The problem with sequels is that the writing and publishing process gives readers too much time to think.
Let me unpack that a little.
It takes me one to two years to write a novel, and this is fairly typical of most of the professional writers I know. Yes, there are folks who work faster without detriment to their quality; the speedy crowd seems to work at a rate of around three to six books per year. And then there are the real outliers (whom the rest of us don’t like to talk about so much). The fastest one I know could do a novel in two weeks without a decline in quality (two weeks really was her limit, though: the one that got written in eleven days shows some stress fractures).
But even the really fast folks do not end up with a book on the stands every two weeks. The publishing process doesn’t allow it. What with getting the copyediting done, arranging for the cover art, doing the book design, printing and proofreading the galleys, advance publicity, and getting the book out to reviewers and bookstore buyers…well, the whole business takes six months to a year unless they throw massive amounts of money and people at it, which they only ever do when they have a hope of making some of those costs back.
What all this comes down to is that in most genres other than Romance (which has its own rules), a given publisher will do a book a year by a particular writer. There are occasional exceptions, but they’re exceptions. Some of the extra-productive writers deal with this by working under pseudonyms; others rotate through multiple series for different publishers or even genres. But even if the writer has a book out in a different series under a different name every month of the year, each individual series usually has to wait a year for the next volume in sequence.
The wait is due to a combination of things: the production process, the fact that most writers can work to a book-a-year production rate, the desire of publishers to give the hardcover maximum time to sell before putting out the paperback (while also timing the paperback’s release so that the hardcover of Book 2 or 3 will be just out and available for eager new readers who can’t wait). But one of the consequences is that it gives all of the eager readers who grabbed Book 1 the minute it came out lots and lots of time to speculate about what will be in Book 2.
Speculation is fun; I engage in it myself quite frequently. The trouble is that it is exceedingly easy to become overly fond of one’s speculations, especially if one happens to have a lively crowd of Internet companions who like the same sorts of characterization and plot twists. It’s frighteningly easy to convince oneself that one has a pipeline into the author’s mind, and that the sequel will be a better, shinier, spiffier version of whatever plot-and-character developments one’s particular group of readers thinks is most likely.
Inevitably, when this happens, the result is that the actual Book 2 (or 3, or whatever) arrives, it’s a disappointment to any and everyone who had constructed an alternate vision of who’d live and who’d die, who’d end up in a romance and who wouldn’t, what the important plot-points were and which things were totally extraneous. Either the readers have guessed right and worked themselves up so far that no writer, living or dead, could possibly find words shiny and spiffy enough to live up to their mental construct, or (more often) the writer is going in a completely different direction and the readers are outraged that their lovingly-rationalized vision isn’t going to play out the way they thought.
It’s a compliment, in a way, when readers get so obsessed with ones characters, plot, and world – or with their vision of it – that they spend the between-books year talking and speculating and constructing their own extensions. And speaking for myself, there’s nothing quite like the thrill when I realize that somebody got exactly what I was going for. Most of the time, though, folks are doing what my ex-husband used to call “jacking up the radiator cap and driving a new car underneath it.” Where they think I’m going, or where they want me to go, isn’t where I’m headed at all.
Even that isn’t a particular problem for me, right up to the point where the readers start berating me for not writing the book they would have written. (I think I’m the most taken aback by the ones who come up and inform me that my main character couldn’t have used magic to do X, because their magic can’t do that. Um, what? My world, my rules. It’d be one thing – an embarrassing one – if they actually ever found an internal inconsistency, but as far as I can tell, they’re just pulling it out of air.)
It is very hard to explain to these folks that they are not my patron and I am not ghostwriting their ideas for them. Usually, I don’t even try. Occasionally, I get cornered by someone who has bought into the whole “ideas are the hard part” thing, and who thinks that the reason Book 2 isn’t out fifteen minutes after Book 1 is that I must have writer’s block. These folks are always eager to give me their outline for my next book, and they’re generally quite crestfallen when I explain as gently as I can that Book 2 is all finished and working its way through the editing-and-publication process, so their pile of ideas is far too late to be useful, even if I were inclined to use them.
On the whole, I do have to admit that I much prefer having intelligent, involved, enthusiastic readers. Even if they do outnumber me by many thousands of brains to one, and therefore can and will catch every plot hole, inconsistency, implausibility, or factual inaccuracy anywhere in my books.