Recently someone posted a question I get asked all the time:
After finishing my current book should I write the sequel or start something new?
This question is usually posed by a new author whose agent is marketing a series. The editors have not had a chance to weigh in with their interest in the series or lack thereof. Meanwhile, the writer is bored and wants something else to write.
What about curve balls?
If the series is contracted and the author already has much of the second book written, there is less to do and less pressure. Sounds like a plan. Well, maybe. Maybe not. While it seems to make sense to get as much done ahead of time as possible, with the contract offer still being pie in the sky, writing the second book may not be productive except as keeping with the discipline of being a writer. And, what if you get a contract offer, only to find the editor wants the second book to focus on a different heroine than you planned? Or what if the first book takes a different direction that will make huge plot impacts on the second book? I’ve seen these scenarios more than once so the idea that you’ll turn in two or three books that will remain almost untouched is unlikely. This is often a reality even for experienced authors.
How far from the first series should I deviate?
I recommend that while your agent is marketing your first series, it’s a good idea to think of another series but within the same brand. For instance, if you are passionate about Regency romance, don’t make a second series a contemporary romance unless there is a very, very good reason to do so. Your agent will advise you of what constitutes a good reason to switch time periods and/or genres. Each career and author is different, and what is appropriate for one author isn’t always a good career move for another. I recommend choosing a genre and time period you really, really love and sticking with it. Of course, you want to choose a genre and time period with great marketing potential. However, since CBA publishes a wide variety of books, finding a niche you enjoy, even if it’s not your absolute first choice, shouldn’t be too difficult. The main goal is to find a time and place where you will enjoy writing thousands of pages — a place you want to visit again and again.
What about nonfiction?
Don’t chase the market. Find a ministry you are passionate about, become an authority, and share your wisdom.
How many genres have you attempted?
Are you waiting for an answer to your series?
What advice would you give a new author who’s finding his or her passion?
How many genres have you attempted? children’s, MG/YA fantasy and contemporary, and devotionals.
Are you waiting for an answer to your series? yes
What advice would you give a new author who’s finding his or her passion? I think the typical – keep writing, keep reading.
I’m wondering about writing a prequel to a novel I’m marketing now. A friend suggested it and I’ve made notes and am really excited about it. But I don’t have interest in the current one yet. I’m thinking it’s about the same as writing a series. I am working on a couple of other projects, so it’s not something that has to be done now. Maybe when I’m ready to start something new.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Pam, since you are excited about the prequel, it may be a good idea to write it. But if you are equally excited about the other projects, spending time on those might make more sense until you are able to garner interest in the original series. Of course, this is said without reviewing your work, so please take this advice with the proverbial grain of salt. You are right to keep working while you wait. The best general advice I can give you is to write your passion!
Thanks Tamela, I’m at that point now, though I haven’t signed with an agent yet. The first book of my series is complete – a mystery (I call them over-easy mysteries). I have short outlines for the next two, but won’t continue until I’ve gotten an agent and a contract. I’m confident this time around, after 4 novels and some success with magazine publishing, but don’t want to lose time on something that may not take off. I am keeping the same recipe–mystery with a middle-aged male protagonist and a love interest (I love a good romance, as long as there’s a murder involved, too). I have also written suspense, supernatural, thriller, and romantic-suspense. I always seem to gravitate back to the cozy and soft-boiled mysteries. And now that my writing partner has published her first mystery, we seem destined to continue down that path. Thanks again for the advice.
I’ve written romantic suspense and romance.
I created an island town and have used it as a setting for three stories. It was so much work to create the town that I kept using it. I’m not published, and I think the stories can be stand-alone or a series with a few tweaks.
I also set a story in Lexington, KY because I live close to Lexington.
I always try to create interesting secondary characters without perfect lives to make it easier to spin a series from my story.
Do you think that’s okay?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Jackie, I think that’s a great idea! Readers like the familiarity of the same setting, and it sounds as though you have created a great place for them to visit time and time again. And yes, it’s always a good idea to get readers interested in a future book by introducing an intriguing secondary character or two. When I was writing novels, many readers asked for sequels relating to certain secondary characters.
