Yesterday I handed book two of The Machinery trilogy – The Strategist – in to HarperVoyager UK. It got me thinking about sequels. I asked myself: would I have ever written this book, if I hadn’t got a book deal? The answer is probably ‘no’. I realise now that this would have been a shame, and bad news for my writing.
I wrote The Strategist in a much shorter timeframe than The Machinery. That’s just the way of it with sequels. Obviously you’re writing book one into kind of a void, and you don’t face any deadlines. But the tighter timescale wasn’t a bad thing. I had a solid idea of how the story would progress, and much of the worldbuilding was already done for book one.
Still, the process wasn’t easy. Writing a sequel poses challenges you just don’t face in book one. You have to sustain the reader’s interest when much of the novelty may have worn off. If you’re writing the second book in a trilogy, as I was, you have to build a bridge between the beginning and the end of the story. There’s also the dreaded ‘second album’ worry: “will this be as good as the first one?!”
On the other hand, it’s very rewarding, and I think it’s been good for me in different ways. You get to delve further into the world you created, exploring new parts of it. Things you’ve thought about for years finally appear on the page, often in ways that surprise you. I have added the perspectives of two established characters, and it’s been great writing from their viewpoints.
It’s also just good for your writing. Obviously, the more you write, the better you get. Writing in a world you already know, with dialogue from characters you have already introduced, hones things in a way that starting afresh might not. At the very least, it makes it easier to see yourself get better. What might have been a struggle in the early stages of writing book one comes much easier in book two. I suppose that’s just the way of it with writing.
I took a different approach after I finished the original manuscript of The Machinery, and wrote an entirely different novel in an entirely different genre. It didn’t really work, in all honesty. I don’t see it as time wasted: time spent writing is of course going to be beneficial. Still, I now think that even if I hadn’t got my deal with HV, it would have been a good thing to plunge into book two of The Machinery. For a start, if I ever did get a deal, I would have been further along in the process. I could have handed two books over straight away. Of course, much of book two would change depending on the editing of book one. Still, a lot of the legwork would already have been done.
So to any writer who’s planning a series of books: go ahead and write the sequel, even if no one has bitten yet. It won’t ever be a bad thing: the hours spent writing will pay dividends. You may discover ways of improving book one. That was certainly the case for me – I wrote book two while I was editing book one, and it really helped, though it may have been better if I’d already had book two in hand.
Remember, you are pitching a series to agents and publishers. You should have the confidence to push on with your work. Otherwise, why should anyone else?