To sequel or not to sequel?

I know it’s a bad idea to write a sequel to my current WIP right now, but I really really want to.

A mountain in a desert

The draft of the novel I’ve been working on since 2015 is currently with beta readers (for the third time), and I find myself facing a difficult decision.

I want to write something new while I wait, but what should I write?

I started an unrelated book–which I’m going to call “Desert” for the sake of clarity–and got 30k words in before deciding I wanted to change everything and basically start over. So I could have a second go at that one.

There’s a lot that I like about it, but the problem is that I’m not excited about it right now. What I really want to work on is the sequel to my book that’s with beta readers. (I’ll call that one “RoDS”.)

Unfortunately there are lots of reasons that’s a bad idea.

If I do traditionally publish RoDS

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to traditionally publish RoDS, but I haven’t ruled it out.

So suppose I do go that route and manage to find myself an agent.

I appreciate even if RoDS sells, the publisher might not want a sequel. Or they might want a sequel, but not the sequel I’ve written. (And probably not the two sequels after that that are begging to be written.)

My (hypothetical) agent might sell RoDS, but only after I change it so much the sequel I’ve written no longer makes sense.

Or my agent might fail to sell RoDS and ask what else I have. Obviously a sequel to the book that didn’t sell wouldn’t do.

If any of these things happen, working on the sequel to RoDS would be a waste of time.

Even if I don’t traditionally publish RoDS

I can appreciate certain aspects of RoDS aren’t especially marketable in today’s environment. It’s too long, for starters. Even if I cut it dramatically it will be too long.

It’s set in a pseudo-medieval world, which is out of fashion.

The world is also male-dominated, the local populace is light skinned (the main darker skinned people are merchants who have travelled from kingdoms to the south), and the diversity is… limited.

I think these artistic choices make sense in the context of the story, but the book doesn’t exactly advance representation.

My point is that Desert might be easier than RoDS to sell traditionally.

So suppose I do self-publish RoDS. Then having a bunch of sequels would probably be a good thing.

However…

In that case I’d still want to pursue traditional publication for Desert (or my next book after it). Which means I need to get on and write it.

I hear having a self-published book that didn’t sell a whole lot of copies (read, most self-published books) can be a hindrance to getting traditionally published. So self-publishing RoDS before I tried to traditionally publish Desert might not be the way to go.

The traditional publishing industry also loves a debut, and if you’re already self-published you’ve lost that chance. Again, a reason not to self-publish RoDS yet, and to get on and write Desert.

Lots of camels
Plus, look at how cute camels are!

But…

The thing is I’m excited about writing the sequel to RoDS. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could get a first draft out in a few months.

My head is in that space right now, and it would be easier to jump back from writing the sequel to editing RoDS when I heard back from my beta readers than it would be to jump from writing Desert.

So, can someone please tell me it’s okay to write the sequel to my unsold (and possibly unsellable) WIP?

Have I missed any reasons I shouldn’t write the sequel? Can you please tell me it’s okay to do it anyway?

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

10 thoughts on “To sequel or not to sequel?”

  1. I know nothing about writing novels and publishing… but I do know that creativity doesn’t work in perfect straight lines, and you should use whatever motivation you have when you have it! It’ll be easier and faster to work on writing your sequel now while you feel inspired for that world. Then if you do need sequel you already have a head start. And, like you say, it might be helpful to have stayed in that world when you get your feedback from your Beta readers.

    I wouldn’t force yourself to work on the thing you are less enthusiastic about, especially for the sake of hypotheticals. It’ll be harder and less enjoyable work, and you’ll be less productive.

    You also never know, just the feeling excited while working on the sequel book might end up bring you back around to feeling inspired for Desert anyway!

    1. This is sort of what I’ve been thinking. It’s so much more productive to write something you’re currently inspired about, and even if the sequel never sees the light of day I’ll learn a lot from writing it. And I really want to write it, so I’ll take any rationale that says I should! 🙂

  2. So, you know. I’m not a guru or anything. That said: It depends. How committed are you to traditional publishing?

    My feeling is that, as you seem to already know, that the strategic thing to do is to traditionally publish your debut. There are enough gatekeepers that you should probably focus on that. If your current WIP isn’t the one that will be traditionally published, well, a successful self-publishing strategy is to rapid release in a series, so if you have the time and brainspace for more than one WIP, go for it. Or you can work on the sequel while brainstorming/outlining the next standalone. But hoarding a series to release later won’t hurt you if you self-publish.

    (I myself have many series ideas for my WIP, so I am in a similar position. I did self-pub my short fiction collection, but it’s a short fiction collection and agents do not rep that. I don’t consider that my debut.)

