Following on…

“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)

49 Comments

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49 responses to “Following on…

  1. Making a book mostly stand alone is good as a general idea anyway. It reduces the need for either explaining what has gone before or who these people are and how they are related. But obviously you still need some.

    One good way I think is to introduce a new character who needs to be informed of what happened before or to whom the key events/technologies etc. are totally unknown.

  2. paladin3001

    My attitude as a reader when it comes to sequels is that each book should have a defined -30-. That means that if you put that book down and never pick up a sequel you aren’t left hanging. Depending on how long the series is depends on how much refresher you need, or if you need one. A good series doesn’t need a refresher since each book is mostly a stand alone story. I could come up with good examples and bad examples, I will just go back to my coffee and prepare for the day ahead.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      One Barbara Hambly novel had this “Oh No, There Has To Be A Sequel Ending” but I generally blamed her publisher for “Not Signaling That This Was A Series”. Fortunately, the second book came out fairly soon and had a good ending (while leaving room for her to write more books about that universe & characters).

      Then there was Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-Master Of Hed (first of the Riddle-Master trilogy). She ended that book with a Cliffhanger (the main character trapped by the Bad Guy) and it seem to be a heck of a long time before the second book came out. Then for most of the second book, she focused on another character and we didn’t learn what happened to the first character until late in the second book.

      Mind you, there are plenty of books (like Changeling’s Island) where the reader “would like to know what happens next) that don’t really require a sequel. (Mind you Dave, I still would like a follow-up to Changeling’s Island). 😉

      • Mary

        Riddle was really a single book chopped up into three a la Lord of the Rings. We all survived the end of Two Towers, as witness we’re still posting.

        • Terry Sanders

          But I almost didn’t survive the second book of the PAKSENNARION trilogy. Re-enacting MISERY upon Elizabeth Moon would almost certainly have been counterproductive.

      • There’s a trilogy by Pamela Dean (The Secret Country) that I didn’t know was a trilogy for years. The initial two books had an ending of sorts, a weird ending where the kid protagonists walked away from the magic, and while it wasn’t entirely satisfying, it worked. Discovering that there was a third book (and one that finally got reprinted) brought the series to a far more satisfying conclusion.

  3. “So: what do you find to be the least annoying and most effective way of dealing with sequels?”

    I keep writing. Because the robots won’t shut up, and they keep getting into trouble.

    Currently I’m trying to finish the fourth book. They’re hemming and hawing about the Boss Battle and trying to avoid it. For two weeks. Argh.

    • Hmm. Have you considered a career as an anime script-writer?

      • No, because those poor bastards get a buck-fifty for a script. The tales of anime artists and writers toiling for pennies and dying of overwork are legend.

        I’m far too lazy for anime. ~:D

        However, if some enterprising individual wanted to make a movie out of it, I’m sure something could be arranged.

        But first it has to get published, and that means I have to FINISH IT! Argh!

  4. There’s a series I read where the ‘formula’ for bringing up the reader to speed became intrusive–the books started in media res, then a flashback to what had happened before, before coming back to the story, which was left on a cliff-hanger or similar–by the fifth novel it felt like it was dragging the story down. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the series, and recommend the books, but what I took away from the books was shake things up a bit.

    By that I mean make the story’s stand alone novels where the previous book is backstory that the characters can dribble into the current story or be used as the world building and introduced through lightly handled exposition.

    Now whether I can manage to write a good enough to pull that off has to be seen.

    • That’s how Zelazny’s “Amber” series was written, and as the series progressed what I thought of as “the chapter two flashback” got longer and longer. By the time I reached “The Courts Of Chaos” I felt that there was more flashback than new material. Is that the series you meant?

  5. Especially when I’m reading a series that is coming out at one book a year . . . or so . . . I need a quick bit of re-grounding in the universe. Especially the really complex ones. I gave up on the _Wheel of Time_ because I wasn’t going to reread to remember who was who and why they were buddies or enemies. I boggle at the thought of picking up something like that in the middle of the series.

