Writing a Series? Why Drafting that Sequel Should Wait

I have no idea how to write a stand alone novel.

Perhaps it's the nature of my preferred genre (fantasy -- usually of the high/epic fantasy variety), but every time I come up with a story idea, it sweeps across multiple books. Usually three or more.

So yeah, the idea of a single novel that encompasses the whole story -at this point in my writing life- feels a little outside my wheelhouse.

With that in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that I often think of the future books in a planned series as I'm revising the first novel. In fact, with A STOLEN THRONE, there were some pretty big plot threads I put in the first book specifically because I had plans for them in Book Two.

But this past weekend, after much writerly soul searching, I cut an entire subplot. One that was going to be a central conflict in Book Two.

And so, today I'd like to offer my thoughts on why you should wait to draft the Book Two in your series.

First, let me say that this blog post assumes you're a writer seeking to sign with an agent and get a publishing deal with a major publisher. If you're going the Indy route, some of this may not apply to you. And even if you do plan to go the agent/publisher route, you may find my thoughts on sequels don't mesh with your writing style. To each their own!

All right, let's say you've finished Book One in your new series, and you've sent if off to your critique partners (or an agent if it's "query ready"). You're itching to start something else. You have a couple of other story ideas floating in your head, but you really want to start drafting Book Two of your Totally Awesome New Series.

I urge you to wait.

"Why?" you ask. Despite feeling as though the world and characters are fresh and vivid in your mind, I have a couple reasons I'd argue it's best to wait.

1- This may not be THE book.

Perhaps the most obvious of reasons to wait before drafting a sequel, if you're yet unagented, or don't have a publishing deal for this story, is that it may never --in fact-- sell. Despite how much you love it, this book might not land you your Perfect Agent or the timing might not be right for an editor to swoop in and offer you a contract. So instead of using your precious writing time on a sequel whose first book never sold, write something new. That way, if all the agents do pass on this piece, you'll have something else waiting in the wings.

2- You might cut characters.

As writers, our stories go through numerous incarnations before they ever make it into the public eye (if they ever do). You'll do your own edits, your agent will have more edits for you (if they're an editorial sort), and your editor will have even more edits for you. As the writer, you have no way of knowing which of your characters will survive the chopping block or which characters will undergo serious cosmetic or personality changes. In my current round of edits for AST, I not only cut a major character who appeared in a solid 35% of my scenes, I added in at least three new *named* characters. If I'd starting drafting Book Two while my CPs were reading Book One, I would have needed to toss nearly everything I'd had, since the character I cut would have been integral to those opening chapters. And perhaps more importantly, the personality and emotional arcs for my main characters have changed dramatically. Anything I might have written in Book Two prior to working on this current version, would have felt wrong. The characters wouldn't have felt authentic anymore.

3- Subplots you planned to use in Book Two (or Three or Four) may end up on the chopping block.

As mentioned at the top of this post, I spent a good deal of time this past weekend agonizing over a subplot. Ultimately, I decided that the subplot needed to go. It didn't fit the trajectory of the plot and characters as they'd been revised, and it was a theme/issue that really deserved its own book (in another universe...and probably not in a fantasy novel). So, despite this subplot being 100% necessary for a central conflict in my planned Book Two, I cut it. I'm still in the process of revising the affected chapters, but I've removed that piece of the story. It was hard, but I'm confident I made the right choice.

The challenge of that decision made me wonder if I would have stubbornly stuck with the subplot (one that truly does not belong in the story) if I had already drafted potion (or all!) of Book Two. And honestly, I think I might have. That, out of everything, I find is the biggest reason to wait to write Book Two until your novel is out of content edits with your editor:

4- Drafting Book Two can create a resistance to change Book One.

Writers, especially those on the track to traditional publication, must absolutely be willing to make changes to their stories. Yes, be stubborn about protecting the heart of your novel, but working in traditional publishing require a level of flexibility. Agents and editors push authors to see their stories in new ways, to see new possibilities that deepen and enrich the stories they're trying to tell. As such, I firmly believe that it's in every author's best interest to avoid anything that would make them any more resistant to such suggestions. We already have enough hanging over us, making it hard to see our stories with objectivity. Our hearts are on the page, we get too close, it stings when someone critiques our work. We don't need the stress of having already put work into our Book Twos to keep us from bringing out the full potential for Book One.

And those, dear friends, are a few reasons why I won't draft sequels until I have a book under contract that is out of content edits. I do, of course, keep rough outlines of what I want to include in later books, but there shall be no premature drafting in the Sterling household.

You tell me: do you also wait to draft sequels, or do you have reasons for starting them sooner than I mentioned? Or, do you write stand alone novels? Leave me a comment to let me know!

-Isabel