I think that’s an interesting question, and one I'm going to explore today. I used to think that one should write a sequel to any book you feel the story isn't finished for. Sometimes if a book is popular enough, I think a sequel is just begging to be written. I think both of these reasons are valid. After all, I'm sure there are other reasons that I could explore and maybe later or on another day I can try to explore them. For now lets start with just these two.
The first one seems like a very valid one. After all, if the story isn't finished shouldn't we continue to write it? I thought that way with my first book. Storytellers. It's about three youths in an alternate reality where magic is the norm. One of the main characters, Targ, is from a version of our world. Meaning the 21st century earth. We catch up to him and two native apprentices for what pass as wizards in their world on the run for their lives. They are pursued by a malevolent entity simply known as Them.
Now this may not sound like anything different from any other typical fantasy book. But I thought that I stumbled upon a unique story system. I came up with countries, tons of extra characters and a rich history. To top it off, the magic system was unique, or at least I thought it was. My wizards were actually called Sages. They didn't believe in magic, yet they each possessed the ability to summon story characters from books they read into existence in their world. So, for example, if something bad was about to happen to one of our readers, you could use your 'Talent” as they liked to call it and summon say Edward Cullen or Eric Northman to your side to protect you.
I felt this was a wonderful idea, and something that hadn't really been explored as of yet. To make things more interesting, I decided to throw Targ into the world. My main character. He was a Literature major in school, and possessed story's from our world, that were new and unique to his environment. I topped that with his sudden loss of memory and the unconscious use of his Talent, and I thought I had a real winner. I envisioned 5 maybe 6 books as Targ learned to control his ability and discover the wealth of story's he possessed to rescue his new friends and new home.
So off I went and wrote the first story. When I finished it I immediately began writing the second one, Storytellers: Adept, hoping to make a best seller. Now, why am I talking about this? Because Storytellers was not wildly popular as I had hoped. In fact, maybe it was because it was standard fantasy, or maybe because it was the first work I had ever done, so my skills were not what they should have been, or perhaps it was just the story, but the end result was, my sequel did not sell very well. I thought because the story still needed to be finished, that I needed to write a sequel. The reality was, no I didn't.
I should have waited to see how the book was received before I ever started a second one of that series. It would have saved my time and energy to work on something that people wanted to read. So I have set up a new rule. Wait until you see how well your book is received before writing a sequel. Now I use an arbitrary number of units sold to determine if a series is worth writing more of. So far, based on Adepts sales, it doesn't look as if there will ever come a time for the next three books to be written. Which is a shame really, as I rather liked the characters in it and some of the plots and twists that have yet to be written. Sigh. What can you do.
Adept taught me one thing. Make sure people like or want to read a book that you wrote. After that I decided to forget about sequels for now. I was just going to begin writing books I had in my head and just enjoy myself. If I didn't finish a story and it required a sequel, then I wouldn't worry about it. After all, I didn't want another Adept on my hands. So off I went on my merry little way writing two more books. Both of them were easily capable of allowing the story to go on after the final page was written, but like I said before, no sequels until the books proved themselves. So off I went to write my next book, another Vampire story, one I'm currently working on right now, only to find a new situation arise. Fans. Yes, fans... Not of course for Storytellers, but for my other two vampire novels. Which leads me to point number two. You do remember my two points at the beginning of this don’t you?
To my surprise my two new books have spawned fans. Something I hadn't seen before! :) Something that is forcing me to change my opinion on when to write a sequel. Both of my new books are not selling all that well. Sure, they out sell Storytellers, but what doesn't! So, now I’m faced with a new dilemma. Do I continue with my totally arbitrary rules on when to write a sequel, or do I bow to the will of people who like my stories? In the end, I don't think it's a hard question to answer. As a writer, unless you're just writing only for yourself, then I think the fact is your readers are all important. They are what breathe life into your stories. They make them real as they explore the worlds you create, meeting the people you have brought into life, making friends with them, and then bringing them into this world as they share them with others.
Now I think you know my answer. I guess my next dilemma now is how quickly can I finish the book I’m already working on to get to the sequels that my fans need. Hopefully soon.
When do you write a sequel? In my opinion, when your fans demand it.