Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On Writing a Sequel

I can still hear the conversation over lunch that day, my friend asking me about publishing and writing novels. At the time, I told him I wouldn’t even try to submit until I had already started a second book. The logic was clear in my mind. With publishers tying writers up in multi-book contracts, why would anyone consider you if they felt like you could only give them one book?

Where did I get that notion? After reading about authors like J.A. Konrath who signed a contract with Hyperion for six Jack Daniels books, it wasn’t hard to make a cognitive leap toward the multi-book deal. Sounds great doesn’t it? Land one, you land five more, and all your dreams come true. A sweet deal.

Last September, as I geared up for NaNoWriMo, I happened upon an interview with Michael Connelly in Writer’s Digest (October 2009), where Connelly talked about throwing everything he could think of into that first Harry Bosch novel. His comments furthered my belief that the best way to land a contract was to plan ahead for book two. So, I intentionally wrote a few little extras into Lost Hearts, knowing that I would flesh them out in a later novel, so sure that once I had an editor hooked for one, I could also hook him/her for a few more.

Then, this week I came across an interesting post on the Bookends, LLC blog. In her post, Jessica Faust explains the reasoning why writing a sequel before the first book is sold is a bad idea. In summary, if the first one doesn’t sell, you could be wasting your time on writing that second or (heaven forbid) third book. A search of the internet revealed that Faust is not alone. Two other blog postings, one by Corey Schwartz and one by Lisa Cooke, also warn against writing the sequel before the first book is sold.

So much for my bright idea.

On the positive side, I don’t think all is lost. The best thing I can do right now is to make notes about my ideas on a second book and then set it all aside as I tackle a different book with different characters. Then, if an editor inquires: “Why yes, I do have plans for a sequel. I’m glad you asked.”

So, for now I will change course and start looking at the prospect of a new novel. I already have two ideas in the hopper, one which I started previously that shows promise and another one which has merit.

In other news:

Almost a year ago, I received an interesting inquiry about one of my short stories. Would I be interested in optioning it out for a movie? You bet. After making the arrangements, and now waiting several months, I decided to inquire about that option. “I received an e-mail,” the producer responded, “and Beyond the Pale did not get chosen.” I thanked her for considering the story anyway, and told her it was an honor to me that it had even been considered.

In this period between novels, I will pick up a couple short stories and dust them off. I would like to send out at least two over the next couple of months. I'm also still working on a short story idea that came to me while writing the novel. Who knows? I might get that out too.

Last weekend, I finished reading Marked Man by William Lashner. The novel follows the curious case of an attorney hired by a mother who wants to see her son before she dies. Just one problem: the son is on the lam for stealing a priceless painting. Initially, the dialogue feels over-the-top, and the story starts out a little slow, but then everything tightens up and builds steam as Lashner pushes down the throttle for a good plot that tugs at your heart. I give it three bullets out of five, with five being a great read (IMO). I should note that I'm not getting paid for any rating or reading, and the score is purely subjective. With Lashner's book now finished, I'm trying out Stephen White for the first time (Dry Ice) and re-reading a good Robert B. Parker book (Night Passage)

Until next time…


  1. Hey Stephen,

    I remember you mentioning the interest in your short story. Sorry that it didn't get any further along in the process, but glad to know the outcome.


  2. Not that I'm any sort of expert, but it seems to me that writing a second book, before your first is accepted isn't a horrible idea. I certainly don't think of it as wasting time, especially if YOU like the characters, storyline and are enjoying it.
    Perhaps in keeping those mental writing muscles flexed, you may come up with something or other that could bring up an entirely different idea. Who knows? Whatever you decide - I don't think any writing is a waste of time if you enjoy it.

  3. I was wondering what happened with Beyond the Pale.

    Interesting thoughts on sequels. If it were me, I think I'd write D1 for NaNoWriMo; that way I'd only have invested a month if the sequel pub deal didn't work out (theoretically; I remember well what happened to us this past year)


  4. six of one and a half dozen of another, ya know.
    Take Dan Brown his 2nd book was published first, IMO it was not as good as the his first book that was published 2nd.

    So I think if you are moved to write a 2nd, by all means do so.

  5. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  6. Thanks for all the advice and comments, everyone. And thank you for stopping by, Lucy.

    Maybe one thing to take away from this is that writing a sequel before the first one is sold can be okay as long as it can stand alone. At least then, the second book won't be so tied to the first that it diminishes the chances of success. It will give me much to think about over the next couple of months.

    Paige, I imagine you're talking about Angels & Demons and the DaVinci Code. I haven't read the former, but I read DaVinci Code. I haven't read his latest book either. Maybe one day.

  7. Stephen, editor Lynn Price at Behler Publications wrote a long post today about the pitfalls of writing a series before the first book sells. The main point I took away from it is that if major changes are made during the publishing process of one book, the others in the series may need to be totally rewritten. You're approaching things the right way according to my understanding of her post.

    Here's the link if you're interested in reading the whole thing: http://behlerblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/the-series-sashay/


  8. Excellent point, Carol. And thanks for the link.