“But wait! There’s more.”
There’s that terrible reading experience that has nailed – I bet—nearly every one of us (and me many a time) when you discover to your chagrin, that the book you never wanted to reach the end of… is shorter than you thought because the low-swine-publisher has put a teaser of another book at the end.
If it’s been a good read, then the reader-ground is always prepared to buy that sequel. I think so, anyway. Maybe somewhere out there a reader says: that was so perfect I never want to read another word about the characters, in case it spoils it. I can’t be that good because I keep getting ‘want more Ariel’ and ‘when is the sequel coming out.’ Which is good for the author: it’s one less reader to attract, and if there is demand he has an income. Trust me on this, income is remarkably persuasive.
Seriously there always is a demand for sequels –readers invest a great deal in characters and the universe the author has built for their book. If they liked it – they want more. Which is why there are
2 Dragon’s Ring books
2 RBV books and a Novella
2 Pyramid Scheme books
5 Heirs of Alexandria books with a 6th on its way.
A Sequel to James H Schmitz’s Karres books – with a sequel to that, and another sequel to that I’m busy with
2 Cuttlefish world books…
And quite a lot of nagging that the author may or may not give in to.
To be honest I don’t like writing sequels. If the first book was good – there are a lot of expectations, which very easily fall flat. Secondly, the reader had perhaps at most a few days of Marco, or Ariel, or Meb in their heads. I’ve lived and breathed them for months, or even years, in far more depth than I can put into the book. It gets old, and I live in fear of that getting into my prose.
Sequels, follow ons, are, however, a real part of our business, so it’s a subject worth thinking about.
One of the biggest issues is that you may be pleasing the reader who loved books 1-5… and can’t wait book six to see what his old friends are up to in the complex and well-built and developed universe but the reader who starts at book six may well re-title it ‘WTF’ (which I am informed stands for ‘wow, that’s fantastic’. A NYT and EW journalist told me so, so it must be true. I wonder if it was the same one who was sneering at the new ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ not having any Asians, or the Sad Puppies all being racist white males?)
Now there are several possible attitudes – employed by different authors and publishers, to this problem. The simplest, of course, is to ignore these Johnny-come-lates and to write the next book as if it was merely an episode of a long running soap-opera. If anyone is that ignorant as to not know who Doge Dorma is, they ought to buy the preceding 5 books, starting with SHADOW OF LION… No, it is not my attitude. I hope to make a book 6 curious enough to read the previous 5. But it is simple, and it is not uncommon – and plainly works at least for some readers and writers.
The opposite extreme involves ‘the story so far’ either giving a precis of the tale – or at least – in many of the early Pratchett’s a brief intro to sketch the universe. Look, personally I think this is a pretty solid idea. Readers who know the series will ignore it. Readers who don’t will thank you for it.
Of course there are as many variants between as you can shake an assegai at. I can only tell you what I try to do: It works (I hope) for me. First off I try to write each book as if it were a stand alone. After all – many a prequel has been written – and been popular. Those may have the same universe, but logically a reader coming on the series for the first time might start with the book that is chronologically first in the series: not the book that was written first. There is a definite limit to this – by the time a series gets past a certain point there is just too much backstory, to the story and the character. But up to that point you have an interesting character, who the reader doesn’t have to know ALL of the backstory to – and if you plan it well, you can ‘show’ that backstory (I did this particularly with Manfred and Erik in A MANKIND WITCH, letting them dialogue their background, slipping experience into the sword fights and interactions. I have found speech tags (– said Erik, while carefully honing the edge to the hatchet he had had made to replace the Algonquin one.) to be quite effective – at smuggling setting and historical data in without ‘as you know, Bob’ tours of the setting.
So: what do you find to be the least annoying and most effective way of dealing with sequels?
To be continued… (just kidding)