writing your second book

Tips for Writing a Sequel That’s As Good As The First

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

April 28, 2022

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that sequels are popular. Many of today’s movies and TV shows are sequels and spinoffs. Some of these are regarded as superior to the originals, and some are looked at as cheap imitations that should never have seen the light of day.

The same is true of books. Many popular authors have book series that feature the same characters in different situations. Sequels and series are mostly seen in detective stories, but they exist in every book genre. Readers enjoy these series, and some authors are lucky enough to have readers who eagerly wait for their next book to drop. Are you planning to write a follow-up or a sequel to your first book? Here are some second book lessons to make sure your sequel is a success.

Decide If a Sequel Is in Your Future

While your characters and plot may be great, they may not be exciting enough for a repeat performance.

Before writing your second book, ask yourself these questions.

  • Are the characters engaging enough to keep reader interest over the long haul?
  • Do you still have unfinished stories you want to tell about these characters?
  • Can you produce something that’s not just a rehash of the first book?
  • Does your story involve an epic quest that can’t be told in one volume?
  • Are you still excited by the characters and setting?

Learn How to Hold Reader Interest

Good sequel writers deliver more than just a simple, predictable plot. It’s true that certain genres require certain conventions—the happy ending in romance fiction, for example—but good writers use those requirements to spark their creativity.

Popular writers attract a large following because they go beyond a strict, predictable format. Take book writing lessons from writers who have won praise from reviewers and readers for their sequels.

Ursula Le Guin became a hugely popular science fiction bestseller because her books went beyond telling a good science fiction story. As one reviewer wrote, “Le Guin’s stories forced readers to examine how societies, future and present, treat people. It was science fiction that prioritized humanity over technological innovations. It was fiction as a mirror that gazed back into our darker selves.”

Ruth Rendell’s award-winning detective series are about a police chief who solves crimes in a small British village. However, they’re also about much more than that. Each book is a well-plotted mystery, but it’s also an examination of a serious cultural or political subject. Through the books, readers see the main characters change, grow, and struggle with personal issues. These elements add depth to the standard detective story formula.

Bring Something New

In some ways, writing a sequel is easier than writing the first book. You have already created the characters, the world, the scenes, and the conflicts your characters face. If your characters are still struggling to complete their goal or mission, show how they move closer to that goal in the course of the book.

Now that your themes, settings, and character are established, what should your sequel be about? In this way, writing your second book gets harder. One way to approach this problem is by focusing on a new theme or a new character. Can you use the plot to send your characters to a new location? Will one of your characters develop an illness or a need to abandon the quest? Could fire, floods, or bad news momentarily derail your plot? Introducing new ideas and themes will add interest to your story.

Give Them What They Love

When your readers turn to you for a sequel or follow-up, take it as the highest compliment. They like your writing, characters, and stories enough to want a second helping. That’s quite an honor in today’s busy world filled with endless choices for all readers.

Loyal readers are every writer’s goal, so reward their loyalty by giving them more of what they liked in your first book. Did a secondary character emerge as a reader favorite? Some writers are surprised to find that readers may be lukewarm on the main character but crazy about one that only makes brief appearances.

Some readers appreciate specific elements of the story. Maybe they like the way you describe travel locations, or maybe they admire your ability to conjure up scenes from the past. Read your reader’s reviews to get some hints. If you know what they like, you already know what to do in your second book. Give your readers what they like, and watch them keep coming back for more.

Read Reviews with Caution

Has your first book received some reviews? One of the most important book writing lessons you can learn is how to deal with critics.

While it’s important to read reviews and reader comments, don’t become obsessive about your reviews. Some writers find it impossible to check out reader forums and discussion groups without rushing to their own defense. Don’t respond to every bad review or comment out there.

Everyone has an opinion, and every reader is entitled to express their opinion of your book. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to develop a thick skin. Book writing is creative, but book publishing is a public act. As a popular Goodreads reviewer wrote on the BookRiot blog, “If a reader has spent their hard-earned, disposable income on a poor-quality product, it’s their absolute right to tell other people about it. Even if that’s in language the author objects to.”

Your book may be precious to you, but it’s not your family member, and it’s not you. It’s something you wrote for the public to read and enjoy, or not. Don’t let reviews of any kind keep you from putting your all into your next book.

Second Book Lessons from Successful Authors

What do successful writers say about writing a second book? In a blog post, published fantasy writer K.M. Weiland said she wanted to write a sequel to her first book because she still had ideas and questions she wanted to explore about the character and world she created. She offered this advice:

“It’s extremely important to realize that outdoing yourself is all about coming up with a better idea, not a bigger and better version of the same thing you offered in the first book. You want to evolve your original idea, enhance it, and explore it, rather than offering more of the same, just because ‘well, readers liked it the first time.’”

Bestselling crime writer Sue Coletta says it’s crucial to remember all the details you included in your first book. You need to establish continuity across the series. She suggests using style sheets, planning carefully, and re-reading your first book:

“By re-reading the first book, we can highlight passages, make notes of important elements, character traits, and become reacquainted with the voices of each character. I can’t stress the importance of this step enough. It’s time-consuming and tedious, but it’s crucial to the success of your sequel. And who knows? You may even enjoy it.”

Get Ready to Publish

Some sequels are famous for being even better than the original. Will your second book be among them?

We hope you’ve enjoyed these suggestions on writing your second book. When you have written your second book and are ready to publish it, contact us. We’ll make sure it has the perfect cover, binding, and paper. At Publishing Xpress, we specialize in helping writers become published authors. Check our online pricing calculators if you’d like to get a price for printing your book.

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