Welcome to March of the Sequels, Terry.
First of all tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel.
Hello Sue—thank you for inviting me to this feature, and I hope my answers will be helpful to those writing a sequel or a series for the first time.
A couple of my earlier books have sequels: Kings and Queens/Last Child, and Dream On/Full Circle. More recently I’ve written a four and a three book series, and for the purpose of these questions, I will talk about the second books in each of these:
• Lindisfarne: Book Two of the four book post apocalyptic Project Renova series. Book One, Tipping Point, is set before, during and in the immediate aftermath of a pandemic. Lindisfarne starts six months on, when my characters seek sanctuary on a tidal island.
• Wasteland: Book Two of the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy, about a totalitarian future world. The first, Hope, is set in 2028-30, with Wasteland taking place thirty years later, about the changed world that began in Hope.
Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?
I’ve been delighted with the ‘read through’ for the Project Renova series, which is at least eighty per cent from Book One through to Book Three, with a drop off to around sixty per cent to Book Four – which was actually an afterthought, as it was originally a trilogy. With Kindle Unlimited page reads it’s around ninety per cent all through.
With the Operation Galton series, it’s about seventy per cent from Hope to Wasteland, dropping to about fifty-sixty per cent for Megacity. A wise writer never dismisses reader preference, though the lower take up may also be because Hope and Wasteland are not a continuing story of the same people, as Wasteland takes place thirty years later. Megacity is my latest publication, and it’s too soon to get a clear picture.
I wrote the Project Renova series in sequence, whereas I wrote other books in between publishing the Operation Galton series, so that might have affected it, too. Generally, though, re the question of whether or not readers go on to read the rest of the series, there is one basic answer: if a book holds your interest you’ll want to read more, and if it doesn’t, you won’t.
Is it easy to further develop characters you’ve written about in Book One?
If it’s not, it could be that the book doesn’t merit a sequel. You need to make sure there is enough material, that it isn’t just more of the same, or a wrap-up of Book One. With Lindisfarne, I gave point-of-view chapters to characters who did not have them in Book #1, which meant developing them more. For instance, the main character in Book #1 was Vicky, a single mother. In Lindisfarne I developed her daughter, Lottie. Lottie went on to be the most popular character I’ve ever written.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
It’s no different from introducing them in any novel. A new character may bring out different aspects of those already established, and should, ideally, have an influence on the path of the story.
Is it difficult to continue with world building for a world you have already built in Book One? Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with the worldbuilding?
I don’t find that this is an issue, no; whether or not the location is the same depends on where you take the story, and world building is about more than the physical place. Something I’ve found essential, though, is to re-read the previous book before you start work onthe sequel. In full, don’t skip bits. All sorts of minor details that you may have forgotten will come to the fore. Make notes!
Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from Book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way round in subsequent books?
I just had a good think about this and could only recall one, actually from a Book Two to a Book Three. In Wasteland, a minor character called Darcie has turquoise dreadlocks. In her one scene she is working behind a bar and is a total bitch to the main character, Rae. When I got the idea for Megacity, I knew Darcie would make the ideal person to base it around. Trouble was, I didn’t want her to be called Darcie as that didn’t fit her personality—and the bitchy scene was out of character. Ditto the turquoise dreadlocks, so I had to create a reason why Tara had a different name and wore a wig when working in the bar, and why she was so offhand with Rae!
Do you notice your craft improving from Book 1 to subsequent books in the series, and if so, how?
I think this is inevitable; we constantly learn new techniques, see what works and what doesn’t, read our reviews and find out what readers do and don’t like. Much of it is subconscious too, I think—it’s like any skill, the more you do it the more proficient you become. For instance, I think Book Three, UK2, is the best of the Project Renova series. Some agree with me, but the other three all have reviews saying that they’re the favourite.
Do you plan out the entire series at once, or one book at a time?
With the Project Renova series, I had already decided to write a trilogy, and knew that my characters would settle on the island of Lindisfarne for Book Two, and that there would be a rebuild of the country for the third book. What would happen there was determined by how events unfolded in my brain, though! I do plan, a lot, because almost everything in any book or series, every piece of dialogue and plot development, needs to be relevant and progress towards the outcome. Having said that, I think of new ideas all the time.