Thanks, Tamela. I appreciate your feedback.
My first novel was Victorian and I loved writing that, but I have gravitated to the era that I really love – 1930s/40s America. It’s so hard to chase trends, they are far too fickle. I plan to just write what I love and continually learn the craft. I am finished with my second novel and pitching that. I’m 1/3 of the way done with one to follow which can be a stand alone or sequel to the finished one. I think my advice would be to study the market, know the pub biz, build relationships within that biz, and then keep writing what you love. Who knows, your genre may catch the brass ring on the next turn of the merry-go-round.
Good morning, Tamela!
I enjoyed reading this first thing 🙂 My passion is WWII history so I have decided to write in the Historical Romance genre. I’ve spent the last year revising and editing my ms so it’s just right.
I had made a short attempt to write westerns, but quickly found that was not my area of expertise.
I found this article helpful as I did not know an editor can have that much pull on spin-off characters and sequels.
–Always good to get these facts before it surprises me later! 🙂 Have a great day!
I tried prairie romance, contemporary, Amish and chick lit before I found the genre that I love – WWII. And it sold. Pick a genre that you love, that you’re passionate about. It will show in your work. Book 2 in the series (I handed it in last night!!!) is vastly different than what I thought it would be. I haven’t written a word of book 3, but just had a brainstorm this morning that will take it in a different direction, so Tamela is right – these books change as you write them.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Liz, congratulations on turning in Book 2! You are talented and you work hard. You deserve your success!
After having my first book looked at by several authors to critique I have re-written my book 3 times. I finally have it to where I can say “This is it!”
I LOVE WWII era and that’s I chose to write about it too!
Hope to read your books! 🙂
Thanks for this. One point, though. It hasn’t been my experience that the CBA fiction market is varied. It has seemed very narrow, especially in the conversations I’ve had with agents and editors at conferences. But I am convinced of your central point: Find the genre you are most suited to and write in that. Don’t chase other genres just because you believe there will be more success in them.
Hmmm. Thought-provoking article. Last year, Tamela, I self-published my book. It wound up doing really, really well (over 10,000 copies sold to date) and my literary agent told me I have “street cred” now. I am 68,000+ words into the sequel. I have written a synopsis but haven’t shown it to my agent yet. I’m wondering if I should stop writing and let him shop a proposal before I finish the sequel. Any thoughts on that?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Heather, I would definitely get your agent in on the loop right away and let him give you his wise advice!
My most recent manuscript is a YA novel that is currently being critiqued. I’ve thought about writing a sequel to it that would focus on a secondary character. I’m fascinated by this character’s past, but since she is an adult, I almost think the sequel would be general or women’s fiction. I’m guessing it’s rule breaking to write a sequel in a different genre. Any advice? Should I think about letting the idea go?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Emily, you definitely can’t jump genres and define the two books as being a cohesive series. So, do you want to be a YA writer, or do you want to be a women’s fiction writer? Some authors manage both, of course, but this early in the game for you, I recommend choosing so you will be focused when you approach agents and editors. (Working with the limited info I have based on your comment, I’m assuming you have not approached them yet.) If you can’t let the idea of the women’s fiction book go, then you can either rename your character and change a couple of other things about her and write a new book. So in essence, you will be writing what you want but readers will not see her as the same character so you will be OK. Of course, *you* will have to make that mental adjustment as a writer if you choose this course. Or, if the character is not present enough in the YA for anyone to care if a women’s fiction book is written about her, then you don’t have to change a thing. Either way, through this process you can get the character’s essence out of your system and determine firsthand which type of book you want to write in the long term. See Liz Tolsma’s comment above for confirmation on this.
Thanks for the help!
I write contemporary fiction. I have a series for that. I also write non-fiction. Both genres fit together with themes of social justice. I’m not published yet, so it will be interesting to see in the future how both will play out 🙂
Tamela Hancock Murray
Lisa, a combination of fiction and nonfiction can be powerful. Be sure to partner with skilled professionals to help you manage your potential.
