Why Querying Writers Shouldn’t Write Sequels

Querying writers have quite a few hurdles to jump through to secure literary representation. For those of you who don’t know what a query is or what I mean by literary representation, let’s go over a few of the basics to start.

There are a few ways to publish a book, one of those being traditional publishing. As of early 2019, the big five publishers—whose names you have likely heard of many times before—are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. If you want to be published through the big five or through another traditional publisher, you need to have a literary agent.

Many people call literary agents the “gatekeepers” to the traditional publishing industry. Whether or not that’s true, writers have to pitch their unpublished manuscripts to agents via a query letter, which is essentially a professional cover letter all about your book.

There are certain formats and pieces of information that are expected to be within your query letter, but we won’t dive into that today. To learn more about querying, be sure to check out iWriterly’s Query Hack series, where we critique queries.

Essentially, writers are expected to pitch their book (via a query letter) to one literary agent per agency. Many represented writers have shared that they queried an upwards of 100 literary agents before they signed their contract with their current agent. On average, most writers write an average of four books prior to securing literary representation. That means, they likely wrote several books before writing the book that landed them an agent.

If you do the math, a writer could potentially send out 400 queries (assuming they sent approximately 100 queries per manuscript) before signing a contract with a literary agent.

Now, imagine you write a book that no agent is going to want. You spend a year or more writing and editing the book—both by yourself and with critique partners and beta readers—prior to sending out your 100 queries. You are beyond excited for this book, and you think readers are going to be as captivated about the story and character as you are… if only agents had fallen in love with the first book in the series.

One less known fact about literary agents is that most will not consider representing subsequent books in a series. That means agents need to fall in love with the first book in a series first. If they don’t want to represent book one, they aren’t going to want to represent the whole series.

Therefore, the months—or years—you spent drafting and editing the sequel will not assist you in your goal to land a literary agent. In fact, some might consider having written a sequel a waste of time. Personally, I think that any book written is never a waste of time because it teaches you to hone your writing craft. However, this sequel will unfortunately not be able to assist you in your goal to get literary representation, which is a main stepping stone to becoming traditionally published. In addition, even if you are picked up by an agent, if the agent can’t sell a series to a publisher and only sells a one-book deal, then there is nothing you can do with those sequels.

Instead, once you finish the first book in a series, consider going on to write a new book in a different series (or a standalone). Try to write these books as standalones with series potential. Meaning, a reader can read the first book and feel completely satisfied with where the story ended. There aren’t any glaring cliffhangers to the main plot or conflict. However, there might be little threads that the author could pick up later to write subsequent books in the series.

By writing several first books in different series, you are increasing your chances to secure literary representation—and, eventually, securing book deals with traditional publishers.

Meg LaTorre likes to think of herself as an avid book nerd with an exceptional taste for mac and cheese. She is a writer, YouTuber, host of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, developmental book editor, writing coach, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website or follow her on social media.

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18 Responses to Why Querying Writers Shouldn’t Write Sequels

  1. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-14-2019 | The Author Chronicles

  2. Cristian says:

    Hi Meg,
    Wow! I never so much went into publishing or even that series would not really be considered. I should definitely focus more on writing those stand-alone books that have the potential to have sequels instead of writing a long series. Thanks for the writing tips!

  3. So when we participate in online pitch events such as yesterday’s Carina Pitch and if they say yes, they want to publish the first of my trilogy, do I have to scurry around to find an agent? I’m not well versed in publishing contracts, but I’ve done tons of reading to research them and I’m well aware that debut authors are ripe for the pickings as far as rights grabs.

    • Meg LaTorre says:

      That’s up to you! However, most people in the industry do highly encourage writers if they get a publishing contract (and they don’t have an agent) to query agents they’d like to work with. That way, the agent can either help to negotiate a better contract with the publisher who’s currently interested in your work, or they can assist you in getting a better publishing contract with another publisher.

  4. Pingback: Why Querying Writers Shouldn’t Write Sequels —

  5. Solid advice. I think it can be smart to have an outline or synopsis of the next book (or books) in case the agent (or later, the editor) asks, but writing entire novels unless a person is planning to SP as a fallback can be risky and lead to heartache if the first isn’t picked up (and picked up with the intent to buy a series).

