All the buzz right now is about the latest book in a certain trilogy. Some of us on this site have written series or sequels. I wrote the Haunted series and Linda Joy Singleton’s work includes the Dead Girl and The Seer series. Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest was recently followed by a sequel.
What author wouldn’t like to have a series, whether the original contract is for several books, or a single title is so popular that readers (and the editor) want a sequel? And what reader wouldn’t want to return to a favorite literary world?
And yet, series can be a hard sell. Some publishers of course focus on series, typically the direct to paperback, open-ended type. I sold Haunted (about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, for ages 8 to 12) based on a first manuscript, series proposal, and outlines for books 2 and 3, to Aladdin, a paperback series publisher. But most publishers want to see how a first book does before they request a sequel.
“Characters that carry over a number of books certainly work well, but this isn’t the same thing as a series,” a former Llewellyn Acquisitions Editor said in an interview. “I’d rather see a strong standalone with sequel potential. If a single title works and the main character isn’t too old, it’s rarely a problem to continue the story into a new book, if there’s interest.”
Another editor commented, “I wonder how many trilogies or series were conceived as such—and how many began as one-offs that performed well and/or became bestsellers, at which point authors are often encouraged to write a follow-up.”
I wonder as well. As a writer, perhaps the best thing you can do is to bring your first book to a satisfactory conclusion, but leave the sense that the characters will go on to have other adventures — and wouldn’t it be nice to read about those?
This is also comforting for the author, who doesn’t feel as much like she’s abandoning her characters forever. (I ended my historical fiction novel The Well of Sacrifice with the characters heading off to a new Mayan city. I imagined their adventures, though I never wrote a sequel. Some teachers who use the book in the classroom have students write about what happens next.) This is a bit different from “And they lived happily ever after” — unless you believe that happily ever after would involve new challenges and adventures!
As readers — or writers — do you like to feel that a book is complete and self-contained, with no questions or concerns left for the characters? Or do you prefer an ambiguous ending that suggests challenges ahead? Something in between?
Chris Eboch likes happy endings!