Tuesday, January 24, 2012


If you’ve been a writer for long, you’ve probably heard whispers about the “sophomore novel.” If you haven’t, it means the sequel. And it’s often talked about in hushed tones because it’s a scary thing to write. I know because it scares me even as I write one. But I’m not alone, many authors struggle with it.

In fact, I just finished reading the sequel to a novel that very well-received and sold lots and lots of copies. The sequel was a good book, and I enjoyed it. But not nearly as much as the first book. I’ve read a lot of sophomore novels over the last year and asked myself why the good ones worked and why the poor ones didn’t in hopes of learning to avoid the pitfalls. Here’s what I’ve gleaned.

I suspect the reason that sequels are hard for most writers (at least this is the reason it’s hard for me) is because we’ve rung every bit of punch from the story in the first book. And this isn’t wrong. It’s what makes a great book. By the end, the secrets are told. For example, when the reader finishes Screwing Up Time, he/she has seen what it’s like to travel through time. You can never go back to not knowing. And the novel’s world building is complete. You know Bodiam Castle pretty well by the end of SUT. You don’t wonder what the halls smell like or how cold the air feels during the winter nights. And you know the characters. You’ve seen Mark and Miranda’s strengths and weaknesses. You’ve seen them grow.

That daunting task to a sequel writer is to find new secrets, new worlds, and new character growth. That’s why JK Rowling’s books are/were so amazing. She found new secrets (or secrets that kept growing). She wrote about new worlds/places like the Ministry of Magic, the house belonging to the Order of the Phoenix, even the nightbus (which I loved), etc. And she found new ways for the characters to mature. Because of that, we loved Rowling and her novels. She gave us a rare gift.

That’s the task of the author who writes a sequel, to give the reader new secrets, new worlds, and new growth—without sacrificing the chemistry, tension, and relationships of the first novel. Wow...that sounds impossible. Time for some chocolate. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so please comment!

N.B. Yesterday I won a blog award. (Thanks so much, David!) I’ll put the award up next Tuesday and share ten things about myself. 


  1. I have yet to try and write a sequel. I did write a couple books with ideas for a sequel in the back of my mind but I've never actually gone the extra step. Congrats on your award!

  2. Sequel writing difficult when the sequel wasn't planned before the first book is finished. I've seen this in movies where a standalone film does great, so they quickly make up a sequel that's not nearly as good, but it gets more people to the theaters anyway. What makes Rowling's books so great is that she had mapped out those 7 years ahead of time. Lots of things changed, sure. Coming up with a sequel when it wasn't thought of ahead of time is tricky, because it has to tie in to the first in some way. :0

  3. I think that some books just end too perfectly for a sequel. You really need to keep a few threads unraveled.

    Also sometimes in a a trilogy, it feels like the second book is just a filler. Like the story would have been better told in two parts instead of three, but no one ever writes a duology. I'm usually forgiving if the middle book is a little weak and hopeful for a strong finish.

  4. That's why I like writing mysteries. We don't have to travel to new worlds, we just have to create new chaos in this one. You do have to move the characters along though in some way. Thought-provoking post.

  5. This has been on my mind a lot lately. I'm preparing for the release of my 'sophomore' novel as we speak. It comes out February 27th and I couldn't be more nervous! My thoughts are that we have to up the stakes with each sequel we write. I only hope I've done so to the satisfaction of my readers. :)

  6. Great points. A sequel has to have as much punch as the first novel--there have to be new elements to the world (and/or the characters). I love your example of J.K. Rowling!

    Congratulations on the award. :)

  7. I think JK rowling did so well with it, because each of her books had their own mystery to solve, but still had the overall Voldemort theme.

  8. Great post. I agree with the comments above that in order for a sequel to work, it needs planning, new mysteries, and new elements.

  9. Fantastic post!

    I've not written a sequel yet but I did try and plan one and it was so hard because I had no idea what to write about and felt like it was all a repeat of the first book!

    JK Rowling had it easy though because she knew from the beginning that each book would be one year in Harry's life and planned it so that we could see Harry develop and learn more about magic as he got older. It was a traditional coming of age story that would tell one book over the school life of a wizard. In my eyes, HP wasn't a series and was just one long book broken up into smaller bits to make it easier to get through.

  10. coming over from bloffee. I love books that get the sequel right! Actually, there are so many books that I never go on to read the sequel b/c after a year or two I kinda forget about the storyline. So it's usually the characters and writing that hook me, not the storyline. :)

    Congrats your book! I love time travel!