For me, it totally depends. Sequel bait is high on my list of no-nos, right up there with plot moppets and TSTL heroines, but when a character I’m already invested in gets their own story in a world I already know, I love it with a passion.
What really makes me snarl is when a new character suddenly pops up towards the end of a book. We’re at a critical stage in the plot or sometimes even in an epilogue and suddenly (WTF?) the heroine’s sister or the hero’s cousin arrives on some slender pretext and gets shoe-horned into the story with some telegraphed dialogue or a superfluous conflict with another secondary character that has nothing to do with resolving the story I’m reading and everything to do with setting up the next one. If the story is good, I’d seek out the next book by the author anyway. Clunking me over the head with this kind of device is more likely to put me off.
Sometimes it’s clear that the author has planned a series from the outset. As soon as you meet Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon, Loretta Chase’s Carsingtons, or Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons (protagonists conveniently named in alphabetical order, presumably for the reader’s convenience as well as Lord and Lady Bridgerton’s), you know what to expect. I’m very happy about this (more books to look forward to!) provided the supporting characters in a particular book are fully developed, and their only role in the current story is one relevant to that story. It might be that their actions in the book propel them into their own story later – that’s fine, provided I don’t feel that those actions or that sub-plot were grafted on and dilute the current book in order to seed a future story.
What works best for me is when an author creates a world, complete with fully-developed secondary characters, and then branches out to develop the world and characters in a new book, maybe in a different direction. I’m thinking of Suzanne Brockmann’s SEALs and Troubleshooters, or SEP’s Chicago Stars. For me as a reader, that feels that the next story has developed organically from the growth of the characters, which is less predictable and more fun.
This is what I’ll be aiming for. My current WIP is a contemporary romance starring charismatic entrepreneur Ian Kinross and arty misfit Rose Lloyd. I already know I want to write about Ian’s younger brother, charmer Cameron Kinross, Ian’s best friend, over-achieving Scottish/Italian chef Roberto McCulloch, and scheming super-bitch Sasha Montgomery, but I did not put any of these characters in Ian and Rose’s story because I wanted to write about them later. I’ve grown to know and love them as they play their parts in Ian and Rose’s story, and I care about them and want to know what happens to them. To leave them hanging would feel like unfinished business.
One thing I’m not sure about yet is whether I’ll bring back Ian and Rose as minor characters in Cam’s, Rob’s and Sasha’s stories. It makes sense that they’d be around, because they’ll continue to be part of the same world, but if they put in an appearance it will be because they have a genuine contribution to make, like Dain and Jessica in Loretta Chase’s The Last Hellion or Avon in Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. I really dislike it when the hero and heroine from a previous story drop in for a cameo just to assure the reader they’re still totally loved-up. Grrrr.
Do you enjoy series? Who do you think gives good sequel?
And are there any characters who never got a book and whose story you’d like to read? Mine’s the devil’s spawn Dominick, Dain’s adopted illegitimate son from Loretta Chases’s Lord of Scoundrels. I bet he’d grow up into a flawed, fascinating man.