Barbara Hartzler: Do you suffer from Sequelphobia?

Barbara Hartzler Author Pic

Everyone’s Story warmly welcomes back YA and devotion author Barbara Hartzler. Although Everyone’s Story’s focus is on how stories uplift both readers and writers, when Barbara approached me on the concept of “Sequelphobia” I thought it was such a unique subject that both readers and writers would appreciate it and I replied back to Barbara with a  “sure, let’s go with this!” Barbara has put together a professional and heartfelt feature and I hope you’ll enjoy it!  Both Barbara  and I look forward to hearing from you.

**Also, for bonus fun, check out below the new contest I have going during May.







Barbara is offering 1 digital version of her YA novel The Nexis Secret. The winner will be announced here on Friday, May 13th between 5-6 PM EST.

** Please note regarding BookGiveaways: to further protect your privacy, and since email contact info is appearing for “my eyes only” when the comments go into my moderation box, emails within comments are no longer required. However, if yours does NOT appear I will leave a comment for you to forward it in order for you to chance winning.



Barbara’s past visit on Everyone’s Story: 

5 Reasons NOT To Choose Between Indie vs. Traditional Publishing


Sequelphobia: 5 Ways to Overcome the Wrath of the Second Book

by Barbara Hartzler

Every writer has felt the fear. Every reader knows the danger. Will the second book be as good as the first? For every triumphant sequel, there are ten times as many sequels that don’t live up to the first book. Why? Because every writer’s first book is a labor of love, and they’ve had ample time perfect it. Before you publish your first book, there’s so much hope and encouragement to pursue your dreams. Of course, there’s always rejection and the feelings of failure that come with it. As a pre-pubbed writer I always thought, “If I can just get my book published, I’ll finally feel like a success.”

Wrong! Once you publish your first book, the pressure amps up exponentially. Now you’ve got to worry about sales numbers, reviews, and the dreaded marketing pill. Plus, you’ve got readers waiting on your second book. Unless your first book was an overnight success, you’ll need that second book to boost sales. More pressure! If your first book only achieved niche market success, like my debut YA novel did, there’s an added layer of pressure to bump the series out of the background and into the spotlight.


Welcome to the publishing business. It’s a whole new ballgame, folks. So what’s a budding author to do? And the answer is … write that second book.

The wrath of writing the second book is a daunting task. But it’s one we have to overcome. Below are five tricks I’m using right now to overcome my sequelphobia.

5 Ways to Overcome Sequelphobia:

  1. Extra Brainstorming

Starting a sequel can be the most daunting part. Sitting down to work on it each day can be overwhelming. I like to begin with my favorite part of the writing process—brainstorming. Because I write supernatural/fantasy fiction for young adults, I’m always asked, “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

You can use whatever method you choose: idea clouds, notecards, journaling. My favorite device to use at the beginning is to ask “What if …?” questions. Whether you’re a plotter or seat-of-the-pants writer, you can always ask “What if” at any stage of the process. The important thing is to ask how you can add more conflict to the story. How can your protagonist get themselves into trouble? How can they get out of it? What can happen to the characters to throw them off track?

I journal out all the possible “What ifs” before I ever start the story. I figure out which answers could lend themselves to scenes in the book. Then I write those ideas down on notecards and arrange the notecards to build chapters. You see the progression.

  1. Plot Out the Entire Series

I hear the pantsers out there objecting to the word plot, but as a reformed pantser (now hybrid) I’m here to tell you there is SO much value in knowing where you’re writing. In the loosest terms, I’m talking about bullet points or simple road signs for the BIG events in a series. Joanie meets Jim. Joanie gets a promotion and has to decide if she’ll move across the country for it. You get the idea.

Wait, that sounds like more work right? Not if you think about it as saving you time in the long run. Plus, if you’re playing the “What if” game, it seems like more fun. It’s important to have a road map, to know where your story is going. Then you can have fun with how you get there.