    Books that are more stand alone, a very quick intro might do. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . ) I’ve scrapped up a 200 word one for my split off into a new series. Regular readers can easily skip it. New readers, hopefully, won’t be floundering around, lost. And swearing to never read one of that Uphoff person’s books again, ever.

    A little Heinleining to show how Magic or FTL works and mention of “the king” or “the newly elected President” or “MC thanked Odin he was far from the corrupt politics of the home world” can be slipped in very very early with little effort.

  6. I did my first series of novels (the Adelsverein Trilogy) as one huge story – and then snipped it into three segments, for release all at once. And I made each volumel free-standing with their own interior story arc, so that readers could pick up any one of the three and get into the story.Like the commenters above, I’ve always hated the sort of series where you had to read every single book in the series and in rigid sequence to. For the five books that followed the Trilogy – I made them about relatively minor characters, and their own lives and adventures, so they are linked – but loosely – and again, each of them free-standing. I tried to follow the example of Pratchett’s Discworld, or Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels: a specific and fully-realized setting, filled with a of dozens or scores of characters … every one of whom had their own story to tell, with necessary background dribbled in as relevant.

  7. I try to make each book stand alone, with an internal arc and NO cliff-hanger endings. The one massive series, The Colplatschki Chronicles, can be read in chunks – the Elizabeth books, _Blackbird_ and the others, and the NovRodi books. Each one has enough detail for the new reader to know the basic background of the world.

    I’m afraid that the RajWorld books are not as stand-alone as I’d like yet, but they are drafts still, so I have time to go back and re-work things.

  8. Luke

    Just so long as every book of the series has a definitive ending.

    I don’t mind an occasional “gap” novel where things mostly happen to ground the series for future plans, but a story is still told. (Monster Hunter: Legion being a recent example.)

    I did mind the most recent George R. R. Martin book. Every single plot thread ended in a cliffhanger. (I’m pretty sure that just means the author has lost the plot.) Between that, the torture porn, and his being an ass about his preferred politics, I’m very unlikely to continue the series.

    In general, I’m not terribly fond of series. They tend to peak early and then coast. To my mind, a good series is comprised of separate trilogies and standalones that happen to use some of the same characters in the same setting. Take The Black Company. It starts with a trilogy. Then has the standalone of The Silver Spike. Then has the Books of the South as a two book series.. Then has the final four Glittering Stone books as a discrete unit.
    But you could as easily apply the template to the Chronicles of Narnia or Discworld.

  9. BobtheRegisterredFool

    The new Karres is coming? Woohoo!

    One thing that is a little bit irritating and a little bit fun happens when an author produces a lot of stories, and I start trying to figure out if two of them are related or not, and what order they are in.

  10. Zsuzsa

    From a reader’s perspective, I’ll say that the “If anyone is that ignorant as to not know who Doge Dorma is, they ought to buy the preceding 5 books” is likely to lose you a lot of potential readers. I hear about the series, it sounds interesting, though I’m not yet sure if I want to invest money in it. I go to the library…and see only Books 2 and 4 on the shelf. If I’ve been told “start at the beginning or don’t bother,” then I don’t bother. Maybe I come back in a month or two and see if Book 1 is now available, but more likely than not, by the time it shows up, I’ve forgotten about the recommendation and moved on to something else.

    For what the author should do for new readers, I do think the “A Brief Intro to the World” at the beginning has some merit to it. It may be clumsy, but it gets the info across to new readers while not boring the old ones. Trying to integrate that info into the story has the issue that the old readers can’t skip the infodump because there’s just enough current story information in there to force them to keep reading (from my childhood, I remember that the Babysitter’s Club and the Sweet Valley series were both particularly bad about this).

    • Anne McCaffrey did a fairly good job of “intros” on the various Pern series. I’m probably going to emulate that myself.

      What was really annoying, though, was the series that you might see a book that was close to the end, think it was interesting – and then find out that the idiot publisher had let the earlier volumes go out of print. Phaugh!

