Sequel – how many is too many?

30 08 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about sequels. How many can you have? How many stories about the same hero can you write. I think Clive Cussler has over 30 about Dirk Pitt. How about Captain Johns and Biggles, Conan Doyle and Sherlock, Blyton and her five or seven adventurers. Sometimes you have no choice but to write more and more and more.  Doyle tried to kill off Holmes but wasn’t allowed. Wodehouse occasionally bored of Jeeves but had to keep popping back for more.

Some would say I am more semantically discussing series rather than sequels but the dividing line is blurred. Following a single life through multiple adventures seems to me to be a series of sequels but should a sequel follow concurrently to be a sequel rather than a series? Does it ultimately matter? Let us assume for now that it doesn’t. Sequel = series.

So how many is too many? Should the author choose or the readers? The rise of fan fiction would indicate that for some readers there can never be enough. The hero resonates so much in their own lives that they want to take them to new places, given them new experiences. Do I, as an author, own my character, own my heroines? I think I do. Unless I say to the world that their lives are their own for others to develop then I think that I do. Mrs Vintner belongs to me and I do with Penny B what I wish. Or, strong women as they are, I do with them as they wish!

There is no limit on the tales to tell about a hero, a band of brothers, a dynasty, a country. Each links to the other and builds to create a world which your reader wants to live. If you, as a writer, do get bored of it and need a new direction then you can do no worse than to let your creation go. But before you give them into the hands of all and sundry who daily contribute to the slushpiles of creation why not consider the ghost writer, the co-writer – you can’t stop having ideas about the people you created so why not let someone you trust write their lives for you.

Don’t kill off your Holmes, outsource him!





Topical fiction – It’s Alive! Alive, I tell you!

21 08 2013

Sometimes an author gets lucky! They’ll be beavering away, writing hard about, say, a dark psychological view of a man’s twisted world. Then they’ll be taking a break and see on the TV news that their anti-hero was real. There was someone out there who’d just been caught doing exactly the same thing. Something that some in the real world would call a crime!

Two things would run through that author’s mind. Firstly – they are not alone in the dark. Second – is this prime publicity for their book?

Is it? Should he quickly finish it off, even if second rate finishing, just to get it out in time to get some fillip from the fourth estate, ride some wave of rich ghoulish publicity? Or should he continue on his way, writing what he wants to write – perhaps taking some elements of reality into fiction – but not letting the world’s priority impact his inner creative urgency?

A third thought comes…

This was a particularly dark tale from suburban American. If he doesn’t get the book out soon, will some pulp fiction author steal his thunder with a piece of reality-based-fiction and leave him with only the dregs and reputation as a coat-tail-hanger, a genre-stealer?

No – if the public want tales from beneath ground level, they’ll get what they want!





Sequel threads – lay the groundwork early

18 08 2013

Unless you are setting out on a saga of such length that you know it will take three tomes to get it finished then you are writing a one-off. You are pouring your heart and soul into this book, this tale. Giving life to the concept which came to you over a bowl of cornflakes or perhaps was years in gestation. It is a story, a one-off.

Now you’ve nearly written it, your mind has to flick forwards to life-after-novel. What next? You’ve spent so long with these characters, this situation, you must start thinking about whether you could write some more about them. The Series is born.

Before you finish your first novel you therefore should be looking for seeds to plant. Loose little threads you can pick up and develop and turn into something new. If you don’t leave these pointers and plan them out, even if not in great detail, then you will find yourself having to scratch around for a sequel.

Why give yourself the angst?

Just add a sentence or two about your hero’s mysterious sister or something deeply significant in the setting’s past. Think about which bits of your story you like most, which people have the most interesting lives you have created. 

Your editor will probably also give you some pointers but one way to help get that editor is to show you are savvy and aware of the benefits of having a customer base already bought in to your characters, already emotionally invested.

So leave a loose thread, weave a flaw in the pattern, knit one, pearl one, drop one.

Then you can enjoy finishing off your book and start to leave hints in your own blogs and on your website about where your heroine is going to next.  Give your readers an inch and they will make up the mile themselves.





