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Ask An Editor: Sequels and Series

On my earlier post Ask an Editor: What Makes a Good Ending, M K Gaud asked, “What about sequels? Are you open to books with sequels?”

Short answer: Yes.

Some of the books we’ve already chosen, like Velvet and These Vicious Masks need direct sequels. (Direct sequels are books featuring the same main characters that take place directly after the first novel.) Both of these books were written as the first books in planned trilogies, and we knew that when we acquired them. Other titles, like Love Fortunes and Other Disasters and Warning! You Might Fall in Love with Me tied up the main romance plot, but left opportunities open for indirect sequels (other books set in the same world that ideally focus on side characters from the first book and tell their stories) should the authors choose to write them.

That said, even if you are going to write a sequel, you must have a solid and satisfying story in Book 1. Even if you are leaving me with a terrible cliffhanger (which as a reader I hate, but as an editor I reluctantly understand), you need to have tied up enough of the plot threads from the first book that I feel like I’ve had a fulfilling experience reading it. There must have been a significant amount of character growth, some forward momentum in the relationships, and a solid climax so that I can feel that the characters have actually achieved something, and made measurable progress toward their overall goal. Otherwise, there’s no emotional catharsis for the reader, and if you can’t deliver a solid story with real emotional impact for the reader in the first book, then there is no reason for them to believe that you will be able to deliver a proper ending to the series.

(Emotional catharsis is a figurative cleansing of the emotions caused by a buildup and release of emotional tension. Basically, it’s that long sigh you give at the end of a really good book.)

For example, in These Vicious Masks (Obligatory spoiler alert here, although I’m NOT going into specifics, you’ll have to read it for yourselves!), there are a few main threads driving the plot. The biggest is that Evelyn’s beloved sister Rose has been kidnapped. Others include the fact that Sebastian Braddock is making wild claims that Evelyn and her sister have some kind of strange powers. And of course there are all these distracting romances and feelings going on. At the end of Book 1, we definitely know the truth of Sebastian’s claims, so solid progress has been made there, although there is still some question as to the extent of these powers and what they can do with them, thus leaving the thread open to be picked up in the sequel. And, even though none of the romantic relationships have been settled, there have been significant moments and realizations for each potential couple. Progress has been made. Finally, and most importantly, by the end of the book Evelyn has found Rose and stopped her kidnappers in a satisfyingly climactic scene… true, the climax is followed immediately by a horrendous cliffhanger that sets off a whole new set of problems to be addressed in the sequel, but that still doesn’t change the fact that this particular set of issues has been solved.

As editors, we often find that many authors make the mistake of thinking that they must have a series, but you need to remember that a series is a much bigger commitment from a reader than a single book. So, it’s even more important that the first book be completely solid and rewarding. It has to be swoonworthy enough to make them put forth the time, money and effort required to seek out the rest of the series. And sadly, if you don’t manage to write a satisfying ending to Book 1, most readers will never make it to Book 2, let alone to the end of the series.

In conclusion, it’s perfectly fine to have a planned sequel or trilogy or series of books, but if you are going to do that, you should take a very close look at your story. Make sure you have at least a general idea of where the story is going, and what’s going to happen. How many strong climactic moments do you have? If there’s only one really good climactic choice/pivotal moment/major battle/declaration of love, then you really only have ONE book, and you need to figure out how to trim the story down to fit, so that you don’t weaken the reader’s experience. But, if there are several stages to the overall plot, with multiple villains to defeat and emotional hurdles to overcome, you might be writing a series. At that stage, you should try to figure out the distribution of your plot so that each book has definite character growth, measurable movement in any romantic relationships, and a solid climactic moment, choice, battle or decision that moves the main plot forward and ties up a good chunk of the plot threads of that book, delivering a solid moment of emotional catharsis to readers at the end of each stage of the journey.

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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