Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sequel, spin-off, or series?

Paula asks: what’s the difference between ‘sequel’, ‘spin-off’ and ‘series’?

Last week, when my publisher/editor sent me the edits for ‘Irish Inheritance’, she added this comment: “You also have room for a sequel about Charley or other characters should you choose to go in that direction later on. Just a suggestion...”

To explain, Charley (Charlotte) is the heroine’s best friend in ‘Irish Inheritance’ and (without giving any real spoilers!), she ends up living in Ireland with her boyfriend (someone she met during the course of the story)

My first reaction was, “I’ll think about that later.”

Then I thought about it some more.

I’ve been writing and rewriting my current ‘work in progress’ more times than I can count. Every time I get to about 50,000 words, I have a gut feeling that this story isn’t working, there’s something missing, it’s dragging, there’s not enough tension…

So what would happen if Charley became the heroine of this story? What if I moved the location from the English Lake District to Ireland?

I started rewriting (again!). After some deliberation, I chose a location somewhere on the County Galway/Mayo border that I’ve visited two or three times. It was reasonably easy to make the changes, and the first couple of chapters seemed to be working well. With characters’ names changed to more Irish-sounding names, the ‘old’ story slotted easily into its new location, and I even had a new idea about an intrigue that might add more tension.

At this point (i.e. now!) it dawned on me that new story isn’t really a ‘sequel’ to ‘Irish Inheritance’. I was just using one of the secondary characters in her own story, with very few links to the first story.

Does that mean it’s a spin-off, rather than a sequel – or is it the second in a series? I’ll be interested to know how you would define these three terms.

Your answers will help me to decide where to take Charley's story!


  1. I don't think books make the same distinction as a movie or tv show does, so I'd personally say series, with the caveat that each book can stand on its own.

  2. I agree about each book standing on its own.
    A sequel, to me, is about the same main characters, either following on from the end of the previous book or starting at some point later in their lives.
    Maybe my editor meant a series rather than a sequel!

  3. Spin off!

    A series is a linked set of stories that were conceived as a single entity.
    A spin-off takes a minor character and gives them centre stage.
    A sequel is an add-on story, using the same characters.

    Of course, there's nothing to stop a sequel developing into a series, with a spin-off!

  4. Thanks, Gerald - those are great definitions! Love your last sentence too :-)

  5. Paula--I've been in discussions lately about this very thing. In my opinion, the new story about the friend is definitely a Spin-off.

    Now, I take characters from one Texas Book, and "write her story." To me, these are series--connected by family. "The Cameron Sisters"-Book I: Jo, and "The Cameron Sisters"--Book II: True. Each book has a new setting and new characters, just headed up by the sister. The other family members may appear, but now have a role in this sister's story.

    A sequel, I believe uses the same main characters and continues a story. In other words, the second is as though you're continuing the story line. That's one things that frustrated me about Beverly Lewis's Amish Novels--none of the books have a decided finale..Each just ended, and I could almost hear her say, Stay tuned for the next book. Issues were left unresolved.

    Still fuzzy, isn't it? My writer friends and I talked this to death a couple of weeks ago, and the one who is writing a mystery calls it a sequel to the first.--but it's not. It's a new story with new characters, and a new crime to solve--this may be part of a series--but it's not a sequel.
    Ask someone else, and I'll bet you get different answers!
    Good luck, and keep me posted on your decision!

  6. To me, a sequel uses the same characters as the main focus in all of the books. A series uses the same setting but focuses on other characters that were introduced in the other books. A spin off would use elements from the first books but wouldn't necessarily have the original characters in it. A sequel would not stand on its own, but individual books in a series or a story would.

    However, that's just my opinion and how I use the terms. I think they tend to be used interchangeably at times.

  7. Celia, I like your idea of a series being connected by family. I would agree that a sequel continues the storyline, rather like John Jakes' Kent Family Chronicles and his North and South Trilogy.
    Thanks for visiting!

  8. Debra, that's another aspect of a series - same setting but highlighting other characters. It would appear that my 'Charley story' is a spin-off - but if I wrote a third book set in the same area of Ireland, I could call it 'The Irish Trilogy'!

  9. Paula- it's an important question! I'm tending to go with Debra's take on this somewhat 'thorny' topic. My recent experience has been that I thought I had a sequel to my first Celtic Britain novel-featuring an important secondary character from Book 1. His story needed 2 books so I started calling Books 2 and 3 follow-ons because my main protagonists from Book 1 reappear in Book 3. Most of the charaters will appear in Book 4, along with some new characters, although the leads will be minor characters from Book 3( Bk 4 is my current WIP). With Book 3 due for publication in the spring of 2014, it's now being called my Celtic Fervour Series but I'd love someone to tell me if that's the correct term, or if it is something else because marketing all of the full length stories is a challenge. :-)

  10. Nancy, it seems to me that you started off with a sequel (i.e. Book 2), but you've now developed it into a series. I'd be interested to know if you think readers can read the books out of order, or whether they need to start with Book 1.

  11. Oh, my head is spinning after reading all these differing definitions. A sequel has to use the same characters and tell a story about them set later in time. I suppose there could be a shift of emphasis if a character has now become adult.
    A series is stories about different people from the original story,with new main characters. For me, Mary Balogh manages it wonderfully in her Bedwin family novels, [the 'Slightly... series, with several other linked stories]. The stories are like the spokes of a wheel.

  12. Hi again, Paula. I've particulary aimed to have my historical books all having stories which can 'stand alone'. They are also marketed as historical romantic adventures; and are slightly different from romance with an HEA ending.

  13. Beth, that's an interesting point about a shift in emphasis in a sequel, especially if there's a time gap.
    I agree a series can highlight different people from the original story, and tell their stories.

  14. Hi again Nancy - I think you're right that the books should stand alone - and maybe you hope that someone reading e.g Book 3 might then want to go back and read the 'earlier' books!

  15. Sounds like a spin-off, I think, Paula. Good idea.

  16. For publishing purposes, wouldn't your new story be book 2 in a series, Paula?

  17. It definitely sounds like a spin-off to me. However if you have more 'spin-offs' perhaps you'll end up with 'The Irish Inheritance series' ?

  18. Thanks for your comments, Rosemary, Ana and 'Unknown'. I think maybe a 2nd book is a spin-off, but if there are any more, they become a series!