    • Meg LaTorre says:

      I agree that writing an outline for the subsequent books in a series is a fantastic idea (should there come a time when an agent and/or publisher is interested in more books). I was actually just chatting in the comments with Joy Pixley about this. 🙂

      • See, this is what happens when you don’t wear your tinfoil hat, Meg…I READ YOUR MIND. 🙂

        I know when I was going to acquisitions one time, I was asked for a synopsis of what the next book would be in the series. (I had wrote what I thought of as a stand-alone, but the world and concept were strong enough for a series, so when they asked if it was a series, I told them it definitely could be, and so they then asked for that synopsis.)

        • Meg LaTorre says:

          Haha! You sure did read my mind.

          That’s exciting! I bet it was also pretty intimidating when you’re asked for subsequent books by publishers that weren’t (as of yet) on your radar.

  6. Joy Pixley says:

    I’ve heard this advice before and it makes a lot of sense: why bother putting a lot of effort into Book 2 if you’re never able to sell Book 1? But maybe that works a lot better for authors who can crank out two or more books a year than for the rest of us. I’ve heard horror stories from authors who can’t do that (who are working full time jobs, caring for families, or just write slowly), and took four-plus years writing and revising Book 1. Then Book 1 sold, and bang! The publisher wants the full manuscript for Book 2 right NOW, and so do the readers. And it should be even *better* than Book 1, somehow. So having the second book prepped already *also* makes a lot of sense: if Book 1 is selling well, you want to get Book 2 under the readers’ noses before the momentum dies out and they forget about you. In the examples I know about, the authors scrambled to get something out for the subsequent books in less than half the time of the first one and… this is why I’m not naming names, because the next books just weren’t as good, for all the predictable reasons.

    The other problem they ran into is that no matter how much they thought they’d outlined the whole series, issues came up in act 3 of the trilogy that could only really be solved by changing something in act 1 or act 2, but those books were already published. So they’d written themselves into a corner, and had to do something awkward to get back out again.

    So, where’s the happy medium? Outline the next books but don’t write them? Write up rough drafts but not more than that? Or write the whole trilogy and hope for the best? (Maybe not tell the agent Book 2 is done, and just surprise her with the full manuscript when she asks.) Does it matter if each book in the series is a complete stand-alone story (like most mysteries) versus if there’s an overarching major plot line that isn’t resolved until the last book?

    The whole discussion makes me want to avoid writing series altogether, which is unfortunate since I write fantasy, and those books are almost all series at this point. So I’m told by some to write stories that have “sequel potential” but told by others to not actually spend time thinking about that sequel.

    • Meg LaTorre says:

      You make a great point! It’s tough, and there’s no one “right” answer. However, I think that if a writer is planning to query a literary agent with the first book in a series, it would be in the writer’s best interest to outline the whole series (should there come a day when a publisher purchases not just book one but a whole series). Even still, not all writers like to outline (the whole pantsers vs. plotters discussion). Regardless, I do think outlining a series (including book one) would be helpful for writers so they know where they need to go next if both an agent and publisher are interested in their story. (Which is the goal!)

      • Joy Pixley says:

        Dang it, I was hoping for the one right answer! Or maybe a magic wand! 🙂 No, I know you’re right: it’s tough either way. I’m definitely on the “plotters” end of the spectrum, which would help in this situation.

        But no matter how detailed my outline is, even for shorter form stories, I have yet to get to the end and not discover some unexpected glitch that requires rethinking or at least tweaking back in the beginning. I have a few trilogy ideas in mind, but at this point I think I’ll put those aside for the time being and focus on getting a stand-alone book published. Maybe by the time I write the first four books that it will take to get one published, I’ll be better-honed at outlining and planning. Then I could be more confident that I haven’t written myself into a corner in Book 1, even though Books 2-3 aren’t done yet.

  7. Thanks so much for this, Meg. Solid advice, as always 🙂

  8. Mark Marderosian says:

    Hey! Do you have a secret spy camera in my computer? What a perfectly timed article for me. Thanks for writing it. My three manuscripts stand alone but one in particular has great series potential. In fact, instead of honing my synopsis and query for this first one, I began to plunge into writing the structure for the second installment. And even the third!
    After reading this article, I think I’d best focus on getting the first one out there. Nice to have others in the wings but you can’t sell the third without getting the first one out there to start.

    • Meg LaTorre says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article! It all depends on where you want to take your career and what’s important to you. However, I’ve found that it’s often most beneficial for querying writers to focus on polishing book one and then write a new book/series (to the end of getting a literary agent). Best of luck to you!

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