  1. Just Keep Writing

Getting through the first draft was the hardest part for me. Why? Because it felt like a giant pressure-cloud was hanging above my head telling me all the familiar sequelphobia fears. Don’t worry, I do have one little trick for starting your writing sessions.

Since I love brainstorming so much, and beginnings are the hardest part for me, I decided to start each writing session with a 5-minute brainstorming stint. I set the timer on my phone for five minutes, visualize myself in the scene as my main character, and start the clock. Then I let my fingers, and my imagination, fly. I try to not think too much, to keep the scene as visual as possible. Imagery comes in real handy for this exercise. Where are they? What’s the weather/scenery like? How are they feeling? Try it and see!

Barbara's devotional book

Barbara’s devotional book

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Reevaluate

Sometimes you’ll run into a brick wall with your story. When that happens, don’t be afraid to stop and reevaluate. Go back to the brainstorming stage if you feel like the ideas aren’t working. A new or different conflict wrinkle might work better for your story. I’m in the middle of editing my sequel Crossing Nexis, right now. Yet I had to go back to the brainstorming stage last week.

Some of the scenes I’d written in the latter part of the first draft just didn’t work with the overall theme and tone of the book. Or the series for that matter. They were too dark. Probably because they came from the wrath I felt when the pressure-cloud was following me around. So I stopped, took a deep breath, and went right back to a brainstorming journal session. Now I’ve got two to four chapters to change, but I’m more excited about the sequel than I’ve ever been.

  1. Let it Go and Let it Flow

Sometimes, especially when writing a sequel, you DO need a seat-of-the-pants mindset. Especially when it comes to that Sequelphobia Pressure-Cloud hanging over your head. It’s time to let those fears go, and letting your writing flow. Even if you’re not sure where it’s going. If you’ve mapped out some road signs to guide you, then it’s okay to play with the details. I try to tell myself, “You can edit this later. For now, just write.” I truly believe no writing is wasted. Even if you think it’s garbage, it’ll help you get to something that shines. Just realizing something isn’t working is a big step. Why? Because then it becomes all about problem-solving.

Here’s one more little tip to help you get your writing exactly where you want it. (With a little inspiration from Self Editing for Fiction Writers.) Go through and highlight the parts you love in a scene, then try to bring the rest up to that level. I did this instinctively for my debut novel. There was one scene I LOVED above all the others in The Nexis Secret. So I challenged myself to bring every other scene up to that level. You’ll be amazed at how a self-dare like that can amp up your writing game, and bring back that hope writers desperately need. If you’ve ever felt like your writing is complete drivel, I like to say, “Congratulations. You’re a real writer.” It’s easy for writers to get down on ourselves. It’s nice to praise ourselves every now and then.

I hope these little tips have given you some encouragement that you CAN overcome sequelphobia. And you can write a beautiful second book. Don’t be afraid of living up to your first book. Just write the best second book you can possibly write. That’s how you overcome sequelphobia.

What are your fears about sequels? What are some of your favorite sequels?

Barbara’s Ah-hahs To Tweet:

#Writers: Suffer from Sequelphobia upon thinking of next book? See what @HartzlerBarbara advises. (Tweet This)

#YA author Barbara Hartzler @HartzlerBarbara: 5 Ways to Overcome the Wrath of the Second Book. (Tweet This)

Like #YA fiction? Check out #BookGiveaway of The Nexis Secret by Barbara Hartzler @HartzlerBarbara. (Tweet This)

Author’s Bio:

Barbara Hartzler is the debut author of The Nexis Secret—the story of The Seer, a girl with a gift to see the unseen world of angels. And the two secret societies vying for her allegiance. The Nexis Secret is inspired by Barbara’s college experiences and peppered with anecdotes from her teen missions trip to New York City. She’s always wanted to write, not necessarily about angels, but the idea was too good to pass up. As a former barista and graphic designer, she loves all things sparkly and purple and is always jonesing for a good cup of joe.