Thanks for the informative post, Tamela. I love writing thrillers with a touch of romance from a Christian perspective. Book one is being resubmitted after the suggested rewrites and I’ve gotten about a third of the way through the second book in the series. Both novels can stand alone.
My favorite genres to write in are contemporary fiction and thrillers. Your post has been most helpful in answering my question about series. Thanks!
P.S. Ron Estrada, I love your “over easy” and “soft boiled” descriptions of your murder mysteries!
What a practical post, Tamela. I haven’t attempted a series. I thought about writing a second book that focused on one of my secondary characters from the first book. But, I haven’t done that yet. My focus has been women’s fiction so far, but I’ve got a romance in my head that won’t leave me alone.
I appreciate your suggestions.
I have part two of a sequel coming out June 12th. This series is Biblical fiction so the sequel was a natural progression. However, since it was fiction a sequel was not automatic. I used a combination of sales and reader feedback to help me determine if a sequel was warranted. I had the desire to write one but only did so when readers began to ask for one. Their passion fueled my own.
In terms of genre I have been all over the map. All my titles are adult Christian fiction. The series is self published and a third title was a Mainstream publisher. The series is based on Noah, the mainstream published book was a political thriller. Now I shopping a historical crime fiction piece based on the law enforcement career of my grandfather. The thriller got me swept up into some non-fiction speaking dates and even a scientific debate. Bottom line for me. I work because I have to. I write because I love to. Therefore I write what I want and let the chips fall where they may. My sales are respectable and my readers are loyal. Not too shabby.
Hi Tamela! Thank you for this aticle. I’m working on revisions for my first book in a specific series. My plan was to try an outline for the second book and then begin writing it. I may, instead, try to outline the next book, then come up with a quick summary of the third.
I typically write in the contemporary drama genre, but sometimes I write historical pieces, too. I enjoy a variety of time periods, so choosing one particular one would be rather difficult. If I had to choose, though, I’d probably choose contemporary, but that’s probably because that’s what I’m writing right now.
Wow! This was great info. I can so relate. I have a scifi novel, which is already sold and will be released spring of 2014, and it was pitched as a trilogy. I find myself wanting to write the second one, but afraid to. I wasn’t sure why—until now. But since the story is set in a dystopian future where they speak a hybrid of English, Spanish, and Canadian words and phrases, I also worry I’ll start to forget the language I created. lol
Great post Tamela,
I have a book “What To Expect When They’re Leaving The Nest”, that is scheduled to be released by Beacon Hill in the summer of 2014. While I may not be working on the next book, I am pursuing my audience for the book, plus a younger generation of moms for the prequel I would like to propose next spring. Until then, I am learning all I can about Pinterest and creating short YouTube videos about recipes and DIY projects that are increasing my website traffic.
Since I am still a newbie to book writing I have a lot to learn, but it seems to me that building a good audience is important to being able to keep the momentum going for the next book. Like you mentioned, it is about setting yourself up as the “go to” person. You have to know and grow your audience.
I’ve written in many different genres: YA, fantasy, contemporary romance, middle grade novels. I enjoy writing contemporary romance and YA/middle grade fiction, but for now I’ve decided to focus on contemporary romance. Focusing on one genre has helped me better study the art form.
For my second contemporary romance, I considered writing a sequel, but I am now writing an unrelated story that shares the same setting as the first book. I have a fondness for the setting and I couldn’t let it go!
Rachel Leigh Smith (@rachelleighgeek)
I’m still unagented, though working on revisions an agent requested. This same manuscript is also at Harper Voyager. It’s the first in a series. I submitted during their open call last fall and have made it through three rounds of rejections. They’ve signed two three book deals out of it already, so there’s reason to believe they’re looking for authors they can work with long-term.
