Today I am grateful to be talking about sequels with author Rob Edwards. His book, The Crossover Paradox, which is a sequel to The Ascension Machine, is available now. You can find my review here.
Thank you for joining me! Will you talk a little about your series and its upcoming sequel?
Thanks for having me back! Sure thing. The Justice Academy series follows teenage grifter Grey through his studies at the eponymous college for alien superheroes. It’s a scifi superhero adventure about found family, identity, truth and proper maintenance of your grapnel gun.
I’ve always envisioned it as a trilogy. The Ascension Machine is about Grey, alone, learning to work with others. Book two, The Crossover Paradox, is about unlikely team-ups. Book three… is yet to be written, but there’s a progression we’re following, for sure.
Bad things happen to and around Grey, but at its heart the series is (I hope), fun, light-hearted and exciting.
Do you find that most readers will continue to read the series?
Time will tell! This is my first foray into a sequel novel. I know a lot of people have been excited for book two to arrive, and I hope that converts into sales. If I had to guess… I think it’s inevitable you lose a percentage of readers for subsequent books in the series. The aim is to keep the retention level up.
I think received wisdom is that the arrival of book two will have a positive impact on sales of the first book in the series, at least.
Why do you think that is?
I think book buying habits have changed over the last few years. A writer friend of mine made a good point to me a while back, she said the number of people who stumble across book two of a series first has dropped dramatically.
There are still people who find interesting books by browsing their local bookstore’s shelves, of course, and might gamble on a sequel that catches their eye. But so many book sales come from on-line stores now, particularly for independent books. Love it or hate it, buying books on-line makes it super easy to find the first book in a series. Even if you do stumble across book two of a series first, book one is usually only a click away.
Book two raises the profile of the series as a whole, but most people will want to start from the start.
Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?
Yes and no. On one level, sitting down to write book two, I already had a pretty clear idea who my characters are, what their voices sound like to me, what they want from life. I’m starting from a very different place than at the start of The Ascension Machine, but that’s true for my characters too. Grey’s found family is, well, found. There would be no point telling that story again. For The Crossover Paradox the question became what next? For Grey the problem is no longer not having a place to belong, and has become the consequences of having people around that rely upon him. It’s new ground for him, and it’s what keeps it interesting for me. Grey is still growing, still changing, and there are new discoveries (and a backslide or two) for him to deal with in the sequel.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?
The main problem I had is that my cast was already so big! Adding a new set of characters into the mix was quite a daunting task. Still, the principle that each book of the series is set during a new year at the Justice Academy let me think back to the start of my second year at university (a long time ago, into the last millennium!). We were a close-knit group of friends in my first year, but as new students arrived, some of those relationships shifted, different priorities emerged, some brought us closer together, some took us further apart. It’s just life, and that’s what I wanted to capture in The Crossover Paradox.
Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?
Well, I get to cheat a little. The galaxy in my series has thousands of populated worlds, so if I’m having problems with some established worldbuilding, I can just shift the action to another world. No, but so far, it’s not been a problem for me. The main beats of the trilogy have been in my head since before I wrote the first word of The Ascension Machine, and as long as I’m sticking to that path, I’m happy to adapt and work around. There are certain places, people and organizations that I mentioned in book one because I knew I’d need them in later books, so it’s fun to start paying them off in The Crossover Paradox. And to plant a few more things for book three of course.
Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?
Not really. I did have a couple of moments of the opposite, where I realised I’d already written something in the first book that I could totally steal and use in the second.
Not quite what you were asking but there were a few things in book two that did give me pause for another reason.
For example, the main tower of the Justice Academy. When I came to describe some scenes in book two, I found my notes were not as detailed as I’d hoped. I had to scour book one again to find any references to its entry hall to make sure I didn’t contradict anything. And then I found myself starting a spreadsheet to note what was on various floors so I could keep details straight in this book and the next.
I do love a good spreadsheet.
Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?
Gosh. I’m not sure that’s for me to judge. You tell me!
I will say I felt I was writing more confidently this time. I’d proved I could start and finish a whole novel already, so doing it again was less daunting. I’d like to think I’d learned some lessons too. One bad habit my developmental editor had to drum out of me in book one, was not to undercut my own stakes. I’d like to think that people didn’t see much of that in the finished product of The Ascension Machine because my editors helped me with it. And won’t see it in The Crossover Paradox because I’ve learned my lesson. Certainly, my editors and beta readers didn’t highlight it as a problem this time around.
Do you plan out the entire series at once? Or do you plan one book at a time?
I thank you for the suggestion that I plan things! Actually, in this case, I did have at least a concept in my head for the whole trilogy before I started. I think calling it a plan would be overstating it somewhat, but I knew my direction of travel at least. I also know that Grey is a con artist and habitual liar and that the books are told first person, so, there’s that.
I’m actually somewhat intimidated by writing book three because it needs to pay off things I’ve been dropping hints about since the very first line of book one. There are a couple of moments that don’t make sense in the first two books until you get later revelations. Most people won’t spot them, but they make me happy knowing they are there. And that much planning of this series was completely necessary. There are probably other parts which don’t make sense because they just don’t make sense, of course. But if we all pretend that’s me playing mind games, that would be nice.
Still, outside of the metaplot, I do tend to just bumble around seeing what happens in the book I’m currently writing.
Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?
Not often. Twice in the first book, once in the second. In The Ascension Machine, I had one character surprise me by existing. Lucy, also known as Sky Diamond, was not in my original concept of the series, but she turned up during the editorial process of The Ascension Machine, and now she’s a really important part of the story. The revelation that one of my cast was a librarian before coming to the Academy – which written like that doesn’t feel like much of a revelation, but really helped me understand the character better – surprised me. In The Crossover Paradox, there is a moment near the end of the book that surprised me. I won’t say what, for obvious reasons. I will say I’m not talking about the very end of the book, that’s been part of the story since day one.
Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?
Oh, the trauma I had about this! I went back and forth on this question so many times. Also, how much of a recap of book one is needed in book two for people who haven’t read the first one in a hot minute? How much do I need to describe what a Welatak looks like again?
Where I’ve come down is that the book is readable as a standalone, you do get a complete story in there, but some aspects will have more weight if you’re coming from book one.
I’ve tried to keep the story in each book as a separate thing. Book one is a story about a long con. It’s a heist, with all that brings with it. Book two is a murder mystery, or at least happily wears the trappings of one. Book three is… not written yet.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
Let’s say I’ll be scouring other March of the Sequels interviews for suggestions. Do all the things you did for book one, though hopefully you have some contacts you can speak with this time around.
I guess, remind people that book one exists (that’s The Ascension Machine, available now!) on the run-up to book two’s release. And then remind people that book two is coming. (It’s called The Crossover Paradox).