I am flattered by these requests. They mean readers enjoyed the first book so much, they want it to continue. But these comments also make me sad because I am not delivering what readers say they want. I have given this a lot of thought, to the point that I have considered writing a combined popular culture and reader-response study of the rise of the sequel as a driving force in commercial fiction, and then I have to remind myself, ***wait***, English PhD candidate/writing instructor/English professor wanna-be was two jobs ago.
So I am going to lay it all out for you here: why I never intended to write sequels to most of my books, why I have written a sequel to one, and why there aren’t more sequels to that book. If you ask me this question from now on, I am going to point you here, and please don’t be offended that I didn’t answer your question personally. The answer is long and not something I can explain in a short e-mail response back to you.
When you say “sequel,” what do you mean?
If you want a new book that features a minor character from the last book, I am all for it--at least for my romantic comedies, at least in theory. This is a well-loved device in adult romantic fiction. For instance, my critique partner Victoria Dahl has a series of three adult romantic comedies coming out in September, October and November--GOOD GIRLS DON’T, BAD BOYS DO, and REAL MEN WILL--each of which features a different sibling in a family that runs a brewery in Boulder. In fact, romance fiction is so full of this device that it is not unusual to find a series of ten books and I am like WHERE DID ALL THESE SIBLINGS COME FROM but you know, sometimes that gets a bit unrealistic and the author starts writing about cousins. Vicki does a particularly good job of interweaving her stories so that each book contributes to the overall journey of this family, yet the focus of each book is still firmly on the couple at hand, and a reader could easily pick up the second book or the third book and read, understand, and enjoy it without ever reading the others.
When I sold Major Crush, it was designed to be the first of four books, each about a different couple in the same marching band. The publisher wanted only one book. When that book sold well, I asked permission several more times if I could write a book about the minor characters Walter and Austin, and the publisher said no. Because of this, I did not leave myself this type of opening in The Boys Next Door at all. In The Ex Games, I tried again. I wrote in two more couples who liked each other but had not gotten together at the end of the book, so I could write their novels next. The publisher did not want me to do this, so I revised the manuscript, and those couples are now happily together at the end of the book. I would have loved to write a book about Hayden’s little brother Josh and I left myself a little opening there, but that opportunity never came up either.
In short, if THAT’S what you mean, I am all for writing sequels. I just haven’t been successful in getting this approved.
But if you mean you want another book about the same couple I have just written about, you have lost me.
What do you want a sequel for?
My favorite YA authors when I was a teenager were Paula Danziger, Judy Bloom, and Lois Duncan. These authors have written almost no YA sequels. Their books are stand-alone. The one sequel I can think of off the top of my head is Danziger’s There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, the sequel to The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, but that’s it. My favorite adult romance author was Mary Stewart. No sequels (and I’m not counting the Merlin series, because those aren’t romances). My favorite adult romance author today is Jennifer Crusie. No sequels. I have so many favorite YA authors, and while sequels run rampant in this age group as a whole, of course my very favorite YA books are going to be contemporary romances (set in the present day with no paranormal elements), and I can’t think of any sequels.
I love to pick up a contemporary romance, read it, enjoy it, finish it, and move on to something else. If I absolutely love the book, of course the first thing I do when I finish it is buy everything else the author ever wrote. But I expect the author’s other books to be about different couples, possibly set in different towns, with two books having no connection with each other as far as setting and characters go. I do NOT look for or pine for another romance about the same couple.
Because that would suck.
I am talking about contemporaries, okay? Paranormals are different, and so are other genres in which there is a lot more going on in the plot than just lurve. In paranormals you could write a long story arc in which a couple moves a little closer to each other every time but doesn’t get together for good until book ten. But in that case, there can’t possibly be whole lot of romance in each book. The book would focus more on the demons that are trying to eat the couple’s brains or whatever. It would be like a TV show and the hero and heroine battle a new critter each time, right?
In general, a contemporary romance doesn’t work this way. There are no demons or serial killers. The book is about the couple getting together. At the end, you are waiting to see whether they get together, NOT whether they survive (and get together). The love story is the entire focus of the book. In addition, there is probably a life-changing shift going on in the characters’ view of the world and of themselves that lends even more poignancy to the discovery of the love of their lives.
How many times can this same couple do that? For how many books?
I have felt this way about sequels for a long time, but I was delighted to find that Jennifer Crusie feels similarly, and this is what she has to say about it on her web site. She puts it much more succinctly and elegantly than I do:
“I think a great book is about the most important moment in a character’s life. So the next book would be about the second most important moment, and then the third book…”
In my romantic dramas (Going Too Far, Forget You, and Love Story), I write about a couple getting together at the same time they are both going through a shift that will change the course of their lives forever. I set that up very carefully to be as hard-hitting and dramatic as possible. I pull out all the stops. I throw everything but the kitchen sink in there. That means that I am not thinking about leaving myself room to write books about the minor characters later. No. Everything in that book is honed to that one point. That’s why I have never attempted to spin off a couple from my romantic dramas like I have for my romantic comedies.
