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How much do you have to know about your sequel ahead of time?

Writing one book is a daunting endeavor, let alone an entire series. And after spending months or years putting the finishing touches on one novel, the prospect of plotting out another can often seem overwhelming, especially if you aren’t much of a plotter to begin with.

I’ve published a trilogy, and I’m in the midst of publishing a duology and a longer series. Here’s my experience about that transition from Book 1 to Book 2 (or Book 2 and onward), and how much you actually need to prep ahead of time.

First, the necessary

Duologies

To sell a series to a publisher, more often than not, your publisher will request some type of material regarding Book 2.

Sometimes, a publisher will want to see a full synopsis of the sequel. Meaning, a detailed, 5-ish page outline that gives a thorough walkthrough of the plot and character development.

Sometimes, a smaller pitch will suffice. I’ve sold a two book deal in which the sequel material was only a 1-paragraph pitch.

Sometimes, they won’t ask for anything—they’ll just trust you have a plan.

So what do you actually need to prep? That’s for your agent and you to decide before you go on submission.  

Trilogies

But what about if you’re writing a trilogy? What about Book 3? Like above, the answers can vary. But typically, publishers understand that Book 3 will be subject to change while Book 2 is being written and revised, and thus, they ask for less up front. A paragraph might suffice, if anything at all.

Quartets+

If you are a writing a longer series, it is unlikely that you will sell all 4/5/6/however many books at once. Your publisher will probably buy your series in batches, saving you from a grueling, bajillion-book outline. (For now.)

If you do sell in a large bundle, later books will probably follow the same treatment as Book 3.

Next, the useful

As a writer, it is useful to have an idea of your sequel’s story before you finish the first book. Because the last thing you want is to be caught in a corner, wishing you could alter a small detail from Book 1, but you can’t, as it’s already finalized.

Thankfully, this can usually be avoided. Here are some ways to sidestep it:

  1. Start drafting your sequel early

This is my route of choice. Once I turn in line edits on Book 1, Book 2 is fair game. Not only will this give me ample time to adjust Book 1 if I need it (copyedits, first pass pages, second pass pages), but it also gives me as much time as possible to write Book 2. And trust me, if you’ve never drafted a book on deadline before, you will appreciate every scrap of time you can get.

This method is great whether you are a plotter or a pantser. Because what better way to know what happens in Book 2 than to write it?

Sometimes Option 1 just isn’t possible. Sometimes Book 1 is delayed and in a rush. Sometimes you’re too exhausted or busy to jump right into drafting a sequel—and that’s okay! But it might mean facing the dreaded… synopsis. I recommed writing a nice outline for yourself of Book 2, planning out as much as possible, so that if you do need to quickly adjust Book 1, you can. If I’m going the synopsis route, I usually do so after Book 1 is done revisions but before line edits. That way you can still squeeze in changes even if Book 1 is on a crash schedule!

2. Outline your sequel early

Pro tip: Get editorial feedback on your synopsis. Especially if plotting is not your strong suit, that early advice from your editor, agent, or critique partners might save you some revision down the line.

The totally optional

Most of this post thus far has been about logistics, as publishing so often is. But what about the creative side of it all? If we’ve devoted years into writing the beginning of our story, shouldn’t we also know the ending?

The answer: That is entirely up to you.

Most writers I know do have a hazy idea of where their story is ultimately going, if not a full vision of their series, but not everyone does. There is no right or wrong answer. Whichever route takes you to your correct destination with the least amount of stress along the way… that’s your right answer.

For me personally, I’m in that “hazy idea” category for most of the process writing Book 1. I might know a few big twists or beats that I’m working toward, but I do not—by many means—have it all figured out. But I do try to either draft or outline Book 2 before Book 1 is donezo. Mostly because I’ve learned my lesson from that time I didn’t!

If you’re excited about the sequel (And who isn’t? After all that time falling in love with the characters and the story, it’s thrilling to get to dive into what happens next!), then by all means, outline it early. Outline your whole series early. The worst case scenario is that you have to tweak the outlines based on revisions you’ve done on Book 1.

One route I do not recommend: Don’t write your sequel before you sell Book 1 to a publisher. It’s sort of like counting your chickens before they’ve hatched, and if Book 1 doesn’t sell, that’s a lot of extra work and heartache down the drain. Instead, draft something new. Your sequel will be waiting for you when you’re ready!

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