First books – how autobiographical are they?

16 08 2013

First books are autobiographical.

This is something I have always known, both intellectually and anecdotally. The proof sits on the shelves of any bookseller. First novels are where authors pour their naked souls only to edit and rewrite to take some bits back, hide themselves away again, disguise and disfigure to bring new heroes and villains to life.

I have often wondered if I re-read the first novels of each of my series, would I see different facets of the creative mind in each heroine. Does Mrs Vintner hide more darkness than Penny B? Will Mischa give people a view of my lightness of spirit at times?

Or…

Or is the first novel which no-one sees the one where you are most naked? We all have that first book – it may not be finished – it may never have fully left your mind– but we authors all have the first embarrassing secret text where we gave too much and could not edit it enough to hide our true selves from the readers

To quote some advice given in my latest work:

“This is your first novel. There are always autobiographical elements. Don’t worry about it, there has to be. But if you don’t give Mischa her own face, her own voice, she will assume the readers know her as well as you know yourself. You, the writer, are just recording her actions, her thoughts – not your own – no matter how similar you might think she is.”





The blurb – sell yourself in a paragraph!

10 08 2013

A novel’s synopsis is typically expected to be one page long – A4, single spacing sometimes allowed. I’ve seen that some agents and publishers are now looking for the one paragraph synopsis. For me that would be a ‘bah humbug’ moment (see previous blog). But should it be? Can you do an elevator pitch, a Dragon’s Den two minutes, some tell-me-why-I-shouldn’t-kill-you-now final words? In other words, can you quickly justify what you have just spent potentially years putting together? Can you?

The synopsis for a publisher is an art to master so practise on your friends. Then take it one step further because you have the chance to influence another biggie as well!  Assume for a moment that your sample chapters impressed, your synopsis was compelling, your face fitted the current publishing want-list. If you want to live the vision, you can even assume you have an advance in the bank. What else can you do? What else do you need?

How about readers?

If you can do a pitch to sell to a publisher how about having a go at the pitch to sell to the public? You have one paragraph and perhaps a tag line. Think about the back of your book or the flyleaf. What would drag someone in to read your book instead of the new Dan Brown or Booker prize winner? One paragraph. Doesn’t have to tell the ending like your synopsis would – this just has to make your book more interesting than anyone else’s.

Go and stand in the best seller section of Waterstones and read them. Spend hours and just read them. Take notes of what catches your eye and try to ape the style of those that attract you the most. Is it the upbeat sentence endings, the tantalising questions, the possibility of something dark or dirty or kinky or fun? The publisher will know what to write but you should have some control and how better to control than to dictate?





The envelope of doom – part 2

7 08 2013

How do they do it? What do they look for? What makes the next big thing? What do they want to see?

If publishers and agents knew what the next big thing was my guess is they would have hired a ghost writer and already thrown it to the reading wolves. The next big thing isn’t based on a recipe. It isn’t, by definition, formulaic. A sequel can be formulaic, a follow-up can continue a story we know people are interested in – whether messrs Langdon, Potter or Grey – but a first novel has to break new ground to win big.

Most don’t.

First novels can be launched to great fanfare and perhaps they are the Great British Novel awaiting only time to bring awards and accolades to your door. Most aren’t.  Most fit a genre, have a bit of a twist or are penned by an author with potential to produce more and the face to fit on a breakfast telly sofa and pull readers in. Most do OK. Only OK. Some a bit better, some a bit worse, but OK.

But back to the point of this blog. What do they look for? They are looking for you. They want you to have written something good, something readable, saleable, promotable and ultimately, just plain interesting. Write your best, edit it to hell and back, then have friends and family do the same.

If you want specifics on what they look for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Speculation is all very well, it has its place, but why not look at the website, look in one of the Writers’ yearbooks/guides etc. Don’t speculate – do some research. They want to waste their time even less than you want to waste it so DON’T. Give them what they ask for in a format they want to see it. The contents, the story, then has a chance to shine through.

And please do a final spell-check before you send it! I’d be disheartened at finding typos on the first page – your target might not even get to the excellent third sequence before it is on the slush pile!