Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sell the Sequel

I often say that you use the last chapter to sell the sequel. Make it an aircraft carrier catapult.

There's a business to writing and the writer is wise to be mindful of business considerations while creating his or her dazzling work of stunning magnificence. And if you haven't gotten Max Perkins or his equivalent at one of the big publishing houses backing you with a book deal, you may be considering self-publishing. In self-publishing, you must be VERY MINDFUL of business considerations.

And the biggest consideration (even bigger than getting paid) is reaching your audience, which people prettier and smarter than I can attest is the big challenge in today.

Mindful of this, consider the sequel.

People who like one novel by an author are more likely to like another novel by that author. How many times have you noticed that the novel ends with a chapter or two worth of text to the right of the thumb on the spine only to discover that the publisher has thoughtfully provided sample chapters of similar works?

It should go without saying--but I'm saying it--that when a reader is reading your work, you have a free opportunity to reach one of the people most likely to buy another one of your works.

Have you ever felt that let-down when you finish a novel and wish you could enjoy it a little more? What better way is there to enjoy a little more than by picking up the sequel!

For this reason the author is wise to use this opportunity to sell the sequel. Sure, you should have links to your author platform and to your other works, but you have an opportunity within the body of your current novel to sell the sequel.

Let's jump up to 10,000 feet, or maybe even Low-Earth-Orbit and view your writing project very abstractly: It starts out introducing a setting and characters, then proceeds to a climax, then winds down through a denouement. The End.

Mindful of your reader, I hope you have maintained a steady stream of story questions and you've answered them faithfully enough to maintain the reader's trust.

If you have no sequels planned for this work, you are wise to make sure no story questions remain unanswered. (Unless you have some cool ambiguity thing you're working where maybe the supernatural stuff is a hallucination or maybe not. But ambiguity works better for short stories than for novels.)

But if you do have one or more sequels in mind, you'll want to devise just a few story questions you intend to leave unanswered in this novel, but that you intend to answer in a sequel. Be careful not to annoy your reader with too many of these.

Consider the first of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies, you see a shadowy figure who was obviously pulling the strings of this movie's antagonist, but you don't see who that figure is. You'll have to wait until Game of Shadows to find out.

In Science Fiction the writer does a fair bit of world-building and this creates a LOT of backstory that the writer is wise to regard as scaffolding and share only the essentials. Use something in that backstory to stimulate a story-question. Make it big and make it vague. THEN in the last chapter of your novel, add a reminder of this unanswered story question to intrigue your reader. That's what you're going for. Don't do a cliff-hanger, I've griped about that earlier.

Be careful not to annoy your reader with something gratuitous without any foreshadowing. The second novel of the Evan Gabriel trilogy ends fairly well, then somebody gets kidnapped in the last chapter. No foreshadowing. No set up. It just happened. Now you know the hero has to go rescue the kidnap victim and in so doing destroy the evil conspiracy that's been pulling the strings in the prior novels. That's a bad job of selling the sequel. I disapprove.

Instead, I think you should be as subtle as possible giving just a whiff that something's up in the first third of the novel, then just a sound like a rustling leaf in the middle of the novel, and then make it clear in the last chapter. Elliot Kay did the setup fairly well in Poor Man's Fight. BUT the last chapter led me to believe that the sequel might undo the hero's main accomplishment in this novel. We'll have to see.

You can write your whole novel, then review it figuring out how you want to set up your sequel in a way that'll appeal to your readers. Then add just a touch here, and a sentence there to set up your last chapter where you make it clear that such-and-such is not a dangling thread, but the reason why your dear readers MUST buy the sequel.

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