Experts are adamant that you shouldn’t do it.
When you’ve written the first book in a series that you want to have traditionally published—or rather a book that has “series potential”, to use the correct querying parlance—they say you absolutely should not write a sequel (or sequels) until the first book is sold.
The reasons for this are sound. They say there’s no guarantee your first installment will sell, and that unless you choose to self-publish, you might end up having to shelf the entire project.
They say that even if your first book does sell, by the time it goes through both agent and editor revisions, it might be so different from how it once was, the sequel no longer aligns with the initial book and has to be completely rewritten.
They also say that while querying a given book, both your time and effort are better spent writing a entirely new story—new characters, new setting, new plot with new complications—for this will strengthen your writing skills more than writing the continuation of an existing story.
At this point you may be expecting me to list the reasons I nonetheless feel I should write a sequel to the novel I’m currently querying.
Well guess what?
I already did write it. Two of them actually, for I always envisioned this story as a trilogy (although I’m slowly re-evaluating that opinion, thinking a duology would be better).
I did this years ago upon completing the first draft of the first book. It took me a whole other year plus to do so, which is in part why I’m only now just querying for the first time (the other reason is because I could clearly see what a shitty writer I was for so very long).
I was well aware of the reasons to not write a sequel upfront even then, but I went ahead and did it anyway.
Even though I’d already written the first book start to finish, it was important to me to complete the story as a whole—to prove to myself that I could, that I actually had what it took to go the distance with such a big project.
I also figured that if I did someday manage to sell book 1, having the rest of the story at least drafted would give me a leg up on my contracted time to turn in a polished sequel.
Reading the past
But now I’m re-reading these drafts of book 2 and 3, both for fun and to remind myself of what I envisioned happens next.
Dear god—the writing in these things!
It’s like a mausoleum of all the worst writing habits I’ve since worked so hard to overcome.
Emotionally-distant narration? Check.
Emotionless main character? Check.
Excessive showing over telling? Check.
Awkward inclusion of unnecessary historical facts? Check.
Overwrought, at times absurd dialogue? Check.
And, naturally, zero reference to the many changes I’ve made on my own in book 1 since its first draft.
It’s all a bit painful, really. The fact that I’ve been doing this reading at 5:30 every morning—the ungodly hour my body has inexplicably chosen as its wake-up time this winter—is making the experience all the more horrifying.
Within the plot itself, I see potential. I’m up to chapter 12 of book 2 so far, but the sequence of events in the story (if not at all the way they’re written) isn’t terrible.
Even in my early days as a shitty writer, I always had a decent sense of both scene arcs and story arcs, and it shows. The chain of cause and effect is logical, largely character-driven, and dare I say, an intriguing parallel to the events of the first book.
(I’m not gonna lie, though—we’re talking external plot only. The internal plot and arc of the main character needs serious work.)
Plotting is one of the hardest parts of writing for me (the other is remembering to express, and then actually expressing, the emotionality of the main character—see previous paragraph). It literally took years of thought plus five solid months of butt in chair, hands on keyboard last year to work out the plot for the next book I actually plan to write, set in Ancient Greece.
It’s immensely valuable to me to have at the very least a workable plotline already at hand. It means that if I do sell book 1 and get greenlit for a follow up, I can hit the ground running on the first day rather than agonizing over what should come next.
Whether that actually represents a saving of time compared to all the revision I’ll still have to do—essentially a gut job right down to the beams and studs—I can’t actually say. So I’ll choose to call it even and leave it at that.
(Image source #1 and #2 – J.G. Noelle)