    I mean. We could get into a long involved “Should one be a business person or an artist?” debate, but not only is that a false dichotomy but it also depends on your goals. If your goal is to make as much money as possible from your writing, you might be in the wrong genre. 😀 I think for both of us, our goals are somewhere in between.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It always depends, doesn’t it? 😉 Some years ago I laid out all my reasons for wanting to traditionally publish (https://www.asakkalon.com/decided-pursue-trade-publication/). Reading them just now, they mostly still stand, though the possibilities for self-publishing are very different to when I wrote that post in 2017, making it considerably more attractive.

      That’s a good point that your goals matter. I used to never care about making money from my writing, but given I don’t have a job right now (by choice) I’d feel silly to say making money wouldn’t be a good thing. I would never switch away from writing the genre I want to write in order to make more money, but I do put at least some consideration into market appeal. So, yeah. Somewhere in between. 🙂

      1. I went back and read your linked post, and… yeah.

        Although TBH the reason you get more royalties with self-publishing is because in traditional publishing you’re splitting your profits with the publisher, who paid for your cover and your editing and probably also gave you an advance. IOW, between not having to shell out $2K for editing and $1K for a cover and receiving your advance you probably come out ahead, traditional-publishing-wise. I know that’s not what the cool kids are saying, but… yeah. Most traditionally published authors never earn out their advance, but they got money up front and didn’t have to pay anything up front. The average self-published author sells 250 copies. 70% of 250 copies at $2.99 is $523.25; at $4.99 it’s $873.25, at $5.99 it’s $1,048.25. From the thing I just googled up, the average traditional publishing first book advance is between $5,000 and $15,000.Trad pub is the winner for a single book; where the indies catch up is in series marketing.

        I have a graduate degree in art but covers are marketing assets, so I absolutely outsourced my cover. I did my own internal layout. I took a graduate-level course in typographical bookmaking, but I’m not sure whether my book reflects that or not because I had to wrestle my layout program to the ground to get it to spit out a pretty page. 😀

        I’m less concerned about the validation–I like validation just as much as or more than the average person, but I’m not going to hold out for it–and more concerned that there are marketing opportunities that are like “Your book must be published by a publishing company that is not run by you and the acquiring editor cannot be you or related to you…” and….. Yeah. I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m more afraid of obscurity. I mean, money is nice but I’d really like for people to read and enjoy it. So if agents all pass on it, I’ll have to decide between self-publishing or sending it to one of the two small presses I have my eye on for it. (Which pay either no advance or a couple hundred bucks, and they’d control my pricing, but I’d be able to talk to the places that want your book to have had a gatekeeper.)

        No, the things that tend to tempt me to the self-publishing side are more like “your publisher can kill off your series.” I mean, presumably they do that because they feel it isn’t selling well, but also they might be over-eager to pull the plug, and I want to be the one to make that decision.

  3. I have strong feelings if not a whit of authority on this — BUT. I do know in my bones that you are NOT wasting your time writing the sequel you want to write. I don’t know if you’re writing adult or YA or middle-grade fantasy, but I believe you are writing fantasy and publishers like fantasy series because readers like them. So having a Book 2 in the works can only help you with a traditional publisher, even though of course Book 1 has to be able to stand on its own (hence the “stand-alone but potential first in a series” phrase that belongs in the query letter to agents). However, that’s all the biz stuff. The gut stuff, the writer stuff, the stuff that matters because you write with the hope of publishing but absolutely no certainty of doing so, is that you need to write what you’re excited about. It could be that Book 2 becomes part of Book 1, or informs Book 1 in ways you never thought of, or Book 2 even becomes the first thing you sell. Whatever . . . this is the story that’s bubbling in your creative cauldron, so I say write it! What have you got to lose, except what we writers are always already throwing on the pyre of creation: time, effort, and heart? And those, I honestly believe because I too am a writer and therefore bullgoose-loony, are things that are never truly lost. Thus spaketh I.

    1. I’ll take strong feelings despite the lack of authority. 🙂

      I am writing fantasy, though whether it’s adult or YA is not yet clear. I always thought of it as adult, but the MC is only 14 or 15, so… (I really hope this is something an agent can help with.)

      You’re right – as a fantasy reader I do love series, the longer the better if the quality doesn’t decline too much. Luckily the current book stands alone, and my plan is for each in the series to also stand alone so I suppose technically the sequel could be the first one I sell. Thanks, that idea hadn’t occurred to me!

      With your encouragement, I think I’m going to go forth and sequel!

  4. I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I’d do … write what I’m excited about. Energy and inspiration matter. If for some strange reason it doesn’t make sense to have a sequel to RoDs, you can make a few worldbuilding and character changes and sell it as a standalone. Everything takes forever in this business and there are so many variables that I would just go with what I enjoy. 🙂

    1. Thanks for chiming in! You’re totally right, everything in writing and publishing takes forever, and there are variables falling from the trees. Writing what I’m excited about is easier, so I’m going to take your great advice and do just that. 🙂

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