Welcome to March of the Sequels, Karen!
First of all tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel.
Thanks for having me, Sue. My Tudor Court series is set during an era which has fascinated me since childhood, but its focus is on everyone but the royals. (Hasn’t Henry VIII had enough attention by now? Really?) My characters run the gamut from minstrel (Songbird) to secretary (A Wider World) to lady-in-waiting (Lady, in Waiting– the comma in the title is important), with a spy in the eventual fourth book. My characters continue on through each story, but the narrator changes each time – I have to end a character arc with the book or I don’t feel like I’ve finished. They can then go on and live their life and I’ll be glad to see them when they pop up in future books.
Lady, in Waiting is my newest release, and follows a character introduced first as a child and then again as an adult at the end of A Wider World. Margaery is a young woman raised in exile who wants to return to England, and who achieves that goal by proposing marriage to a man she barely knows. Instead of the quiet life in Yorkshire that she expected, her new husband is appointed secretary to William Cecil and Margaery becomes a minor lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth. She has much to learn on every front, and none of it comes easily. There’s intrigue and romance and family drama, all while learning how to be married to a man who has no better idea of the process than she does.
Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?
Since this is only my third book, the jury’s still out on that question. Quite a few readers mentioned that while they enjoyed book 2, they never warmed to the main character. Since he is Margaery’s husband in book 3, I’m hoping they’ll follow along to see if their feelings were correct or if I’ve rehabilitated him enough in their eyes that they have a new appreciation for him. (So far, that’s what’s been happening and I’m thrilled, because Robin Lewis is my favorite character I’ve ever written).
Is it easier to further develop characters you’ve already written in book one?
It is! I love it when they reappear unexpectedly and I get to find out where they’ve gone and what they’ve done since I last saw them. If I’m not interested, it won’t interest a reader.
It also gives me the opportunity to follow through on apparently finished stories. Bess, the main character in Songbird, has an epilogue set in 1559, where she watches Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation procession. This is nearly 30 years after the end of her story, and some readers wanted to know why I waited that long to give her an epilogue, and what she’d done in the meantime. (The answer was, I didn’t know, and I continued not to know until I wrote A Wider World and learned that she and her family traveled to Wales for a number of years, and then Lady, in Waiting informed me that they returned a few years prior to that procession. So now I know.)
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
It’s harder for me not to add new characters, and in the crowded world of the court where my characters exist, people come and go all the time and so I have plenty of opportunity to bring in new characters. Now that I’m clear it’s an ongoing series (I thought Songbird was a standalone), I try to come up with people who can be of use further down the plot road, but sometimes they only exist for the purpose of that story, and that’s fine. I still try to make them as realistic and well-rounded as possible.
Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding 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 worldbuilding?
I’m grateful that the world in which my series is set was really well documented, if not in court records, then in ambassadors’ letters home. Palaces and events and people are well – and occasionally snarkily – described, and all this is fodder for my world-building. Some locations in my books are created by me, but most are places that existed.
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 around in subsequent books?
Yes. Since I hadn’t planned to write A Wider World, and it’s only technically a sequel to Songbird, I had to deal with details about Robin Lewis’s life that I inserted in the first book, never expecting to need them again. Robin went to university – that was easily dealt with, and gave him a career path. Robin became ill while traveling in Italy? Not so easy, but when I figured out how to get him there and why, it brought about the most significant relationship of his life and made him the man he needed to be in his own book.
Did you notice your craft improving from book 1 to subsequent books in a series, and if so, how?
I think we get better with every book, learning from the editing process and constant reading. My writing gets tighter with each book, and while part of me is just twitching to go back and edit Songbird to the same level as the subsequent books, I know the best thing for me is to keep moving forward with new ones.
Do you plan out the entire series at once or one book at a time?
The easy answer is that I never planned to write a series. When I finished Songbird, I started writing a historical set in 1930s Pennsylvania, which is actually the book I’m publishing in October. I was well into the planning stages when I started hearing Robin’s voice, and put that book aside to write A Wider World. I knew when Margaery made her second appearance in his book that she would take over the story, and before I was 20% through her book, I had already decided on the narrator of book 4.
Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?
Since the main characters are different in each book, and have their own story arc, the books can be read as standalones, but I think readers would certainly get a deeper understanding of some of the side characters (who narrated previous books). I give enough necessary backstory in each book that readers don’t have to read the previous books, but hopefully by the end, they’ll be convinced that they want to.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
This goes back to my wanting to do another edit on Songbird. Even if your subsequent books can be read as standalones, most readers are going to find the books because of the first book in the series, so since it’s the entry point, it should be the absolute best book it can be.
In releasing Lady, in Waiting, I balanced my marketing efforts – which were mostly social media and two small Facebook ads – equally between the new release and the older books. One of the best ways I’ve found to get readers interested is to provide snippets, either on my website for longer pieces or in social media posts or graphics. I’ve been lured into purchasing more than a few books because of snippets shared on Twitter, so I always assume if it worked on me, it will work on others.
I’m still at the spaghetti stage of marketing – throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. And then understand that as soon as you have that technique down, algorithms will change and you’ll have to start over. It’s part of the fun, or so they say.
Thank you for taking part and good luck with your books!
About the Author
As an only child, Karen Heenan learned early that boredom was the enemy. Shortly after she discovered perpetual motion, and has rarely been seen holding still since.
She lives in Lansdowne, PA, just outside Philadelphia, where she grows much of her own food and makes her own clothes. She is accompanied on her quest for self-sufficiency by a very patient husband and an ever-changing number of cats.
One constant: she is always writing her next book.