Wasteland was something entirely different, because Book One, was meant to be a stand alone. It was only after I’d written another book that an idea for a sequel began to unfurl in my mind. Ditto Megacity, the third book.
Do you try to make sequels readable as stand alones, or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?
Both. The Project Renova series was always intended to be a continuing story, though I do make sure there is some resolution in each book. This is quite the norm for post apocalyptic series – I’ve read lots of them and can confirm this!
As I explained before, Hope and Wasteland were written as stand alones. I think Megacity is too; it’s hard for me to say.
Something I do, which readers often comment is a good idea and I would recommend to all writers of sequels, is to give a brief summary of Book One at the start of Book Two. In the introduction I provide a link to it; it actually sits at the back of the book. This is so much better than writing a horribly exposition-filled first couple of chapters, in an effort to remind the reader about what’s going on.
The summary should be geared towards the new book, rather than a general précis; I write it after I’ve written the second book, so that I know what aspects of the first book need to be included. In each subsequent book, I write a summary of ‘the story so far’. I started doing this from experience as a reader of series when I found myself having to re-read the last ten per cent of the previous book to remind myself of what happened! Also, it means that first time readers can go ahead without having read the prequel.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
The main one is this: write Book Two before you publish Book One. If readers have to wait nine months before they can see what happens next, it’s possible they might forget all about it, or certainly forget that ‘oh my goodness, that was so good!’ feeling they got when they finished the first.
I wrote Lindisfarne before I published Tipping Point, which meant that six weeks after Tipping Point hit the virtual shelves, I could get Lindisfarne out there, too. From when I sent Lindisfarne off for proofreading, two months before, I had been working on a book of short stories attached to the series, Patient Zero. Nine shorts take less time to write than a novel, so they were ready to be published six weeks after Lindisfarne. I then went back to Book Three, UK2, which came out four and a half months later. The final book, Legacy, was available in another six months’ time.
The publication dates:
Tipping Point: 5 August 2017
Lindisfarne: 23 September 2017
Patient Zero: 8 November 2017
UK2: 27 March 2018
Legacy: 22 October 2018
Thus, I got a four book series with a collection of side stories out in just over fourteen months. I write quickly, but if you’re a slow writer this is a particularly good idea. I’ve known of some who write the whole series first, then publish one a month. This is an even better idea, but I was too excited about getting Tipping Point out there to wait!
• Make sure it looks and sounds like a series. The covers should have the same colour scheme or same fonts or both, or similar pictures, connected titles, etc.
• Specify that it’s part of a series on the actual cover.• Don’t forget to add the series information when you publish on Amazon, so that under the title it says ‘Book One of the blah blah series’, and that they are pictured together on the Product Details section—sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers miss this!
• Get some sort of graphic(s) done for when you promote them on social media, so people can see all the books together.
• Make the first book as cheap as you can, and put it on free promotion now and again (if you’re on Amazon KDP), or consider making it permanently free if you publish wide. If you pay to promote it, try sites like Freebooksy and EreaderIQ that will promote the whole series or other books as well as the main one.
Good luck to everyone writing a sequel or series, and thanks again, Sue!
Thank you very much for taking part, Terry, and good luck with your books!
About the Author
Terry Tyler is the author of 23 publications on Amazon, most recently within the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genres. Her latest book is expected this spring: Where There’s Doubt is a psychological drama/thriller about a conman and his victims. The inspiration for this was her proofreader, who said she didn’t want to work on another b***dy book about the end of the world.
Terry lives in the North East of England with her husband. Aside from writing, she can be found taking long walks and photographs of trees, wishing she lived at the seaside, watching TV (series such as like The Shield, Dexter, Yellowstone and the The Walking Dead, with which she is obsessed). Also blogging about writing, TV and other random stuff, reading novels and non-fiction about history, anthropology, travel and current affairs, playing Wordle and chatting/arguing on Twitter, though she is on a twelve-step programme to wean her off the latter.