Places to connect with Barbara:







Get Caught Reading


I’ll be at this amazing event that unites readers and authors. Will you be there? Let me know!


Christian Fiction Readers Retreat

Barbara and I look forward to your comments. The comment area is below. 

Click “Comments.”

10 comments to Barbara Hartzler: Do you suffer from Sequelphobia?

  • Hi Barbara:

    I like to read a good YA from time to time. I’ve even read that half the YA readers are actually adults. I think it is fun to experience, vicariously at least, what it would be like to be young today.

    My question is: what is the age of your target audience? It is said that midgrade and YA readers like to read about young people who are two years older than they are. Also, do you plan to write New Adult fiction? I really like this new subgenre.

    BTW: I think the second book problem has a lot to do with natural selection. It happens in many fields. For example, in baseball it is called the sophomore jinx. This is understandable because for a rookie to get a chance at the majors, he must be very good and also have a very good first year in order to take the place on the roster away from an experienced professional. In the second year it can be very hard to match the level of performance which allowed him to stay in the majors.

    It is the same with traditionally published novels. There is a sea of ‘debut’ novels trying to break into publication. To make it a novel must truly stand out and be exceptional. Only the best of the best are selected. Now once that book is published and a second book is ordered by the publishers, it becomes very hard to match that high level of excellence. I know many writers who after six years of publishing books, still have not surpassed their debut novel.

    That’s just the way it is. I suggest that when you are writing that first novel to always be thinking about how what you are writing in the first book might serve as a great foundation for unique events in the sequel.

    Please enter me into the drawing for your book.


  • Barbara, I’ll use your suggestions, particularly the one about setting your timer for 5 minutes. I have 4 books in my first series and if I had plotted the series out, Book 1 wouldn’t connect so solidly to Book3 and Book 2 with book 4. If that makes sense. lol.

  • Marilyn R

    I’m not a writer for “Sequelphobia” but believe it could apply to other professions as well–like aspiring young men who want to be a minister, workshop presenter, etc who may doubt if they can provide another great message, workshop or whatever. An interesting thought and blog post. I have read one YA series but it’s not my preferred genre for books. Although, The Nexis Secret definitely sounds intriguing being based on Barbara’s personal experiences. God bless.

  • Vince, YA is quite a unique sub-genre. I target my books for ages 13-19, but try to emphasize universal themes that speak to all ages. That’s why I think so many adults (including me) love to read YA. Most YA fiction is about transformation on some level, even if it’s just your perspective on the world.

    I write speculative YA fiction. My debut series is supernatural/paranormal. It’s about a girl who sees angels and the two secret societies vying for her allegiance. The next ideas in the works are dystopian/fantasy based. It’s so much fun coming up with new worlds!

  • Patricia, I LOVE the 5 minute brainstorming trick! Works wonders for me. And there’s always the option to brainstorm longer. Five minutes just makes it sound so easy.

    I too had to plot out the whole 4-book series. At least the high points. I actually have separate notebooks for each installment, in case I get randomly inspired to fill in the holes.

  • Marilyn, when I wrote this post I was also thinking about readers. Sometimes it’s scary to read a sequel, too. You never know what you’re going to get. A lot of writers change too much, too fast.

    This principle definitely applies to a lot of areas in life. A lot of people are afraid of trying only to fail. And even if we succeed the first time, there’s this sequelphobia lurking around the corner. But once you figure out it’s there and name it, then it becomes much easier to conquer!

  • elaineadmin

    Another wonderful week on Everyone’s Story wraps up. I must say–I love each week I spend with my viewers and guests, talking and sharing how the written word helps to uplift and unite us all!

    This week I thank my special guest, Barbara Hartzler. Barbara, I hope these past handful of days blesses you with a growing readership and encouragement to keep on writing! Thanks too for your lovely BookGiveaway of The Nexus Secret. The winner is…

    Vince! Congratulations, Vince. Happy reading! Both Barbara and I will contact you via direct emails.

    Blessings to all.

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