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June 24, 2009

Denise Vega: Sequel Anxiety -- Can We Ever Give Readers What They Really Want?

Posted by webmaster

Most of us would love it if our favorite characters could live forever in sequels and series, but doing so is a lot harder than it looks.Most of us would love it if our favorite characters could live forever in sequels and series, but doing so is a lot harder than it looks. Today's guest blogger, Denise Vega, sheds light on just how hard it can be to write a sequel, and shares some of the fears she experienced while attempting to write ACCESS DENIED, the followup to CLICK HERE.

When readers love a book, they want more. They want a sequel, a series, anything that enables them to continue on a path with the characters they have come to know and love. I’ve felt this way myself after reading a good book. I’m not ready to let go. I want to know what happens next. And for an author, this sounds like a dream come true. My readers love my book! My readers want more!

But then the fear creeps in because we know that we can never replicate the experience the reader had, and that’s what they are looking for. Nothing can match the joy and satisfaction of finishing a book that truly captivated a reader. She or he thinks they want more, but maybe they want more of what they want to happen to the characters after the book ends, not necessarily where the author might take those characters in a follow-up book.

So what’s an author to do?

When I finished my book, CLICK HERE (to find out how i survived seventh grade), I already had something in mind for a sequel because I wasn’t finished with Erin’s story. I jumped in with both feet, excited to keep going with these characters. But as readers continued to write in about how much they loved CLICK HERE, I started having some anxiety. Could anything I wrote truly match the enthusiasm they were expressing about the first book? Would they toss the new book across the room in disgust? What was I thinking?

And what about new readers? Someone who stumbled across the sequel and was meeting Erin, Jilly, Rosie, Mark, and Tyler for the first time? They deserved to read a story they could follow and enjoy, even if they hadn’t read CLICK HERE. I knew I had to continue Erin’s story, but also make the book fresh and new.

Bingo. It was then that I realized that even if my readers wanted me to replicate their CLICK HERE experience, I couldn’t. It was impossible. But what I could do was give them a new one, while still providing familiar elements so readers of the first book could make those connections and feel as if they’d come back to visit old friends.

I started mapping out how I could take Erin to another level, really push her out of her comfort zone and make her grow further than she had in CLICK HERE --- because that’s the other challenge of a sequel. In any character-driven book, you want the character to grow or change in some way, be different at the end of the story than she was in the beginning. I had to take my already-changed Erin and make her change again. I had to give her new problems and new challenges to overcome.

As of this writing, ACCESS DENIED (and other eighth grade error messages) is not out yet so I don’t know how my readers feel about it. But, I think I did provide a new story --- a new experience --- for any reader who picks up the book. I introduced a new character, Reede Harper, who challenges and tests Erin in ways I think many eighth graders on the brink of high school might be challenged and tested.

So for everyone who wants to continue on a journey with a beloved character, be kind to the author who gives you what you think you want and be open to what you actually get!

-- Denise Vega