Does your novel deserve a sequel? That’s a tough question to answer. As fiction writers, I think we’d most often like the answer to be: “Yes!” It’s hard to let go of characters and plots and worlds we adore.
However – surprise, surprise – not all novels need a sequel. In fact, some of them are better as standalones. On the flipside, there are lots of books that require a sequel.
So how do you know which your book is? Well, here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not it needs continuation.
Consider the following questions.
Is there a sequel opportunity?
This first thing to think about, of course, is whether or not you have an idea for a sequel.
Now, this is a rare condition* – and not something I struggle with often – but occasionally an author will want to write a sequel – even believe his/her novel deserves a sequel – but be unable to think of a plot to write.
In these cases, unless you’ve either promised a publisher to write a sequel** or your novel cannot function as a standalone, it’s best to just let the book remain sequel-less.
*which I would very much like to have from time to time.
**in the case of traditionally published authors, of course.
Can your book be a standalone?
Some books have a cliff-hanger for an ending that says, “There shall be a sequel!” Occasionally standalones will have mysterious or open-ended resolutions; however, oftentimes a story continues through the next book or even into a series.
If you intended to write a series from the beginning, that’s one thing. However, there are occasions when the ending of your book – which you intended to be a standalone – leaves you longing to write a sequel to wrap up a plot or some such.
One example of this would be with my very own The Lady of the Vineyard. I wanted it to be a standalone; however, I found myself wanting to continue the story.
I’d left Adele and the rest of the characters in more of a compromise than a happily-ever-after. And, loving these characters as I did, I didn’t feel that it was sufficient.
Several readers had also commented that they were unsatisfied with leaving Adele with so much of her journey uncompleted. I agree with them. Though it was a good place to end the book, it wasn’t necessarily a good place to leave the story!
This, along with advice from friends, helped me decide to write Flowers, the short story sequel to The Lady of the Vineyard. And I’ve yet to regret it!
Does it add to the story … or does it detract?
This is probably your #1 concern when deciding whether or not to write a sequel. Are you writing something that takes away or adds?
This applies to prequels and whatnot as well, which is good because that’s the example I’m going to use. 😉
I’ve written two prequels to The Lady of the Vineyard – Ladytudes, which I’m rewriting, and Goldfish Secrets, which I’m editing. Both add something to the story.
Ladytudes shows how Adele became what she is, gives the backstory that I couldn’t sneak in to The Lady of the Vineyard or Flowers, and in general expands upon the story.
So I like to pretend it’s worthwhile.
Goldfish Secrets shows the cause of Judy’s devotion to Adele and provides a fun peek into Judy’s life before The Lady of the Vineyard.
Besides, it’s always fun to write short stories, and that cover (by Aesthetically Designs) is absolutely excellent!
(And yes, I did slip some promo for my friend’s new graphic design business in. But it is so perfect, after all! I just had to comment.)
Are your readers going to want more?
If you haven’t been advertising your intention to sequel from the beginning, then readers may not know you want to write a sequel – and they may not even be in the market for one.
You can probably judge by reviews, beta feedback, and talking to people in person as to whether a sequel would be welcome … or if they feel that the series is complete as it is, for that matter.
Of course, you can’t judge it completely based on reader feedback. If someone loves your book, they’ll want to read more. But maybe you need to focus on the next book rather than the sequel.
Do you want to write a series?
Series are three or more books, and there are many reasons to write them.
They can be easier to market in some ways because readers will keep coming back for more. They’re fun to write, and you don’t have to develop a new set of characters every time.
There are two main types of series –
- Series in which each book is a separate plot.
- Series in which each book leads up to the next.
Obviously the second type of series takes the most planning. One example of them would be The Hunger Games. I haven’t experimented with one yet, but maybe someday!
I’ve read a lot more series in the first category. The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy is one of them. Each book functions as it own. Some books in these types of series are more dependent upon each other than other’s.
With a series of the second type, obviously it’s not optional – and you must have decided to write this type of series ahead of time (I hope), so that shouldn’t be a problem!
With series of the first type, there is some flexibility. I could easily just write four books in The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy rather than six*.
Most historical romance series that I’ve read feature a different romance between a different couple, each of which are somehow connected.
One of my favorite examples of this is the Hawthorne House series by Kristi Ann Hunter. Each of the books in these series feature a different sibling from the Hawthorne family and his/her love interest.
*I could stop now, but I want to share Ivy’s story with you!
Are there books that don’t warrant a sequel?
YES. Yes, there are.
After a brief survey of some friends combined with some of my personal thoughts, here are some books that didn’t need a sequel.
- In my opinion, the Books of Bayern series was unnecessary.
- It wasn’t enjoyable, none of the books beyond the first added to the series, and in fact it gave a lot of info I couldn’t care less about.
- The magic was just lost.
The Treasures of Surrey series by Sarah E. Ladd
- Though these books are stuck together in a series, they aren’t really connected. At all.
- In my opinion, connecting books together in a series and advertising it as such even though they aren’t connected is just a bad idea.
- I’m still disappointed that the next book didn’t contain updates on my favorite characters!
- Better to just label them as standalones.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- I still refuse to accept Go Set a Watchman.
- Lee never meant for there to be a sequel, and the book doesn’t need a sequel.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- There actually are a few non-canon sequels to Gone with the Wind is circulation written by various authors.
- Some are only available outside the US; a couple have been accepted in the United States. However, none are good or useful.
- Much as I’d like the book to go on and on, there is and never will be a good sequel to GWTW, and there shouldn’t be!
Sometimes it’s impossible to follow an incredible book with a worthy sequel. For instance, Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird will never have incredible sequels. Neither will any of the Austen novels … or many other classics.
That’s why Margaret Mitchell (more above), Harper Lee (more above), and Jane Austen weren’t writing sequels. And I’m not saying you need to just stop writing after you publish your magnum opus (see Charlotte’s Web) as Mitchell and Lee did, but you don’t need to follow all your stories with a sequel*.
*someone tell Disney, PLEASE.
In Summary …
I’ll just say that it’s up to you whether or not your book has a sequel. Sometimes the book needs one … sometimes it doesn’t.
If you originally planned for it to be a standalone, more often than not it is best for it to remain that way. The book was, after all, written without a sequel in mind, meaning it’s not intended to have one!
If you have a series, it’s wise to end it before it drags on.
One example of a series that went on and on was The Selection by Kiera Cass. After she finished the main series, she wrote a couple more books about the children of the main characters, and I’m told they were not as good*.
*If you enjoyed those last couple books, I’m not judging you or anything. I haven’t read them, but I have been told they’re not so good and feel like an unnecessary continuation.
So when it’s time for your series to end, or if you don’t need a sequel, stop. Less is oftentimes more.
But don’t let that scare you from writing sequels!
They can definitely be fun and beloved, as well as an excellent marketing strategy. I can think of just as many series I adore as standalones.
Whatever you choose, be sure to put out your best work and consider the novels themselves over your personal feelings. If you want to write a sequel just for the sake of a sequel, it may not be a good idea.
Well, that’s all I have to say on the subject! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are.
Do you like sequels? If you write, what are you more likely to write – series or standalones? Should I knock off the last two books in The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy? 😉 How are your writing endeavors coming? MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL … DOES YOUR NOVEL DESERVE A SERIES?