Writing one book is hard enough. But a sequel? We need help! That’s why we asked some of our favorite authors who are experienced in writing sequels to give us some advice on how to write a second book.
The Best Advice from YA Authors on Writing Sequels
Neal Shusterman, author of Thunderhead
Writing a sequel is different from writing the second or third book in a trilogy. First of all, the broad strokes of a trilogy or series are (or should be) planned out from the beginning, so that each book furthers the story’s arc, and the arcs of the characters. The trick is to make each book strong enough to stand alone, and to make sure that each book lives up to the promise of the first. For me, that’s the reason why subsequent books in a series, like Thunderhead, and The Toll in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, are increasingly more difficult to write, because I won’t let them go until I feel I’ve really achieved something special. Many times that means scrapping a lot of material that I felt didn’t reach the bar.
When it comes to sequels, I never write a sequel unless I feel it is called for — and since stand-alone books are designed to be just that, it’s rare that I choose to write a sequel. If you write a sequel to a book just because the book was successful, you are bound to have people say “eh, it wasn’t as good as the first,” or “it was just more of the same.” My advice is to never write a sequel to a stand-alone book unless you are incredibly passionate about it, AND if it breaks new ground, rather than just being more of the same.
S.J. Kincaid, author of The Empress
My best advice for writing a sequel is this: try to remember how much you love writing! For me, it’s so easy to write until I am on contract for something I haven’t written yet, and then suddenly it becomes rather terrifying. It doesn’t make a difference whether I’ve outlined or planned it beforehand… There’s simply a lot more psychological pressure with a sequel. The best antidote is to focus on what drew you to writing in the first place and remind yourself of that periodically! You love this, it’s ultimately yours, so try to enjoy it.
Lisa Maxwell, author of The Devil’s Thief
The best advice I have for writing a sequel is to make sure you’ve taken the time to adequately world-build before you even start book 1. Having the main moving parts of a world down in writing somewhere will help you months, and sometimes even years, later when you’re trying to expand on the world or work within those rules (or trying to remember why you made the choices you made for book 1). My favorite sequels are always the ones where an author takes a part of the world that you thought you knew and turns it on its head in fun and surprising ways—but that only can work if the logic behind the world itself is stable and clear. A lot of that world building might never make it into book 1 (or book 2), but having it in your back pocket as you write either book can really make things easier to write and better for the reader.
Jenna Evans Welch, author of Love & Luck
My best advice for writing a sequel? Have fun! Find the hidden corners of book one that you always wanted to explore (but didn’t have the time to in the first book) and run with them! While I was writing Love & Gelato I kept feeling myself drawn to a small character who became the main character in Love & Luck, and I couldn’t wait to spend some extra time with her. That enthusiasm was important. I also think it’s important to allow the next book to take its own unique form–each book has its own feel and in my experience, recreating an earlier novel simply doesn’t work.
Michelle Hodkin, author of The Reckoning of Noah Shaw
As someone who’s been writing nothing but sequels since 2011, the best advice I have to offer is this: keep going. For me, the hardest part is always managing the weight of expectations after your first book is out in the world—your own, your readers’, your editor’s, your publisher’s. I so badly want to please everyone who’s invested in my story and my characters, but thinking about it can be paralyzing. Since trying not to think about things doesn’t help, I just return to the work. The only way out is through.
Emily Suvada, author of This Cruel Design
The best and worst thing you can read while writing a sequel is your first book. It’ll fill your head with your characters, your own voice, and all the things you love about your world and story–but it’s also a finished, polished book and not a broken pile of incoherent words like the draft of your sequel! Every writer thinks they’ve forgotten how to write when they’re working on a second book, but the reality is that drafting is hard, and we always forget how messy our work is when it’s fresh. Dig up some of your first book’s early drafts and I promise you’ll feel better.
G.S. Prendergast, author of Cold Falling White
My best advice for writing a sequel is to reread and reread the previous book(s) in your series. Study them like an archeologist, or a crime scene investigator searching for clues. You never know when a throwaway line or a minor functional character will end up being the thing that saves or even drives your sequel. It’s very satisfying to readers when you tie seemingly insignificant things from earlier books into sequels and make them very significant, but no one need know it might have happened by accident!