Love 'em & hate 'em....every book has a sequel, IS a sequel, or is trailing a whole bunch of siblings, stepchildren and maiden aunts.
Of course we love a series when we start at book one and can happily escape into all the rest of the Harry Potter books. But we hate them if we pick one up at a book swap and it turns out to be Book 3. (I have been shopping at book swaps longer than most of you have been alive. Maybe by the time you are senior citizens, there won't even be paper books anymore). What a bummer to get into a book only to see Jane & Harry picking up on something important that happened in the LAST book. Readers want to escape. They don't want to be faced with a momentous decision: will this series be good enough for me to invest in all the rest of the books?
I already invested in buying books 2 & 3 of the Hyperion series, because Hyperion was a Hugo winner, so of course it would be great, right? Well, actually no. It stopped just before the great Galactic conflict, and didn't have an ending. Did I care enough to read the next book? Nope. I'm like a jilted lover. I've been burned before, so I'm staying away from fire.
Unfortunately, I wrote a novel Tesla's Signal, and while it does have a definite end, the protagonist Nikola Tesla still had many years left in his life to continue with his fantastic researches & adventures. So I think I have no choice to write a sequel. How can I do this, without being guilty of the same offenses I have just complained about?
For starters: be honest with your readers. Write a prolog, or an intro, stating clearly that “some of the events referred to by characters in Tesla's Wavelength occurred in a previous novel, Tesla's Signal. However, readers should be able to follow the storyline just fine.” And make sure that's true.
However, avoid an info dump. I wouldn't read a book that started with a 3-page summary of what Wizards X, Y and Z did for the last 60 years. Walk a fine line between characters that are ciphers, and ones who give you too much information. Reading a 'sequel' should be like meeting an older person. You know they have a life history, which you won't learn as a big Infodump. Gradually you'll learn about Joe's heroic actions in the war, how he became a karate expert, etc. All this made him what he is today, but now, new baddies are after him and he's got to come up with a bunch of new solutions to save the day.
Take heed: the biggest problem with a sequel is to avoid Spoilers. If Jane's boyfriend in book one was turned into a dragon...there has to be a way in book 2 to explain why she is hanging out with a dragon....without it being a spoiler to book one. This is extremely tricky. When I write my sequel, I will have to figure out ways to make the backstory vague enough that people who read Tesla's Signal will understand, while those who didn't won't be frustrated enough to drop the book...just interested enough to want to read book one and see how it got that way.
Of course, you also have to have an ending. Books without an ending are like sex without an...
Continued in next article.