And I have no interest in writing another book about these same characters. I have been getting lots of e-mail asking for a book about Hunter and Erin moving on through college, and Doug and Zoey going to college together, and Meg and Johnafter going to college together. But see, you do not need that book because there is no major conflict left. They have worked things out and are happy and in love and they are going to have a great time together. That might be a pleasant read but not a very exciting read. It is the literary equivalent of a Twitter account. I could write about some other event in their lives, but that is not a romance anymore, so I am not interested in writing it. And I could break them up and then get them back together at the end, but I don’t think that would be nearly as good a book as a “fresh” one I wrote with completely new characters and conflicts. I want every book I write to be the best one yet.
What about Endless Summer, then?
Yes, Endless Summer is the sequel to The Boys Next Door, and to write it, I went against my own instincts as I have laid them out here for you. The first review I saw for Endless Summer said simply, “Not as good as the first one,” and I nearly had a heart attack. And then I tried to go back and write even more books about Adam and Lori, so let me spell this out for you people who e-mail me and say “PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE!”
As I’ve said, by the time I wrote The Boys Next Door, I had given up on writing sequels to my romantic comedies, so I didn’t leave myself any room here. Or so I’d thought. But the instant I wrote “The end,” I knew exactly what happened to Adam and Lori that night. The thing is, in The Boys Next Door, the events are very important to these characters and they do work out their problems and get together in the end, but Adam is so volatile and Lori is so...Lori...that at the end you are really shaking your head and looking at your watch and waiting for the other shoe to drop. So I dropped the other shoe, and that was Endless Summer.
When I wrote “The end” for Endless Summer, I did think I could write another book about Adam and Lori--two more, in fact. In The Boys Next Door, they get together. In Endless Summer, they learn to stay together. But they have spent both these books in their family units, pretty much away from most of their social peers. So in book 3 I was going to send them back to school in the fall, where they have such jealousy issues that they actually can’t stay together and they break up at the end of the book. I mean, a bad, ugly, emotional break-up like only Adam and Lori could do it. For good. Or so they think. Book 4 was going to circle back around to the beginning of the following summer, sort of where The Boys Next Door started, and now they rediscover what they loved about each other in the first place and get back together for good. Awwwwww.
I was given approval to propose a sequel to Endless Summer--but only one. As the people close to me reminded me, presenting a proposal for two when I had been asked for one would just be a nail in the coffin. So I proposed basically book 3 but with a happy ending. The publisher rejected it. And you have to see things from their point of view. The Boys Next Door/Endless Summer is an easy sell because it’s all right there together in one volume. But if you saw a third book in the bookstore, as soon as you saw that it was the third book in a series and you had not read the first two, you would put it down. Even though these books have sold a lot of copies, I am not exactly a household name. I’m not sure how many copies I would need to sell in order to make a sequel viable, but it would be...more than that.
A few months later, I was asked to write a new romantic comedy for e-book release only, and the publisher was willing to consider the Endless Summer sequel again. This time I was the one who said no, for similar reasons. Many of my readers who are so sweet to seek out my books--they do not have e-readers, so they will not be buying this book. A lot of people who do have e-readers and might be brand new to me would not want a sequel to a book they had not read. Faced with the prospect of a poor sales double-whammy, I elected to propose a romantic comedy about a brand new couple, Max and Gemma, and that is The Novel Formerly Known As Double Date. Anybody who happens upon this e-book can read it and enjoy it with no prior reading required.
Why don’t you write a sequel to Endless Summer and publish it yourself?
Right now I am contractually obligated not to. Publishers want the book they publish by you to sell well, so they do not want you to flood the internets with other books that people could buy instead. I certainly see their point. I want my books to sell well too!
Why don’t you write a sequel to Endless Summer and make it available for free?
I am a full-time novelist now. This is the only way I make money. I can’t take months out of my life to write a book I know will not make me any money, any more than your parents could take months off work to stay home and garden. I mean, I guess they could, and you could write a YA novel about your experience, because it would be full of conflict. Why won’t you go back to work, Ma? Why are you so obsessed with the GARDENING??? *sob* Of course, through the gardening your mother is trying to work through some kind of past family trauma. You could add a cute, mysterious boy and now this is actually sounding pretty good.
I am writing Such a Rush, my romantic drama that will be my hardcover debut in July 2012. Because it is about new characters in a new setting, I am able to fill it with as much drama and poignancy and longing as I can possibly muster. None of this is diluted by the need to make it “match up” with a plot or characters I’ve already written. I am having the time of my life, because I am writing the book I want to read, and even though it has nothing to do with my other books, I hope you will give it a try.
Where can I find “Why I (usually) don’t write sequels, part 1”? I think I missed it.
There is no “Why I (usually) don’t write sequels, part 1.” A little sequel humor there.