  11. My only attempts at sequels was what I did for the family, and since those are unpublished, they don’t count. What I tried to do was to have each one as stand alone. Yes, there was accumulating backstory, but there was always a huge backstory that the reader never saw. Past books just showed the pertinent parts the same as any other backstory. New characters are handy that way.

    What I despise in serials:

    1. Soap operas. Many like them; I don’t. C’est la vie.

    2. Less annoying is the opposite: Characters remain static and no previous book has an effect on the next. Keeping the characters static means the events have no great impact, or contrived reasons they are forced to remain static.

    3. Books that are like video games in that each one is a new “level.” Say, a character that starts as a consultant for a three-letter organization and eventually becomes president.

    4. Books that end with cliff hangers, like a character thinking his best friend is dead and takes up the quest, only to find he’s alive and has to rescue him against impossible odds. We hastes it, we hates it forever!

    5. Continuing far beyond their expiration date. Sometimes authors run out of steam but keep the series going, anyway.

    • We could make a game out of identifying examples for each of those categories… So far, all I can come up with is “Jack Ryan,” but I think you tossed #3 in as a “gimme.”

      How about the ones where the villain dies by the end of every book (or at least is soundly defeated) – and pops up fresh as a daisy and even more powerful in the next one?

  12. Draven

    Unless you have an over-arching plot, each book should be as much of a standalone plot as possible. As your over-arching plot becomes more central to the story I expect less standalone and more of an episodic feel… well, at least for things where episodes advance a central story.

  13. Holly

    I love series, and I rarely read in order. Give me enough information to follow the plot of the current book, inside the plot, and I’ll happily go search out the befores and afters in a couple hours. A big “in our last episode” at the beginning is off-putting, because if I’m going to keep reading I need a character I like, or at least don’t hate.
    I started WOTG with Empire of the One, I started the Darkships with A Few Good Men (I’d read the samples on Baen, hated Athena-sorry, Sarah, she had to grow up to grow on me, and fell in love with Luce). I read the first few Dresden Files in order, but Ghost Story was checked out and I wasn’t waiting so I skipped it and came back to it, when it got returned, which I think was after I’d read all the others. Pern I started with Moreta, because Dad owned that one. Liaden I actually started with Agent of Change, because New Free Baen Book.
    So that’s me and series, data point of one. WOTG is the interesting one, because Empire is book twenty-something or something. Several characters have massive backstory including a thousand plus years of family history, I mixed up two characters (Izzo and another 4-letter I-guy, Idlo? for the entire book, Izzo is a major POV), but immediately I finished reading I reread, and then I went and bought the others. I’m pretty sure there are a couple other WOTG fans around who started in various middles of that series and got hooked. What Pam does? Do that.

  14. L. Frank Baum closed off Oz from the real world to get out of writing more of them. Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes for the same reason. Not that it did either of them any good.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Well, Doyle brought Holmes back but some people think he wasn’t the same as before. 😉

      • Stephanie Osborn was unavailable (at the time) for comment. 😎

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          That reminds me.

          I wonder how some of the Baker Street Irregular types think of some of the “modern” Sherlock Holmes stories written by other authors.

          There are so many people attempting to write Sherlock Holmes stories, that I wonder what the Holmes experts think of them.

          Oh, while not a Holmes expert, I’ve enjoyed Stephanie’s versions of Holmes. 😀

          • Terry Sanders

            They have their moments. I especially like her (very reasonable) take on the “Watson is an idiot” paradigm.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Nod, “Watson was an idiot” was a creation of one of the movie series about Holmes and Watson.

              That was also the series where Watson was very over-weight.

              That wasn’t the Watson of the Doyle stories.

              • Terry Sanders

                Actually, it was. Especially toward the end of the series. The movies exaggerated something that was already present.

