#65: How (and Whether) to Write a Sequel

This question came from the priority request queue for my Patreon patrons. Thanks for your support, letter writer!

Dear Story Nurse,

How do you write a sequel? Should I even write a sequel?

I’ve got an essentially-complete YA secondary-world fantasy and a couple months ago I got smacked in the head with the realization that it could easily be book 1 in a trilogy. I’ve got the broad plot strokes and themes of book 2 (and a few in book 3, for that matter), but every time I sit down to start the outline for book 2, I… end up working on something else.

Part of it is that if book 1 is sitting on my hard drive doing nothing, what’s the point of writing a book 2 that will do the same thing? (I’m working on book 1 not just sitting on my hard drive doing nothing, but that’s not necessarily relevant here.) And if book 1 ends up not doing anything, it’s a waste of time to write book 2, right?

The second one is that I have never written a sequel before. I googled “how to write a sequel,” because that’s what the internet is for, but the advice was manifold and contradictory. I did pick up the idea that sometimes you can jump straight into the plot at the beginning because you have all of book 1 as backstory now. But how closely is it expect that book 2 matches book 1 in pacing, tone, themes? Is it strange to jump from sort of a standard fairy-tale-based pseudo-medieval sword-and-sorcery story to something that more closely resembles a portal fantasy? Is it okay if I dump my entire cast of characters from book 1 down to 2 familiar names?

Am I thinking too hard here?

Anyway, any advice you have would be welcome.

Thank you,

Stephanie (she/her)

Dear Stephanie,

The answer to “am I thinking too hard” is almost always “yes.” Also, no writing is a waste of time if it’s writing you want to be doing. It’s fine to just go ahead and write for yourself and see what happens, without stressing about marketing (which is really what these questions are about). It’s also fine to listen to whatever part of you is nudging you away from that possible book two and move on to something else. But if you’d like more detailed advice on sequels, read on.

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#44: Self-Promoter’s Block

Dear Story Nurse,

After years of producing first drafts and immediately hiding my work away, never to be seen again, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and put a piece of serial fiction up on my blog. I’m almost five months into the project and I’m slowly chipping away at my fear of editing my work and letting people read it.

My day job’s in marketing, and I love it. I volunteer to promote my friends’ work all the time. There’s just one problem: I’m awful at being my own hype woman. I know exactly what I should be doing to build an audience, but all too often, I find myself stuck in a shame spiral about how I’ll be imposing or annoying if I ever mention my own writing to anybody. I’ve got all these great ideas about how to get my work in front of people who might enjoy it, and then I just… never follow through.

I’ve never been good at seeking out attention. As a young woman, I was socialized to be humble and self-effacing. I know it’s ridiculous to spend so much time worrying about whether people will be annoyed when I offer them a free thing, but I don’t know how to turn that insecurity off! You’re totally awesome at putting your work out there without appearing to break a sweat. How do I achieve that level of badassery?

—World’s Tiniest Megaphone (she/her)

Dear World’s Tiniest Megaphone,

Thanks for your letter, which gave me a good laugh; I am in fact terrible at self-promotion! But, like you, it’s not because I don’t understand the mechanisms of it. It’s more like I have self-promoter’s block: as with writer’s block, what’s getting in the way is not practical but psychological.

I will preface my ideas for self-directed action with the gentle suggestion that you seek some assistance from a therapist or counselor, if you have access to one. It sounds like your insecurity is really doing a number on you, and a professional may be able to help with that.

Beyond that, here’s what’s worked for me and what I think will be of use to you:

  • Forgive yourself. Knowing what to do and being able to do it are different things. Give yourself permission to struggle with this.
  • Separate yourself from your work. No matter how widely your writing is read, no one can judge you simply by reading it, because you are not your work. You’re not promoting yourself; you’re promoting your work, which is a separate entity to be evaluated on its own merits.
  • Integrate some benefit to other people. The project of mine that I found easiest to promote was Long Hidden because it was a collaboration and a lot of people were depending on its success. Maybe you can ease your way into promoting your solo work by working on a shared project with a friend or three and participating in the promotion for it. Or promote your contribution to a charity anthology or your donation to a charity auction, or pledge to donate a portion of your profits—whatever helps you feel like you’re giving back. (There’s nothing morally wrong with promoting your solo work for your own profit, and that’s a useful goal to work towards, but this is a way to practice promotion while dodging some of that internal shame and scolding.)
  • Be your own client. Presumably you have a fairly formalized set of steps you go through with a new client: learn about the product, determine the audience for the promotion, discuss the budget, shape the campaign, and so on. Follow those same steps, explicitly, for your own work. The structure will help keep you on track.
  • Set concrete, achievable goals. The last time I did a big promotion push for Story Hospital, I had 42 Patreon patrons and set a goal of reaching 50. Having that goal really helped motivate me, and even motivated other people to help me by sharing the link around and talking about why they like the blog. And reaching the goal helps me feel more optimistic about setting a higher one.
  • Start small. You have lots of ideas! Pick just one to start with. Trying to do them all at once sounds daunting and overwhelming and will most likely lead to you doing nothing at all.
  • Borrow and imitate judiciously. If you’ve seen good promotion for a project similar to yours, use it as a starting point rather than starting from a blank page. Don’t plagiarize, obviously, but use it for a template or some inspiration. For example, when writing jacket copy for my novels in progress, I consciously borrowed the three-paragraph format that many publishers use for romance novel jacket copy (one paragraph about each of the protagonists’ individual challenges, one about their connection and conflict). You mention worrying that you’re going to annoy people, so ask yourself what kinds of promotion you personally find least annoying to be on the receiving end of, and use that to shape your efforts.
  • Practice in private. Just as you’ve written work for yourself and then hidden it away until you were ready to share it, you can write promotional copy for yourself and then hide it away until you’re ready to share it. Writing positive things about your work is one skill; sharing it with the world is another. It’s fine to build up those skills separately if you need to.
  • Reach out to a sympathetic audience. Once you’ve got some materials, show them to people who already love your work. They’ll help you take out all the self-deprecating parts. Then show it to people who don’t know your work but who know and like you and want to support your writing. Use their positive reactions to motivate yourself to move on and promote your work to people who don’t know you.
  • Do the easiest types of promotion first. If the thought of calling someone to pitch your work is terrifying, start by taking out an ad on a website or in a publication. If you’re most comfortable on social media, chat about your work on Twitter and Facebook before looking at other outlets. It may turn out that the easy promotion is all you need to reach your goals!
  • Build habits, batch work, and automate when appropriate. I paste my Patreon link at the bottom of each blog post without thinking about it. WordPress automatically tweets every post when it goes live. I printed up a big batch of promotional postcards so it’s easy to bring them along to events or tuck them into packages I’m mailing to people. Setting these things up took very little effort, and perpetuating them takes even less. Quick and easy little actions like that don’t generally trigger my anxieties about talking my work up. (But don’t overdo it, especially on social media platforms. Automatically tweeting your buy link once an hour will just irritate people.)
  • Be patient with yourself. You’re pushing yourself really hard on multiple fronts. It sounds like that’s very fulfilling for you, but it can be tiring too. Don’t forget to take breaks from time to time, and be understanding and patient if some parts of the process are harder or slower going than you’d like.

Finally, remember that you can hire someone to do PR for you, just like other people hire you to do PR for them! Self-promotion is useful, but not everyone can do it, and that’s completely fine. So if this just doesn’t work out for you, bring someone else in and liberate yourself by delegating.

Happy promoting!

Cheers,

Story Nurse

This advice is brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon. Got a writing question? Ask the Story Nurse!