Sequels as Standalone Books

vicki-lesage-authorGuest Post
by Vicki Lesage

Following the advice of indie authors who’ve been there, you decide to pen a sequel. What? You haven’t? Well you should. It’s daunting – that first book didn’t write itself! – but having multiple books is one of the best ways to increase exposure and sales.

Think of all the energy you put into writing and marketing your first masterpiece. Now your next book can ride that wave of success.

A good sequel should accomplish two things:

  1. Satiate readers of your first book who are chomping at the bit for more. The sequel should be just as high quality as the first and make people want even more.
  2. Be readable on its own while making readers curious about your first book.

I recently released a sequel and while I did a few things right, I made a few mistakes, too. Beware these pitfalls – and find out what to do instead:

Mistake #1: Expecting Readers Have Read Your First Book

Writing a sequel is a delicate balance of building a world that interests your readers without requiring them to have read anything else. You don’t want to bore those who’ve already read your first book by rehashing everything in the sequel, but you don’t want to leave newbies hanging, either.

Describe your settings and introduce characters, providing new descriptions that build on what you’ve already said in your past book while giving enough to go on in your sequel.

A recurring character in both of my books is Anne Marie, an Irish bartender. Rather than repeat facts about her, the first scene of my sequel starts out in her bar. Loyal readers will remember her from the first book (“Hey that’s the funny barmaid who is best friends with the main character!”) and new readers will learn of her profession via the setting and will learn she’s the main character’s best friend through dialogue.

Solution: Repeat crucial information by saying it in a new way. Leave out extraneous info.

Mistake #2: Talking About Your First Book In Your Sequel Marketing Material

I admit, I made this mistake. I only discovered it as I was buying ad spots for my sequel, Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer, to promote a Kindle Countdown Deal. As I reread the Amazon blurb I realized it referenced my first book, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, too much. It gave the impression you should read Party Girl before buying this one. Not good when someone is only a click away from buying your book!

Excerpt from original blurb: “Party Girl is back, this time as a sassy mommy of two, trying to navigate the beautiful, yet infuriating, city of Paris.”

Don’t you feel like you’re missing something? “Who’s Party Girl? Should I learn about her before reading this book?” You don’t want a potential reader to get distracted, especially over something as easily fixed as this.

Excerpt from updated blurb: “Former party girl Vicki trades wine bottles for baby bottles, as this sassy mommy of two navigates the beautiful, yet infuriating, city of Paris.”

It conveys the same info without the reader feeling they need to read the first book. Ideally readers will love my sequel so much they’ll want to buy the first one and see how it all began, but that’s an action they should take AFTER they buy this book.

Two better ways to market your first book with your sequel are:

  1. Mentioning it in the back matter
  2. Referencing it at the end of the Amazon blurb

Both of these encourage interest in the first book without cannibalizing sales of the second.

Solution: Market your sequel as its own book. If people like it, they’ll seek out your other work.

Mistake #3: Disjointed Cover Art

Your sequel should look similar to your first book. When people see the books together, they’ll have an irresistible urge to snatch up the entire collection. Be sure that each book can stand on its own but tie in some design themes from book to book, whether it’s via images, font, and/or title.

Even if the sequel is very different from the first book, there must be some common themes/settings/characters or else you wouldn’t classify it as a sequel. My two books have similar titles and the same basic cover design layout, with enough differences to exist on their own.

Solution: Choose several consistent elements across all your book covers.

Following these tips, you’ll capitalize on the success of your first book while allowing your sequel to have a life of its own.

Vicki Lesage writes about the ups and downs of life as an American in Paris. She loves fondue, wine, math, zombies, and spending time with her French husband, rambunctious son, and charmante daughter. You can learn more about Vicki on her blog or her Amazon Author Central Page.

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28 thoughts on “Sequels as Standalone Books”

  1. Good advice, Vicki, especially about the cover design. I looked at those same issues when writing my trilogy. The hardest part for me was knowing how much information to include from previous books to keep the reader up to date without adding to much back story. I didn’t have to worry about the blurbs because mine were always intended to be a trilogy so the titles reflected that. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yeah, it’s really hard to know what to include and what to leave out. Even people who have read the first book might not have read it recently so I guess you could err on the side of repetition but it’s a fine line!

  2. Thanks for the post. Very helpful advice as marketing a series can be tough. You want readers of book one to read book two, but you want non-readers of book one to buy book two then go back and buy book one. But the prospect of having to buy two books can be off-putting to readers. So, you offer some sage advice for overcoming that.

    1. Exactly! If you make readers feel like they have to buy two books they might buy no books. Better to get the sure sale now and hook them on the series that way.

  3. You offer very helpful advice on writing a sequel. I’ve thought of doing it – often – but incorporating enough back story without boring those who have read book one has always been the thing which puts me off. You’ve given me some positive advice to think about. Thanks.

    1. For me, it was easiest to just start writing the sequel and then go back through and see which stuff could be cut and which stuff needed to be expanded on. It’s really hard to see as you’re writing but once you’re done, you can re-read your first book and then read the draft of your sequel and things will start to pop out at you. Good luck!

    1. Exactly! When I see a series with covers that are unified in some way, not only am I impressed but I feel compelled to buy them all. That’s definitely what we want as authors!

  4. In two of my books – although not initially planned for, I had become quite fond of the main character by the time I reached ‘the end’ – I did consider I might revisit with sequel at a later date. In fact, for one of them, I wrote a first chapter before getting tied up with another project. I believe I have now reached that later date, and so this is a helpful and timely article.

    Thank you, Vicki, for this excellent post.

  5. Good thoughts, thanks for sharing them. I’m actually re-doing the cover of the first book in one of my series to match the second, which has actually sold better in part because I think the cover’s better.

    1. That’s a good point – my tips focused on the sequel but it’s smart to go back and look at your first book to see what changes can be made there, too. In addition to updating the cover, the marketing blurbs might benefit from a little tidying up. Going to double-check mine now…

  6. Good post, and the similar cover strategy is very important. Just a mention – there is a difference between a sequel and a series. Usually series means stand alone stories about the same protagonist like the Kate Jones series and sequel are stories built upon each other like Hunger Games

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