July 15 – 21: “Do publishers expect sequels too quickly? What has been the longest period between books in a series for you – and were readers forgiving?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Lynne Klippel wrote, “Well written books are like wine, the best ones require some time to mature.” This week ITW Members Reavis Wortham, John Florio, Steven Savile and David Sakmyster discuss whether or not publishers expect sequels too quickly and answer the question: “What has been the longest period between books in a series for you – and were readers forgiving?”


sugarpopmoonJohn Florio (Brooklyn, NY) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in print, on the web, and on television. He is the author of the Jersey Leo crime series (Sugar Pop Moon and the forthcoming Blind Moon Alley); he is also the author of One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title. Visit John at www.johnfloriowriter.com. Follow Jersey Leo at www.facebook.com/JerseyLeoNovels.

The Right Side of WrongDuring Reavis Z. Wortham’s 35-year career in public education, he also wrote a weekly self-syndicated newspaper column, and for state and national magazines. Upon retirement in 2011, he began writing mystery thrillers. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel, The Rock Hole, as one of “the top mysteries of 2011, written to the hilt and harrowing in its unpredictability.” Burrows and The Right Side of Wrong have received critical acclaim from Publishers Weekly and The Library Journal.

NDESteven Savile has written for DOCTOR WHO, STARGATE, STAR WARS and WARHAMMER, has sold over quarter of a million books worldwide, and is a number one bestseller in the United Kingdom. David Sakmyster is an award-winning author and screenwriter who has over two dozen short stories and seven novels published, including THE PHAROS OBJECTIVE, the first in a completed trilogy featuring psychic archaeologists.

pharosDavid Sakmyster is the award-winning author of over two dozen short stories and two novels, including THE PHAROS OBJECTIVE, book one in a series about remote-viewers and psychic archaeologists searching for a fabled treasure hidden below the ruins of the great Pharos Lighthouse. Crossroad Press just released the horror thriller, CRESCENT LAKE (epub only). In 2009 Dragon Moon Press published his epic historical fiction tale, SILVER AND GOLD (currently a finalist in ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction).

  1. Writing the first Jersey Leo novel, SUGAR POP MOON, came with the luxury of time. I was writing in a vacuum; nobody was waiting for the finished product. I wasn’t marking a calendar, but I’d say it took two or three years to write. The second in the series, BLIND MOON ALLEY, is due out in 2014; it will have taken half the time of the first one to write. My publisher didn’t push this time constraint on me—it was a mutual decision. Now that I’m halfway through the manuscript, I ask myself: Is it enough time? The answer is yes…. barely.

    When writing the first novel, I spent most of the time developing the characters, particularly Jersey, and making sure they were all well drawn. This time around, the characters have been developed, so the natural assumption is that the manuscript should take less time to prepare. But I’m using the time differently. I spend the hours making sure I hit all the touch-points I’d imagine readers now expect from a novel in this series: internal conflicts, emotional depth, and an absorbing story. In short, I don’t want to let Jersey’s readers down.

    As for readers’ expectations, I don’t believe readers consider the author’s constraints when picking up a novel—and they shouldn’t. They should read freely, hopefully enjoying the ride. Personally, I’d never want a reader to start a Jersey Leo novel with lowered expectations. They want to be entertained, and I hope I’m able to meet the challenge every time.

  2. As a reader, I know what it’s like to wait for sequels. You finish a great book, and maybe it has a cliffhanger or a teaser for book 3 and you wonder, where’s the next one? You go to the author’s web page or blog hoping for an update. You wonder what they’re doing and ask yourself, “What could be more important – why aren’t they finishing this thing? Why do I have to wait?” But you do wait. And you hope it doesn’t take too long… but there are limits. I particularly don’t feel like I should wait more than a year for the next one.

    As an author, I have tried to bring that sensibility to my publications. I have one series, The Morpheus Initiative. Hadn’t planned it to be a series at first. I just wrote the best novel that I could at the time. And by the end, I found that some of the characters weren’t dead, and thought – why not have them keep going? By the time my publisher asked, how about book 2? it was already outlined. I got it done within eight months. And like all good second books in a trilogy, it had a nice little cliffhanger, so at that point, even though I didn’t really know what was going to happen in book 3, I was committed. At the time, I actually had reasons to switch publishers, so my experience was a little different from others. But at that point, I was more concerned with meeting the wishes of my readers than the interests of my publisher. I found the fan emails asking about the next installment great incentives to actually get past some writer’s blocks and finish it within a year.

    I know what it’s like to wait and to want to read the next book in a series. And I also know the joy of finding a whole series intact and go through it all at once, without that pain of waiting. (Kind of like binge-watching entire seasons of TV shows). I feel lucky to have readers that have experienced both with my trilogy. And yes, there may a fourth even in the future. Considering it even now…

  3. I’m here because it’s all my fault… every bad thing you’ve ever heard about a sequel not turning up in a timely fashion, mea maxima culpa. As a reader I used to obsess about the fact Clive Barker hadn’t finished The Art (Great and Secret Show, Everville and… the end of the trilogy unfinished after 20 years) and still like that. Then I wrote Silver. Everything changed after that.

