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Guest Post: Lea Nolan with Tips to Writing a Sequel, Or How I Tried Not to Lose My Mind

Today we're happy to welcome Lea Nolan, author of Conjure and its sequel, Allure. Scroll down for a sneak peek at its cover and a giveaway!

Thanks so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here at YA Highway.

Allure wasn’t the first, or the even second book I’ve written, but it was my first sequel. It’s the second book in The Hoodoo Apprentice series, which kicked off with last year’s Conjure.

I thought writing the first book in a series was hard. You’ve got to establish the characters, introduce the individual book arc, and hint at the overall series arc, solve enough problems to leave readers satisfied, but also leave enough questions to make them want to read on. Once Conjure was in the bag, I figured Allure would be a piece of cake. Turns out, not so much. Sequels are tricky tricksters that must be handled with a deft and strong hand, not only to keep them on track, but also to keep their author sane.

Now that I’ve survived the sequel, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way in hopes of helping others avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Have a Plan

When I started writing Conjure   I considered myself a “plantser” – a half plotter/half panster who had a general idea of the major story milestones but no idea what was supposed to happen in between. Often as I was writing, I’d stumble upon a fantastic plot twist and go with it, letting it take me where it would. Sometimes it resolved itself; other times it remained a loose thread to be dealt with in a future book. On more than a few occasions, my critique partners asked how I intended to address these dangling plot points. I cheekily waved them off. “Pshaw, that’s a book two problem!”

Well, guess what? The sequel is where those book two problems come home to roost. And where book three problems begin to brew. For me, that suddenly meant I needed to know a whole lot about book two before I started writing it. And, because I was on deadline, I had to do it much faster than when I wrote the first book in the series. I couldn’t waste time hopping down every twisty rabbit hole to see where it ended.

My solution? I needed to plot so I could juggle both the individual book and the big, broad strokes in the overall series. Now I know there are dedicated pantsers out there who simply place their fingers on the keyboard and create a story stroke-for-stroke. Sadly, that’s a kind of magic I don’t possess. Instead, I’ve learned to hash out the story ahead of time.

Make it Bigger

The sequel needs to be bigger in every way possible. Not necessarily longer, but bolder, darker, have higher stakes. You name it, it’s got to be larger than that first book. Push yourself to force your characters to deal with greater problems and consequences. Believe me. They’re strong. They can take it.

Don’t Leave Anything on the Table, Put it All in the Book

I’ve totally stolen this from Ally Carter, and also Tera Lynn Childs who has quoted Ally several times at conferences. This little adage looped through my brain about 150,000 times while I was writing Allure. Because Ally and Tera are right: you can’t leave anything on the table. That fabulous point you wish you could add, but figured you’d wait to introduce in the second book? Don’t. Put it in now. It’s one of the ways to make the story “bigger.” Learn to trust yourself. That plot point has occurred to you for a reason. It’s supposed to be there. Don’t let it down.

Fear the Sophomore Slump, but Don’t Let it Paralyze You.

This one nearly killed me. I once heard an editor say (about no one in particular, mind you), “Some people just can’t write a sequel. Their first book is great, but they just can’t follow through.”

Chest cave.

Let me tell you, those words shot straight through my heart, zipped up to my brain, and wiggled their way into my gray matter, making me wonder if I was one of those people. Was I someone who could write a first book but then utterly fail to write something compelling the second time around? That self-doubt—entirely planted by myself, by the way—was occasionally crippling. On a bad writing day, that awful little notion would worm to the front of my brain and mock me. Tsk, tsk, tsk, it shook its nasty little head. Maybe you are one of those people. It took a lot of work to ignore that monster and power through. But little-by-little, chapter-by-chapter, I plodded on and proved that bully wrong. So can you.

Most of All, Believe in Yourself

You wrote the first book, you such as heck can write the next. This is your world, populated by your characters, who play by your rules, and interact in your plot. Plus, this isn’t your first time at the rodeo. You already know about story structure and pacing, how to write dazzling dialogue and create interesting characters, how to editing, and even how to launch a book. You can do it again. All it takes is trusting that your experience has given you the skills you need, and remembering how to use them. And to let yourself take that leap…and fly.

Thanks for the great post, Lea! And now, behold: The cover for Allure, coming October 1st from Entangled Teen!

Worst. Summer. Ever.

Emma Guthrie races to learn the hoodoo magic needed to break The Beaumont Curse before her marked boyfriend Cooper's sixteenth birthday. But deep in the South Carolina Lowcountry, dark, mysterious forces encroach, conspiring to separate Emma and Cooper forever. When Cooper starts to change, turning cold and indifferent, Emma discovers that both his heart and body are marked for possession by competing but equally powerful adversaries.

Desperate to save him, Emma and her twin brother, Jack, risk their lives to uncover the source of the black magic that has allured Cooper and holds him in its grip. Face with the horror of a soul-eating boohag, Emma and Jack must fight to resist its fiendish power to free Cooper long enough to join their strengths and face it together, before it destroys them all.

Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Goodreads | Facebook


Enter the giveaway below (or click here) to win one of the first five electronic ARCs of Allure from Entangled Teen!

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Lea Nolan couldn’t read until the third grade. After a lot of hard work she finally got the hang of it and quickly learned the best way to get out of doing chores was to tell her parents she was reading. Soon she was hooked, devouring books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Judy Blume, C.S. Lewis, and anything with a shiny Newberry Award sticker on the cover. Books provided a portal to enchanted lands where anything was possible and characters relied on their wits to wiggle out of sticky situations. Today, even though she’s all grown up, Lea writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen--smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She holds degrees in history and women’s studies concentrating in public policy and spent fifteen years as a health policy analyst and researcher. She lives in Maryland with her heroically supportive husband and three clever children, who’ve figured out how to get out of doing their chores.

Kate Hart

Kate is the author of After the Fall, coming January 24, 2017 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A former teacher and grant writer, she now owns a treehouse-building business in the Ozarks and hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know interview series.

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  1. Thanks so much for having me on YA Highway and for helping to reveal ALLURE's cover to the world! You're the best!!! :)

  2. I'm in the middle of writing my first sequel right now and it is HARD. These are some great tips. Thanks, Lea.

    1. You're welcome! A lovely twitter convo I had this morning reminded me of something else - ask someone to beta for you who hasn't read the first installment. That way, they'll let you know if the story you're spinning makes sense, and if you've given the reader enough backstory snippets to set the stage (without being too info dumpy). :)

  3. Great post! I plotted my whole series from the get-go, but I still have problems with the whole "don't leave anything on the table!!"

  4. A planster! Yes! That is what I am! Glad to finally put a name to it.

    I am currently about to delve into sequel-writing and am feeling every single thing you mentioned, especially the "what if I'm one of those people?" Thanks for the encouragement, and congratulations on your sequel! :)

  5. This was an interesting read! I've never written a sequel so far, but I've heard a lot about how it's drastically harder. I agree with your tip on making your sequel bigger, however - I've noticed that when I enjoy sequels, it's because the scale of the book gets more epic and fantastic every time. x

  6. I am a quarter pantser, three-quarters outliner. I've tried both ways, and finally settled here.

    I like what you said about the sequel being "Bigger" not longer. Great post. Thank you for sharing with us.


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Item Reviewed: Guest Post: Lea Nolan with Tips to Writing a Sequel, Or How I Tried Not to Lose My Mind Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kate Hart