Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Query Advice: When to Sequel

Yesterday we heard from an author about tips to writing sequels. But what about them? When is it a good idea?

You've finished your shiny, sparkling new manuscript. You've sent it to critique partners and beta readers and shined and polished. You love your characters. Love your plot. Have heard nothing but wonderful things about it and think about it day and night. You can't wait to find an agent for it!

You have conversations with family about what you'll do with all the money from books. There are suggestions around the dinner table of what actress to cast for the movie. You cruise through pictures online that would make fabulous cover art. You're dreaming and you're going big.

You send out your first query letters, then sit at your computer and start writing the sequel.

That story up there was about me after my first manuscript. And it was probably not the wisest route to take. Let me tell you why.

That wonderful story that I love got only three agent requests and went exactly nowhere. I was a beginning writer and had no idea what I was doing. No idea how to show. No knowledge about head jumping. No concept of conflict. I now know that it stunk.

And what did I do while querying? I wasted time on a sequel. 

That's my story, and it doesn't mean it's yours. I'm sure some first novels turn out fantastic and get picked up by both an agent and then a publisher. But the chances are not good.

If no one wanted your first story, why would they buy the follow up? So I'm here with some friendly advice that I figured out the hard way after about three months of querying.

When your book is finished and you are sending it out to agents, write something totally new. You'll learn more about writing this way and have something to send to agents if the first book fails.

The same advice falls true for people with agents. While your book is on sub, write something new in case it doesn't sell. Many first books (that land agents) don't get picked up, including mine. (Which was actually my fourth manuscript.) 

Write something new so you can get right back out querying or on submission. Don't waste six months or a year, having to come up with something else because you spent time on a sequel.

I put the sequel aside after about three months and wrote something else. That something else got picked up by a small press and was my first success.

By all means, outline that sequel. Have a direction planned in your head. Make a blurb about it for agents. Write a few chapters if you just can't put it down. But don't write the whole book. Focus on moving forward until you know for sure that book has a future. Then write it!

Of course this advice doesn't work so well if you intend to self publish. This advice is aimed at those who want their career to be along the traditional lines.

You may love your characters and that's natural. But there comes a time to move on. And leaving those characters on the back shelf for a few months or a year, might actually make the sequel stronger and give you fresh perspective.

Happy Writing!


  1. Even if you plan to self-publish, it is a great idea to work on a "palate cleanser" after you've finished that first book. Otherwise, you can get burnt out of your story halfway through the sequel.

  2. Agreed! I know writers who it's worked out for, and that's great! But I always cringe when I hear people working on their sequel before the first is contracted. It's your own choice but in my opinion starting something new is EXTREMELY helpful with dealing with the fear of the trenches. If you write a sequel that novel's fate is tied to your first novel's and that novel's fate is up in the air in a totally scary, nerve wracking place. But a whole new book gives you new hope. It lets you step away from the fear for a little while, instead of getting even more wrapped up in it.