                Several stories involve Holmes having a lot of fun making Watson look like a complete ass by needling him into trying to do Holmes-style deductions. The short he wrote for the Royal Family (to be bound into a miniature book for a Royal child’s dollhouse)–“Watson Learns the Trick”–is entirely made up of such a scene.

                He was getting tired of both of them by then.

                Stephanie points a few things out indirectly to make more sense of it. Notably, that Watson told those stories on himself. Obviously he didn’t think they were utterly humiliating. She thus hints that they were part of a pattern of two good friends ribbing each other at every opportunity. And of course Watson didn’t tell about the times he got Holmes back–because the stories weren’t about Watson! And his zingers weren’t about detective work!

                It made perfect sense, once I thought about it. Kind of embarrassing.

    • I read the set (and remember very little now…) of Oz books my grandmother had. The one thing I recall fairly well is the introduction or foreword or such of one of the last books, which took place after Oz was magically sealed (since the world was getting too well explored, etc.) And the issue was mentioned.. and the claim that one fan asked, “What about radio?” and that was how the story got out.

      • I’ve not only read the Baum books but most of the Ruth Plumly Thompson books and even a few of the later “official” Oz writers. Oz is quite obviously a fractal country.

  15. mrsizer

    Last week I read the umpteen Slaver Wars books(*). I started in the middle, realized what I’d done and went back to the beginning. It’s three sets of five(?). You can sensibly start at the beginning of any set, but starting in the middle of one would be awkward if not impossible. I think that’s a reasonable compromise. Similar to Pam’s split of Comet Fall vs Empire books, which also subdivide (e.g. I _think_ Directorate would stand alone as a subset of Empire, but I really can’t say because I’d read all the others first).

    The “is it in-stock?” argument only applies if one is traditionally published. Everything is “in-stock” at Amazon. And Amazon is getting better at holding series together properly so if you stumble on something that looks interesting, it’s usually obvious there are previous books.

    With Kindle Unlimited, I’ve become a binge reader so the “it’s been a year since I read the previous book” issue is not a big deal. I usually read the sequel within a week or so of the previous book.

    With something as sprawling as the 1632 books, I don’t think you can win. Some stand alone nicely (the music one and the Barby one come to mind); others most definitely do not.

    (*) The author must have been a Naval officer; every battle starts out with an inventory of the ships involved – with no explanation of the difference between a light cruiser and a battleship (and several other types). Other than that, I enjoyed them.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I’m basically out of the 163x books. It’s been so long since I’ve opened one, I don’t know what is going on or why I would be interested. I’m probably not going to get back into them unless I reread 1632 and that gets me started binging on the whole series. That said, Alexander Inheritance is a definite maybe.

      • 163x kind of wandered off into several story lines, not all of which appeal to all readers. I have to admit that I pretty much have only tried to follow the “main” line (USE), the Barbies, and the British Isles line. The French, West Indies, and Papal lines, well not so much.

        (I would read a book that centered on Ms. Mailey, though, wherever set – reminds me of my own “schoolmarm from hell…”).

        • 0ldgriz

          There are linear serials. And there are trees where various story lines branch out. Then there is 163X. It is like an aspen forest, you see individual trees but they actually share a single rood system.

          I used to subscribe to Grantville Gazette. What bothered me were eagerly following a serial set of shorts. They would suddenly stop only to re-emerge later as a standalone novel. The overall story might have been trending in one direction only to have a few plot lines wink out of existence as the novel goes off in another direction.

          I had lost track until the recent spate of them included in the Baen Bundles. I would pay indy prices for them but would not pay the full Baen price.

  16. Mary

    My muse is not fond of series, fortunately. There’s a possibility that will take several years (and books) at a school, there’s some conceivably connected short stories — but the last connected short stories merged into a single arc and story. Novels, maybe, you can chop into volumes, but this won’t be that long.

