Don’t Let It End

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?

The Well of Sacrifice

The Well of Sacrifice is a drama set in 9th-century Mayan Guatemala.

Chris Eboch likes happy endings!

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2 responses to “Don’t Let It End

  1. As both a writer and a reader, I’m a fan of the series, whether it stands alone or ends on a cliffhanger. If I loved the first book, I have no problem spending more time with the characters and their world. Some of my greatest reads are or part of a series. Some stories are just genuinely too big to fit in one book and shouldn’t be confined.

    From the writer’s stand point though, the only issue with a first book that ends on a cliffhanger is that if it performs poorly, you can forget about a sequel. And any reader that happened to want a sequel is left looking like Batman without his utility belt.

    But even with a standalone, I still appreciate loose ends or ambiguous endings. It depends on the story. Not all are the same. Or should be.

    Unless it’s a crime/mystery novel–I’m thinking more in terms of sci-fi/fantasy–I think every series should have some sort of overlaying plot that binds the collective…and not just the characters.

    Which is why, to me, it seems that authors who outlined or planned to write a series from the beginning usually end up with the better result than authors who became bestsellers and were enticed to continue that story. Sometimes a story should have ended with the greatness of Book 1 and nobody would have ever missed the unnecessary follow up.

    As both a writer and a reader, I just want to enjoy the story however long or short, series or one-off.

  2. It’s a real dilemma. I hate series books where the story doesn’t get resolved at the end of each book, at least the main parts. I hate cliff-hanger endings where I have to wait sometimes for years to find out if the characters are even still alive. But I like reading about the same people.

    I sold my books as a series, though each book does have a complete story. They just all tie together. I hope I hit the balance of resolving the current problems while leaving future ones open for more stories. It’s difficult.

    On the other hand, I went back to my characters to write some shorts just for fun (the books are all written, just waiting on editing and publication). It was like putting on a pair of old slippers – comfy and very familiar. I know these characters, I know the setting. I’ve already done most of the work. I just have to pull a story out of them. I think that’s what readers enjoy about series. It’s like hanging out with old friends.

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