I finished editing the sequel to my young adult urban fantasy! As I did so the question of what to write next surfaced it's ugly head. I was hoping to hear back from the agent who is considering the first in the series before I delved into the third and final book. Why write the third if I haven't received representation for the first? Well, because I have no choice. The story has it's claws firmly embedded into my mind and will not let go. It must be finished. This got me to thinking about writing sequels.
Should you write a stand alone book or give in to the sequel that's been nagging at the back of your mind? Is there more than just the story to consider when thinking about writing a sequel? Yes to all of the above. What do agents and editors think about sequels? Will it help or hinder your book's chance of getting picked up and published? All good questions.
There is a lot more than just the story to consider when writing a sequel. But no wait, it's all about the story you say! True, and false. If the story compels you to write a sequel I say absolutely write it because if its hooked you that strongly chances are it will do so for readers as well. I always let my characters tell their story, and if they aren't done then I keep writing as long as the story is compelling. Once it's lost a certain amount of fire and interest, you've gone to far.
So will a sequel increase your chances of getting picked up, or make it harder? Consider this: agents pick your book up not only because they like it, but because they think they can sell it. The more you write, the more they can sell. Agents like a writer who continues to write! When an editor buys your book you're given an advance. If you promise them three books on that one advance then their chances of recouping it are three times as great! Trust me, its a big motivator for them if they can guarantee you'll sell enough for them to not only recover that, but make much more.
More books means more money for you and all involved, but they must be just as engaging or even more so than the first book. So what the heck did I mean by you should write a stand alone and a sequel? Your books should always be able to stand on their own, that way the publisher has a choice of whether or not to go ahead with it. You can leave a cliffhanger but try to wrap up enough of the elements of the story that the reader feels satisfied. In the sequel, assume the reader hasn't read the first book. This doesn't mean you have to constantly repeat things you wrote in the first book, just reference things now and then with thoughts or flashbacks (personally I'm not a fan of flashbacks though). Look at your own bookshelf. Pick out a series that you really liked, reread it. See how that writer does it. Anne McCaffery, Brian Herbert, Sara Douglass, and Margaret Wies & Tracy Hickman are all excellent examples of writers who really know how to write a great sequel that can stand on its own. Best of luck!