A modest proposal: My cure for sequel-phobia

I would like to make a proposal that could revolutionize reading and solve a serious problem facing today’s bookworms.

A brief aside: No, I’m not suggesting an approach on the magnitude of curing the common cold, solving the Middle East crisis, or ending world hunger. But believe me, I can’t be the only reader out there plagued by this issue.

The issue is this: In a world with so many books to read, how is a devoted reader supposed to keep plots and characters straight when a year or more elapses between publication of volumes in a series? I typically read 100+ books in a year. I don’t care how much I loved book 1; if a year goes by before book 2 is available, there’s a really good chance I won’t remember how the first book ended.

It’s not that I don’t care (usually) or that my memory is getting a bit shabby (well, let’s assume that’s not the case). Just think about how many other book plots I’ve followed in the intervening year, how many other characters’ lives I’ve become enmeshed in. How can I possibly pick up where I left off a year ago with no loss of detail? And if I don’t remember all the details, how can I possibly care about what happens next? As a result, one of three scenarios is likely. One, I will read the book anyway, remember just enough to get by, and hope to figure out whatever I’ve forgotten as I move along. Two, I start the book, realize I don’t remember enough of the storyline to really enjoy it, and walk away. Or three, since it’s been a year, I realize that I’m no longer interested in finding out what happens next, and don’t even bother starting book 2.

I’m sure none of these outcomes are what the publisher or author is hoping for.

My solution? Hey, here’s where all my hours of TV viewing prove useful. You know how each episode of your favorite one hour drama starts off with a “Previously on…” segment, giving a brief recap of the major plot points that have already happened so you can start the new episode with the relevant details fresh in your mind? Well, why not provide something like that in books in a series? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a “previously” page when you pick up book 2? It could be a one-page cheat sheet, a bullet-pointed list of what you need to know, what happened at the end of the previous book, and what the unresolved issues are.

Take, for example, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back. You don’t remember what happened in The Cat In The Hat? Well, a previously page included in book 2 could identify:

  • A boy and his sister were left along in a house for the day.
  • A mischievous cat came along and entertained them, but trashed the house.
  • Drama ensued when the children’s mother appeared about to enter the house.
  • The cat saved the day by cleaning everything up at the last minute.
  • The cat promised to return another time for more fun.
  • The children’s mother had no idea that anything unusual had occurred during her absence.

See? Now we’re all ready for book two. (Silly example, I know, but you get the point).

I had a fortunate experience with a very gracious author recently. When the 2nd book in her most recent series was released, I realized that I couldn’t remember exactly what had happened to each character at the end of the first book. I figured, it’s better to ask than not to read the book at all, so I sent a message to the author via Goodreads asking if she had a synopsis available anywhere on her website so I could refresh my memory. She sent me quite a lovely response, with a list (bullet-pointed!) of about 15 major facts to know from the conclusion of the 1st book. She also pointed out that she’s gotten that same question from a  lot of readers (so Ha! it’s not just me) and that she should really find a way to put something online — with big, huge spoiler alerts plastered all over it — so that returning readers could access the information if they wanted. Because she sent me this information, I picked up book 2, was able to jump back in to the story without feeling at a loss, and ended up not only enjoying the book, but very much looking forward to book 3.

I could name several series that I’ve started but haven’t continued, and it’s largely due to the same issue: Too much time has gone by and the story from the first book is no longer fresh in my mind. Granted, for my favorite authors and series, I’ll always re-read the previous book because I don’t want to lose a single detail. Examples that come to mind are Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, and the Harry Potter series. But in most other cases, my mantra of “so many books, so little time” holds true. I’m just not going to spend time re-reading a book unless I absolutely loved it. And so, in most cases, my sequel-phobia kicks in, and the odds of my sticking with a series are not that great.

So come on! Wouldn’t you love a “previously” page in all your sequels and series? Would having an easy reference like that make you more invested? Would it make you more likely to continue with a story that you read over a year ago?

Listen, what do the publishers have to lose? A few people who maybe would have started the series at book 1 but now figure they’ll just jump in at #2? Seems unlikely. But by providing easily accessible “previously” pages for ongoing series, there’s a lot to gain — namely, returning readers who can reinvest in a series and carry on without feeling disconnected or losing interest altogether.

3 thoughts on “A modest proposal: My cure for sequel-phobia

  1. This is a fantastic idea, lady, especially for those series that have more than 2-3 books in them. And, I mean, it’s pretty easy to get spoilers and a short synopsis for the best sellers but what about those books that are lesser known? I think you’re really on to something here. Happy New Year!

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