Welcome to March of the sequels, Virginia!
First of all tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel.
I have two series, my Victoria Marmot series which is fast paced humorous urban fantasy, and my Gensokai series which is epic fantasy set in a land inspired by feudal Japan.
Victoria Marmot and the Meddling Goddess is the first book of the Victoria Marmot series and it features a snarky teenage protagonist who gets thrown into a magical world she didn’t know existed in order to fulfill a quest she never asked for.
Blade’s Edge is the first book of my Gensokai series and it features two friends who are separated at age 7 as they are thrown into two very different paths to learning more about their own forbidden powers and their own inner strengths.
Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?
Well, for Victoria Marmot, the answer is basically that anyone who likes book 1 will generally go on to read all the books because book 1 ends on a cliffhanger. Which, according to sales, seems to be about 50% of the folks who read book 1. Which is fine because humor is very hit or miss. Meanwhile, read through from book 2 to book 5 is at close to 100%. I attribute this to books 1 to 4 all ending on cliff hangers!
As for Blade’s Edge, it was made to be read as a standalone. Then I wrote Traitor’s Hope, which is actually a direct sequel, but I also wrote it to stand on its own. And then there’s Sairō’s Claw, which is the start to a new series set in the same world that doesn’t require having read Blade’s Edge or Traitor’s Hope to enjoy. So, the read through on that series is all over the place. Blade’s Edge has sold thousands of copies since its release in 2015, but Traitor’s Hope and Sairō’s Claw have only sold a fraction of that amount. Judging by the kindle page reads though, it seems like about 30% of readers who finish Blade’s Edge go on to read Traitor’s Hope. Since Sairō’s Claw isn’t actually a sequel I wouldn’t call it read through, but it has about 60% of the readership that Traitor’s Hope does.
I think the fact that Blade’s Edge ends on a satisfying conclusion means a lot of people will never pick up Traitor’s Hope even if they loved Blade’s Edge. Which I get. The same is true for anyone who finishes Traitor’s Hope. The only reason to move on to the next book in those cases is a love of the world building or the characters.
Is it easier to further develop characters you’ve already written in book one?
Certainly! I always get to know my characters best by the end of the first draft, and that means I really get to bring them to life more accurately in the second draft. Writing another book with the same characters means I really get to spend time with characters that I know well in a world that I know well and it makes the character development feel natural and rich to me in a way that earlier books don’t always feel.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
Not that difficult, and often quite fun! Throwing a new relationship dynamic into a group of characters is often very entertaining as a writer and I hope that entertainment value transfers to the reader too.
Is it difficult to continue with world building for a world you have already built in book 1? Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with world building?
Oh no, I love going deeper with world building in every subsequent book! The book I’m working on right now (when I’m managing to write at all) is a sequel to Sairō’s Claw and it’s the 4th book I’ve written set in and around Gensokai. It’s taking us to new places, but all of that just deepens the world building in Gensokai to begin with. The world building plays a huge roll in Sairō’s Claw and its sequel Eredi’s Gambit and I can’t wait for folks to see all the ways it plays out!
Have you ever been stymied by a world building or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books?
Not for long. I’m grateful to my brain for coming up with interesting and intricate reasons for some stuff that I thought I was coming up with off the cuff in earlier books. Turns out there’s really good reasons for a lot of things that “just seemed fun at the time” but also, I always write copious (sometimes as many words as the actual draft) world building notes for every book, and so there’s always more to things than what I put on the page. Each book allows me to reveal more of the original planning I did 13 years ago when I first drafted Blade’s Edge and that’s really exciting!
Did you notice your craft improving from book 1 to subsequent books in a series, and if so, how?
Absolutely! I mean, between Blade’s Edge and Sairō’s Claw lie 7 other novels and 6 years of writing professionally and honestly I would be disappointed in myself if my writing hadn’t improved in myriad ways by the time I published Sairō’s Claw. I think the most obvious improvements are in making character voices truly distinct, but that’s just my opinion.
Do you plan out the entire series at once or one book at a time?
Depends on the series. I planned out the Victoria Marmot series before I wrote it and then went completely off script for two books and wound up making the whole thing 4 books shorter than originally planned. My Gensokai series…. no I plan a bit of the next book while I’m planning the current book just to ensure I know where I’m going, but I generally take it one book at a time. If I know too much I get bored, so I have to let myself make things up on the spot as often as possible.
Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?
I’ve done both! Victoria Marmot is 100% designed to make readers pick up the next book as soon as they finish the one they’re on. Every book from 1 to 4 ends on a cliffhanger and book 5 is the end of the series. But my Gensokai books are all meant to be readable as standalones. Though Blade’s Edge and Traitor’s Hope form a pretty tight duology.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
If you are planning a sequel let readers know as soon as they finish book 1 and make sure you can notify them when it releases! You can set up a long pre-order link, or have them sign up to your mailing list, or have them follow your author page, but don’t let them forget you after book 1!
Thank you so much for taking part in #marchofthesequels, Virginia and Good Luck with your books!
About the Author
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.
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