    For those of you who don’t know me, Silver was a #2 bestseller in the UK in 2011 (came out in hardcover in the US in 2010 to barely a ripple and was remaindered btw) with something close to 60,000 digital copies going out the door that year it was the #26 bestselling ebook of the year. That meant 60,000 people (I’m an optimistic soul, they’d *all* have loved it so much they wanted Gold) were hungrily waiting for the promised book that would be out in 2012… only it’s now 2013 and its still not out, and the Americans who picked up the hc in 2010 have waited even longer, cursing my name and having voodoo priests make effigies of me.

    I could try and explain the delay (it’s complicated, but it involves publisher economics, me writing Battlefield 3 for DICE/EA and then having basically ‘sold’ half of my plot for the sequel, and then misfiring and writing 50,000 words that were essentially the same story beat-for-beat as Silver and throwing them away) but the truth is, it’s all my fault. So I get the pressure. I had the US publisher ask for the advance back, for instance, but we made various deals when the truly complex nature of the mess resolved that sure Lucifer’s Machine, Solomon’s Song and WarGod come out as an ‘Origins’ series to buy time to the sequel and set up a structure of Silver and Gold being the ‘endcaps’ of the series which works in my head.

    So, were readers forgiving? Sales of the Origins stuff would say no. The fact that every time I posted on Facebook someone would pipe up ‘When’s GOLD due?’ or ‘Why aren’t you working on GOLD?’ says no. And now I’m in this very frightening situation where I’m worried the lapse between them, despite the three novels in between, might have actually killed the series stone dead.

    So that’s my introduction to the debate, come, join in, heckle. Ask questions. Mock. That’s why we’re here.

  4. Yes I’d like to weigh in and mock/heckle/grumble toward my ‘N.D.E.’ co-author about the delay of ‘Gold’. Um… when’s it coming out?

    Seriously though, I know the pain. And Steve, get ready in case we start getting those questions about the ending of NDE (which has a heck of an open-ended ending)…

  5. I didn’t know what I was doing, so it took several years to write The Rock Hole, my first novel in the Red River series, partly because I worked while writing it, but I also experienced an electronic hiccup when the first manuscript was almost completed. It vanished, and I re-created the story a second time, spending months fine tuning the story, fleshing out the characters and the setting itself. Writer friends judged my dialogue the strongest arm of the book, so I concentrated on accuracy and pacing for the characters.

    Because I tweaked it over and over, the book was heavily spiced with details that gained critical acclaim. I finally found an agent who placed the manuscript with Poisoned Pen Press. I was lucky it finally happened, because I’d still be working on that first draft. I remember Stephen King once said that you don’t really finish a manuscript, you simply abandon it and go to the next one. That’s what happened, but through the guidance of my editor at PPP, Annette Rogers. The Rock Hole was supposed to be a standalone novel, but she talked me into rewriting the ending, because I killed everyone off. She suggested a series, and we were on the way.

    Burrows came along a year later. It takes me that long for a variety of reasons. My first draft requires aging, and I come back to it time and again to flesh out details, conversations, and ideas. In fact, I spend considerable time in setting and weather, which become characters unto themselves, sometimes in the background, and other times in the forefront, such as in Burrows.

    Twelve months after that, The Right Side of Wrong was released. Since this third one is out, I’ve received a number of requests to write faster, and lord knows I’m trying. I think the series has built momentum in both sales and pacing. These books roar along, and by the end, folks feel like they’re ready for the next curve or sudden drop on this roller coaster I’ve created.

  6. Reavis,

    Interesting. Similarly, actually, Silver was a case of ‘not knowing what I was doing’ in that it wound up being twice as long as I thought it’d be, hence the mother of all cliffhangers that has really caused me the most pain. I needed to find a good break-point as the book was already 150k long and I realised my intended plot couldn’t possibly wrap up inside 350k… That was very much a case of ‘publisher pressure’ of course, in that they’d have had seizure if I’d turned in a 1300 page book…

    Because of all of those problems described above, I actually worked backwards in the series… the next release, I think, is FORGE, which is set in the mid 80s in the UK and deals with the old man himself. That should be out just before Gold, which should keep Sak happy 😉

  7. I understand completely about large manuscripts, Steven. My first novel, The Rock Hole was close to 150,000 in the first draft and I shaved it down before giving it to my editor at Poisoned Pen Press, Annette Rogers. We hadn’t met, so we decided to get together at Sleuthfest in Florida. When we sat down, she took out an extensive list of suggestions and for the next hour discussed ways to make the manuscript stronger. Then at the end, she gave an interesting look.

    “Now I want you to completely re-write the ending.”
    “Because you killed everyone off, even your protagonist.”
    “Right. That’s because I ended the story.”
    She grinned. “I’m not talking about one book. This is a series now.”
    Dumbfounded, I sat back and pondered her statement. “When do you need it?”
    “A couple of months should do it.”

    So from there I dug in and worried out another 30,000 words to bring it down to 90,00. Lucy for me, the critics have been kind, and the fourth book, Vengeance is Mine should be out in July, 2014, one year from this month’s release of The Right Side of Wrong. This is a great ride.

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