  17. …A Sequel to James H Schmitz’s Karres books – with a sequel to that, and another sequel to that I’m busy with…

    You know that I love your books, I hope. So I also hope you take this as it’s meant. While I have no doubt that you can match Mr. Schmidt’s world build I g, and do justice to a Schmidt-esque heroine, what made those books great was authorial voice. Unless you can do a convinced convincing pastiche, it won’t cut the mustard.

    • The Wizard of Karres seemed a bit… off, to me, Hobbit. But The Sorceress of Karres felt like it got back on track. Now, whether that is due to Dave (and Eric Flint) getting more into Schmitz’s “voice” with the second try, or that Mercedes Lackey was not involved in the latter, I shall not venture a guess (Ms. Lackey has a very definite “voice” – not a criticism of that, but not anything like Schmitz had. Although even Telzey and Trigger didn’t quite have the same feel to me as Witches.)

      • Oh, it wasn’t just me, then.

      • Terry Sanders

        I was kinda bothered by both, for completely different reasons.

        Wizard had some brilliant notions in it, and they got the main characters mostly right, in my opinion (for what that’s worth); but a lot of little things in the background grated with everything I had imagined the Karres universe to be. I was never convinced the Venture had rocket engines, for instance. Or that a culture that had a coffee-table book called Tales of Ancient Yarthe would still have circuses running around (that claimed to have an unbroken provenance to the original on Yarthe), and were still producing Shakespeare’s plays–complete with the superstition about never calling The Scottish Play Macbeth. And I don’t recall a single “Captain Pausert can’t take off without looking like a drunk farmer” reference after the overhaul on Uldune. Etc.

        Maybe that was just nerdrage or something. But it grated.

        Sorceress, on the other hand, grated because of Goth. And in that case I really have to wonder how much of it is justified. When you have a character with near-godlike powers (even if only minor-godlike), and you give her her own book, she’s going to look unnaturally good unless you’re incredibly careful. And in an age where everyone writes MarySues, you start seeing them whether they’re there or not.

        **SPOILER WARNING**

        And the character balance in the latter part of Witches was darned delicate anyway. It could easily have turned into something pretty creepy from Pausert’s side, or like a prequel to Bewitched from Goth’s. In Sorceress, boy-Pausert is in no position to hold up his side of the give-and-take. Maybe I was too sensitive to that.

        From a voice and worldview point, Sorceress may well have been better. I’d have to reread them both to tell.

  18. 0ldgriz

    What bothers me is what has happened to Weber’s Safehold series. They seem to each cover a year of Safehold history instead of following an exciting story. They aren’t bad if you are interested in reading mythical history. I prefer novels. YMMV

  19. I think that what a series writer needs is the ability to write parallel stories on different scales. It’s tough, but I am convinced that it is a learnable skill.

    One writer whom I believe does this well is Jim Butcher. Each of his novels features a particular conflict that is set up in the first chapter and concluded in the last. However, he also has multiple story arcs involving the lives of supporting characters that take place over several books. One of the fun things about reading the series is seeing which supporting characters show up in any particular book and how they have changed and grown since the last time we saw them.

    • Terry Sanders

      Yep. I finally stopped reading the Dresden Files when the main arc started taking over completely. But that took a *long* time.

  20. Nothing annoys me more when I’m in the middle of a series than the dreaded “recap chapter,” a la a certain liberty-minded epic fantasy series that has gone on well past it’s expiration date (book 8 nearly got walled, despite being a signed hardcover, and he’s still going a decade later). I look at recaps the same way I look at world-building in general: weave it in unobtrusively as you need it – just enough to nudge someone who may have forgotten what happened and give a new reader the bare bones. Now let’s hope that works out for me…

  21. Arwen

    Stand alones are fun and there many that I absolutely adore. But I’m a complete sucker for series probably because I read more for character and setting than plot.

  22. Appropos of nothing, I saw my son come home from school yesterday, Dragon’s Ring hardback in hand. He confessed that he was (re)reading the book as he walked the last stretch of sidewalk home. Asked me if there would be any more.

    (Thanks, Dave! You’re one of the authors who got him into reading!)