Writing a stand alone sequel is harder than you might think. Yes, you have a fully realised world to work with and you have characters that you know and love, you even have a well plotted story, but none of these things are the issue.
Knowing how much to tell the readers about the previous story is the issue.
Think about it. The world and characters are well known to you and the readers of the first book, but in a stand alone sequel a first time reader should be able to pick up the book and read the story, and know what’s going on. Sounds simple, but what about the fan base you have built up? Do you want to bore them with details they already know?
Hence, the issue.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot today because I’m planning the next two novels of my children’s chapter series (there will be three books in total – all stand alone) and I’ve decided that the best way to approach this is to act as if book 2 (or 3) is the only book in the series. I have to pretend I’m starting afresh, but I already have a firm history for the main characters. By doing this, I will show the world and the characters in the proper way so that a new reader will not be confused or disheartened by what they read. If done right, a returned reader will be reminded of events from book 1 but won’t feel frustrated or bored, and will continue to read.
This is something I had never thought about before today. Naturally, if I were to write a trilogy then I wouldn’t have this problem because it is assumed that a reader will do the right thing and read the books in order, but with a stand alone series the rule change. I have to try to please everyone and we all know what an impossible task that will be.