When I’m not editing, I’m actively writing on book number three in this series. The genre I’m working in now, science fiction, has a long history of not only preferring series, but even preferring series that can go for ten or more books. One series, the Vorkosigan Saga, is mostly the same lead character for I don’t even know how many books now.
I have other ideas brewing, but none of them are strong enough to pull me away from the characters in this particular SF universe.
SF is the second genre I’ve written in, and the one that’s been the most promising so far. I’m writing in an emerging niche, science fiction romance. My other one is historical romance. Since switching to SFR I’ve really hit my stride and I’ve no plans to go back to historical romance, or the CBA market, in the foreseeable future.
Hey Rachel. Good luck with Harper Voyager. That was an exciting thing for them to open up submissions. I submitted three manuscripts. I got a rejection for one fairly quickly. I moved on with the other two but just got the second rejection a week ago. Thumbs crossed on the third. Again, good luck.
Rachel Leigh Smith
Thanks, Neal! Good luck on your third.
The idea of picking a genre (topic) and sticking with it is daunting. I’ve read several popular nonfiction authors and after a few books they have nothing new to say. They rehash old material and become boring. I don’t want to be that guy.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Peter, your determination not to be that guy means you won’t be. I’ve seen lots of reviews of nonfiction on Amazon where readers state this complaint about any number of books. The trick is, of course, to stay within your brand while creating new works on a different tangent, updated, and/or with a fresh approach. I think when an author has become an established expert, it’s more important than ever to find and keep a great agent who can offer input at the new proposal level, and to keep working with editors and publishers who will keep the author on track. Trick is not to look at, “Wow, how do I stay on this gravy train now that I can pretty much send in my grocery list and sell books?” but “How can my next book serve the public well, and even more importantly, be pleasing to and honoring of God?”
Thanks for the post. Is it acceptable for a series to switch to a new location for the second book? (The main characters end up moving to the new location at the end of book 1) Or is that an absolute no-no?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Jill, in my view, it is absolutely fine to switch locations. You have provided a logical explanation as to why, and your next book will now start off with a fresh and exciting premise.
Very timely piece, Tamela. Thank you.
Oh, dear, you have been reading my mind, haven’t you? Lately, I have had one persistent thought: I am all over the place. My only published books over the last few years were nonfiction Inspiration –but after going back to teaching high school, I, of course, felt I could write YA. So I wrote a couple ms in that genre –and threw in some PB as well. Now, I’m working on an MG. None of those have been picked up yet and I am wondering whether I should go back to the Nonfiction books that I started with. At what point, though, is it stretching and growing vs. being unfocused?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Tammy, I didn’t realize this question had gone unanswered so I hope you see this. If you are launching a new career as a novelist, it’s best to choose one type of novel — the type you are most passionate about — and stick with it. Or if nonfiction is your passion, there is no reason not to keep writing it. Regardless where your passion lies, in this economy, take solace in the fact it may take longer than usual to have any work picked up. Keep at it!
Thank you for this article. It was just what I needed since I’m outlining my second novel, although I’m still a little confused about my direction. I self-published my first novel after hearing that it wasn’t what agents thought would sell, but it was a message I felt compelled to tell regardless of sales. It’s a message of forgiveness and healing after sexual assault. My second novel is going to follow the trajectory of the the cop who retires and becomes a private investigator (and falls in love and solves a mystery/crime and uncovers more about his sisters death – a thread in the first novel). I struggled to identify a genre for the first novel – maybe women’s fiction but definitely not chick lit or romance. If the next novel has a male protagonist, can it even be considered women’s fiction, or have I crossed genres into cozy mystery or suspense or generic contemporary (for lack of following genre rules)?
Some readers have asked to read more about this character so it seemed a logical next step. Now I wonder if it waters down the punch of the first novel to toss it into a collection as just another book in a series. Can I have a stand alone book (my first) and a separate series (the next few) set in the same place with the same characters or is that just cheating out of laziness?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Angie, as with Tammy, I didn’t realize this question had not been answered so I hope you see this. There is nothing wrong with having the same characters and setting as long as you keep the stories fresh and your readers are happy.