. She never suggested that this wouldn't sell; in fact, to make it so long was her own idea.

Now - having fired her for a different reason - I am clearly faced with the need to decide whether to shorten the entire story to a single volume, or to write only the first, making it complete on its own and hoping for the rest to eventually be wanted.

Thanks for this. It is extremely helpful...if unwelcome for reasons not your fault!