Question: What is the best introduction for the next book when continuing the story from your first book?



It sounds like you are writing a sequel. By definition, a sequel is a publication that continues the story or develops the theme of an earlier publication. 

Writing a good sequel can be tricky and many authors find it more difficult than writing the first book. This is because once the first book is published, you are locked in to certain story elements like main characters, the world you’ve created, and the overarching storyline.

The way you begin the second book will have a huge effect on whether you meet reader expectations and maintain their interest. Here are 5 tips for writing a sequel opening that will give readers the familiar things they enjoyed in the first book, while surprising them with something fresh and engaging:

1. Don’t Start Right Where You Left Off

You likely ended your first book with some unanswered questions or on a cliffhanger, so it can be tempting to go back to that last scene and start book two right where book one ended. Unfortunately, you risk alienating readers if you take this approach.

First, readers need a reminder about your story’s major characters and plot points, especially if book one was released more than a few months prior. Second, if a reader picks up book two without having read book one (which does happen), they will likely be confused and lose interest. Each book needs to stand on its own and be a complete story with a beginning, middle, and ending. This means re-introducing your main characters, re-establishing your world, and setting up any new conflicts or sub-plots early on.

You also need to include an opening hook or scene that grabs readers and pulls them in – or back in – to your story. You have to get them grounded in time and place and then provide some context.

When writing a book series, return readers will be eager to learn what happens next.2. Resist the Urge to Summarize

Speaking of context, it’s important to find a balance between giving too little and too much information about book one. You can’t assume return readers remember everything about book one, but you also can’t do a huge info dump at the start of book two.

A good way to approach this is to treat the events of book one as backstory. Then use dialogue or your main character’s internal thoughts to weave in the details that are necessary to explain where book one left off. This provides a foundation for moving forward in book two without boring your return readers. They will be eager to read what happens next and expect a new adventure to take off quickly.

3. Raise the Stakes

Stakes are what your protagonist (main character) stands to lose or gain as your story unfolds. To maintain reader interest, you must take those stakes to the next level in book two. What did your main character risk losing in book one, and how can you intensify that in book two?

Maybe in book one your main character’s job was at risk. In book two, you can up level the stakes by putting his or her life at risk. Here are some questions that will help raise the stakes for your protagonist:

•  What is the worst thing that could happen to my protagonist?
•  Are other characters depending on he/she to succeed?
•  How can the potential reward be increased?
•  Can I set a deadline or time limit to create urgency?

Make it clear early on in book two that the stakes have been raised for your protagonist. The more he/she cares about the desired outcome or goal, the more your readers will care.

It's important to continue surprising readers when writing a sequel or series.4. Something Old, Something New

If your readers loved everything about book one, it can be tempting to retell the same story with only a few tweaks. You’re right in thinking that your readers want more of the same, but they are also expecting to be as surprised, engaged, or emotionally invested as they were with book one. In order to accomplish this, you need to introduce something fresh and exciting.  

It can be risky to alter your protagonist, overarching storyline, and world rules too much in book two, but that doesn’t mean things can’t evolve. Don’t be afraid to reveal a new character flaw, introduce new secondary characters or antagonists, or unveil a dark secret about the world.

Try to identify the elements that readers really connected with in book one. You can continue these elements in book two, while also shaking things up with some changes. Return readers will expect the status quo to be upended again, but with new challenges and conflicts.

5. Show Character Development

The character arc is the transformation or inner journey of your protagonist over the course of the story. With a sequel, there will be an overall character arc from the beginning of book one to the ending of book two, but each book needs to show your character developing as the story unfolds.

What did your protagonist learn from book one’s journey, and how has this affected his or her actions or feelings? Your return readers will get frustrated if your main character remains static in book two or continues making the same mistakes. Characters are more authentic and relatable if they evolve because of previous experiences.

What About Nonfiction Sequels?

With a nonfiction sequel, you may be expanding upon the topic or theme of your first book or introducing readers to another area of your expertise. Like a fiction sequel, a nonfiction sequel must present some familiar elements to your readers, while offering something new and exciting. Here are 3 quick tips for making your nonfiction sequel a success:

1.  Follow a similar structure or format – Example: if your first book was an instructional how-to with numbered tips or lessons, follow that same format for book two.
2.  Maintain your author voice and tone – Example: if you used an authoritative tone with statistical data to back up your claims, approach book two in the same way.
3.  Use the introduction to explain how the second book relates to the first – Example: if your series is addressing an overall topic like “Aging”, and book one covers one aspect of aging while book two covers a different aspect, make that clear in the intro. 

Writing a book series can be a great way to build a loyal fan base and establish a long-term writing career. It also requires special planning to ensure the books complement each other while standing on their own. The above tips will help you set your book’s sequel up for success.

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